Art History

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir: Summer Fun & A Restoration Gone Wrong

Luncheon of the Boating Party is one of the most popular works by Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Painted in 1881, it depicts a group of his friends enjoying a relaxing Summer day on the balcony of the famous Maison Fournaise restaurant along the Seine River in France. It includes many real life figures from Renoir’s life, such as Gustave Caillebot and Aline Charigot, his future wife.

Renoir’s ability to capture light and dimension in this large work is a true testimony to his artistic talents. The stationary objects in the setting reflect light throughout the entire scene. The defined boarders and use of contouring makes the scene life-like. The use of such rich and vibrant colors is attributed to the sense of shared enjoyment between the subjects.

What Happened to Luncheon of the Boating Party?

Luncheon of the Boating Party painting was bought by Duncan Phillips in 1923. He was an art enthusiast who was especially fond of Renoir’s work. Many people don’t know that in 1954 he attempted to have the piece fixed-up and conserved by well-known art restorers Sheldon and Caroline Keck.

While they were able to fix a blister on the canvas, the cleaning process added a new issue as the couple used solvents to clean up the canvas. The delicate process of using solvents has been a long standing, controversial issue. Many art critics believe that you are not able to safely swab without disturbing layers of paint. This changed the overall appearance of the piece. Also, many believe the effects of aging are part of an authentic works charm and should not be removed.

Photographs taken before the cleaning show a much different tone and color palette than what the painting looks like today. Many people criticized them for drastically changing one of the most famous pieces of Impressionist art. Former New York Times editor Alexander Eliot describes the colors in a review as appearing dried out. The people in the foreground are a ghoulish grey. The Kecks adamantly defended their work despite experts all agreeing it was a failure.

Today, Luncheon of the Boating Party still hangs in the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. If you are not able to make the trip, you can enjoy your very own reproduction of the piece, with all its bright and vibrant colors. You can also select some beautiful companion pieces from our extensive Renoir gallery.

About the Author

Amanda graduated from the University of Kansas, where she studied English literature and got a masters degree in library sciences. She enjoys reading, cooking and playing with her nephews. Her best friend is her little dog Brady.