Luncheon of the Boating Party
“The big Renoir deal has gone through with Durand-Ruel and the Phillips Memorial Gallery is to be the possessor of one of the greatest paintings in the world…Its fame is tremendous and people will travel thousands of miles to our house to see it…Such a picture creates a sensation wherever it goes.”
—Duncan Phillips, 1923
Pierre Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81
The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir remains the best known and most popular work of art at The Phillips Collection, just as Duncan Phillips imagined it would be when he bought it in 1923. The painting captures an idyllic atmosphere as Renoir’s friends share food, wine, and conversation on a balcony overlooking the Seine at the Maison Fournaise restaurant in Chatou. Parisians flocked to the Maison Fournaise to rent rowing skiffs, eat a good meal, or stay the night.
The painting also reflects the changing character of French society in the mid- to late 19th century. The restaurant welcomed customers of many classes, including businessmen, society women, artists, actresses, writers, critics, seamstresses, and shop girls. This diverse group embodied a new, modern Parisian society.
Renoir seems to have composed this complicated scene without advance studies or underdrawing. He also spent months making numerous changes to the canvas, painting the individual figures when his models were available, and adding the striped awning along the top edge. Nonetheless, Renoir retained the freshness of his vision, even as he revised, rearranged, and created an exquisitely crafted work of art.
Who’s Who in the Boating Party
The Luncheon of the Boating Party includes youthful, idealized portraits of Renoir’s friends and colleagues as they relax at the Maison Fournaise restaurant. Wearing a top hat, the amateur art historian, collector, and editor Charles Ephrussi (8) speaks with a younger man in a more casual brown coat and cap. He may be Ephrussi’s personal secretary, Jules Laforgue (5), a poet and critic.
At center, the actress Ellen Andrée (6) drinks from a glass. Across from her in a brown bowler hat is Baron Raoul Barbier (4), a bon vivant and former mayor of colonial Saigon. He is turned toward the smiling woman at the railing, thought to be Alphonsine Fournaise (3), the proprietor’s daughter. She and her brother, Alphonse Fournaise, Jr. (2), who handled the boat rentals, wear straw boaters. They are placed within, but at the edge of, the party. At the upper right, the artist Paul Lhote (12) and the bureaucrat Eugène Pierre Lestringuez (11) seem to be flirting with actress Jeanne Samary (13).
In the foreground, Renoir included a youthful portrait of his fellow artist, close friend, and wealthy patron, Gustave Caillebotte (9), who sits backwards in his chair and is grouped with the actress Angèle (7) and the Italian journalist Maggiolo (10). Caillebotte, an avid boatman and sailor, wears a white boater’s shirt and flat-topped boater. He gazes at a young woman cooing at her dog. She is Aline Charigot (1), a seamstress Renoir had recently met and would later marry.