Renoir’s Inner Circle: Luncheon of the Boating Party
In today’s social media driven world we’ve all become accustomed to images of friends and family enjoying each other’s company, both our own and the celebrities we follow. Whether it is gathering for a meal, a party, or any other number of social events, these images are commonplace. Although not as easily captured, this was also the case over 130 years ago. Artists often painted scenes of daily life that included their friends and family. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir is a perfect example of this. Started in 1880 and completed in 1881, this painting shows a group of 14 friends meeting for lunch on the balcony of the Maison Fournaise in Chatou, France. They are conversing, relaxing, and enjoying the beautiful day. The warm colors and casual atmosphere pull the viewer into the scene and create the feeling of being included with the group. When viewing this painting one can’t help to wonder who these people that Renoir considered his friends were.
The first person of note is the woman sitting in the bottom left holding a small dog on her lap. She is Aline Victorine Charigot. Aline was about 20 years old when she modeled for this painting. At the time she was a seamstress and had only recently met Renoir. She would become a regular model for him, and would often be included in his works. Some of the paintings that include her are: Dance in the Country (1883), and The Artist’s Family (1896). They would go on to develop a romantic relationship and eventually marry in 1890. Renoir and Aline had three children together. Leaning against the railing beside Ms. Charigot is the restaurant proprietor’s son, Alphonse Fournaise Jr. He seems relaxed and a casual observer of the party.
Sitting backwards in a chair across from Ms. Charigot is the French painter Gustave Caillebotte. The young man is dressed in a boating shirt and straw hat and appears to be extremely comfortable in his surroundings. Sitting with Caillebotte in this painting are the actress Angèle Legault and Italian journalist Adrien Maggiolo. In addition to being an artist, Caillebotte also held a law degree and was an engineer. After returning from fighting in the Franco-Prussian War, Caillebotte began to seriously study art. He made his debut as an artist in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. One of the pieces he displayed at the exhibition was The Floor Scrapers (1875). Caillebotte’s style varies and includes elements of Impressionism, Pointillism, and Realism. Some of his works include: A Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877), Oarsmen (1877), and The Yerres, Effect of Rain (1875).
Sitting in the center of the painting, drinking from a glass, is the actress Ellen Andrée. Ms. Andrée spent several decades in the theater, however, during the 1870’s she became a model for some of the most renowned Impressionist artists. Aside from Renoir, she also modeled for Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet. She can be seen in Manet’s Parisienne Study of Ellen Andre and The Plum and also in Degas’ L’Absinthe.
Seated across from Ms. Andrée with his back to the viewer is Baron Raoul Barbier. Barbier was a former calvary officer and the former mayor of colonial Saigon. According to Martha Carey, research curator for the Phillips Collection, Barbier was a man with little appreciation for art but ”very fond of boats, women and Renoir.” This is evident by his attention on the young, smiling woman leaning on the railing of the balcony. The young woman, Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise, was the daughter of the restaurant’s owner.
Standing in the upper center, behind Ms. Andrée, are two gentlemen engaged in a conversation. The man in the top hat is Charles Ephrussi. Ephrussi was an art critic, historian, and collector. He was part owner and later editor of and contributor to Gazette des Beaux-Arts, which was considered to be the most important art history periodical in France. The man he is conversing with is the poet, Jules Laforgue.
On the upper right stand two men conversing with a lady who has her hands over her ears. The man in the black hat is Eugène Pierre Lestringez, who was a bureaucrat. The other gentleman is the artist Paul Lhote. Lhote can also be seen as the dance partner of Aline Charigot in Renoir’s Dance in the Country. The lady, with whom the two are conversing, is the actress, Jeanne Samary. Ms. Samary gained recognition and success as a comedic actress and was a member of the Comédie-Française. There is speculation that her hands cover her ears as an allusion to the gossip regarding her engagement to socialite Paul Lagarde, whose parents opposed the marriage.
Renoir’s friends spanned a variety of backgrounds and occupations, but their shared interests brought them together. Luncheon of the Boating Party stands as a timeless reminder to treasure the times spent with loved ones. These are the moments that bring joy into our lives. Just as Renoir captured these times in his artwork, we also stop to capture these moments in a digital reality. The images are there to help us reminisce or to share with those who couldn’t be there and include them in our lives, just as Renoir included us in his inner circle.