It often amazes me how often a painting reflects the artist’s relationship with the subject. In Luncheon of the Boating Party, painter Pierre August Renoir includes people he actually knew from ranging social classes from France. There is the art patron, seamstress, restaurant manager, boating manager, actress, art critic, writer, and proprietor’s children. The scene shows how new technology and culture was changing the lives of the middle class. The setting is Maison Fournaise along the Seine River in Chatou, France. Many people think the painting to be a masterpiece of the French Impressionist period because it reflects the industrial revolution and open-minded new middle class.
I find that the most interesting person to focus on is the seamstress, Aline Charigot, in the foreground holding the small dog. Renoir made her the only member of the party to neither engage in conversation nor distantly flirt. Instead Charigot directs all of her attention to her dog. The viewer cannot help but to look immediately at her. Not only does the painting lead the viewer from the top right to the bottom left accomplished with the help of horizontal and diagonal shadows but she also wears brighter colors than the rest. The more vivid colors were Renoir’s way of expressing how important she was to him. He eventually did marry her (the dog was a package deal.)
Renoir employed Impressionist painting techniques by using individual brushstrokes to build up the landscape, as opposed to one large stroke to create a basic background. Many critics have compared Luncheon of the Boating Party to paintings such as Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise, Monsieur Fournaise, Le Grenoillere, but nobody has compared it to Sunday Afternoon at La Grand Jatte by George Seurat. The painting holds the repose themes of Impressionisn, but the stiffness in the painting suggests that it is from earlier Impressionism. La Grand Jatte was a place for the upper-middle class to go and it was typically overcrowded on Sundays. Seurat painted it as he thought it should be. Art critics have argued that the park setting at La Grand Jatte was so unnatural because people would go there to be seen, rather than enjoy the natural setting. Unlike Seurat, Renoir had a different understanding of a casual Sunday afternoon. Renoir painted Boating Party in the way he wanted the luncheon to be-- the ideal situation where nobody would flirt with his wife-to-be.
The two painters had the same idea in mind: To create their perfect Sunday day. However they are also very opposite. Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party is more historical because it shows the advancement of the industrial revolution. The messy table and loose attire definitely makes Boating Party a more leisurely place to be; as oppose to Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon at La Grande Jatte where the people were systematically places with stiff clothing and stiff painting.
But to be fair, after a long week, my favorite painting is Sunday Morning at Ev’s Couch.
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- Ev L