Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s celebrated painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party” serves as the centrepiece for this charming exhibit, a compilation of over 40 works by the artist and his contemporaries.
The setting for many of these paintings is the pastoral area west of Paris along the Seine, where many Impressionists painted the bucolic scenery and the Parisians escaping the city. At the Phillips Collection, the focus is the town of Chatou – just a bit farther west from Argenteuil – where the Maison Fournaise offered meals and rental boats for lazy days in the countryside.
“Luncheon of the Boating Party” captivated museum founder Duncan Phillips when he first saw it in Europe in 1911; he appreciated its “thrilling vitality” and “shimmering richness.” Painting this piece on the balcony of the Maison Fournaise during the summer of 1880, Renoir asked friends to serve as models, including painter Gustave Caillebotte in the lower right corner, and Aline Charigot, the woman he would later marry, in the lower left corner. While the setting is relaxed, the dynamic composition keeps your eyes moving among the groups, engaged in lively conversation alongside the river.
Renoir offers us a variation on a theme with “Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise.” A trio relaxes after their meal, completely content as they enjoy a digestif and a cigarette. The man in white reclining, his companion gazing out at the boaters, this tranquil mood is enhanced by the shady blue tones of their attire and of the lattice screen, while sunlit, yellow-orange skiffs float in the background.
Caillebotte, a close family friend to Renoir and accomplished painter, was also an experienced yachtsman who featured boats in many of his paintings. “Sailboats on the Seine at Argenteuil” shows the beauty and serenity of an idyllic afternoon on the water. Here the sailboat leans a bit as it catches the breeze, the reflection of its white sail shimmering in the blue water.
A spark of romance gets our attention with “Dance in the Country” — a female dancer beaming at us as her lover holds her close enough for a kiss. Once again Renoir demonstrates his talent for portraying the beauty of women and their fashions. The son of a tailor and a dressmaker, he takes particular care depicting the details of her flowery dress and elegant fan. The vibrant colours of her red hat and his blue suit on a green backdrop make for a colourful yet tender moment.
About the exhibit, Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski said, “As the Phillips draws closer to our centennial year, it is a very fitting time to shed new light on one of the gems of our permanent collection. I am delighted that Renoir’s masterwork will be displayed alongside numerous other works by the artist and his contemporaries, helping further contextualize this remarkable painting.”
The exhibition runs from October 7 – January 7, 2018. The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St., NW, Washington DC, Tel: 202-387-2151. Website: www.phillipscollection.org
By Phil Tremo
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