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RENOIR, Pierre-Auguste/ ARTISTS 1650 -1899/ART MAIN home
(1841 – 1919)

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges on February 25, 1841. His father was a tailor and his mother a dressmaker. When Renoir was three, the family moved to Paris where he grew up and lived most of his life. From 1854 to 1858, Renoir was apprenticed to a decorator of porcelain. He also studied drawing in the evenings and, from 1864, received permission to paint copies in the Louvre. In 1860-61, Renoir began his formal art training, studying in the studio of Charles Gleyre and entering the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in 1862. At the art school, Renoir formed friendships with Claude Monet (1840-1926), Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). The four artists, who had painted together outdoors during their student years, later were founding members of the movement that became known as Impressionism.

From the outset,  Renoir  consciously constructed an epic painting about modern life to surpass the earlier artistic achievement of Ball at the Moulin de la Galette (1876, Musée d’Orsay, Paris). Many art historians believe that Luncheon of the Boating Party, begun in the summer of 1880, may have been Renoir’s response to a challenge from the famous writer and critic Emile Zola (1840-1902) in a June review of the official Salon exhibition of that year. Zola criticised the Impressionists for selling "sketches that are hardly dry" and challenged the artists to create complex paintings of modern life that were the result of "long and thoughtful preparation" and would establish "a new formula." With Luncheon of the Boating Party‘s ambitious scale, lengthy process of execution, and complex composition and subject matter, Renoir may have been striving to produce Zola’s "masterpiece that is to lay down the formula…."

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The Luncheon of the Boating Party (Amazon UK)



The Luncheon of the Boating Party
Oil on canvas
129.5 x 172.7 cm (51 x 68 in.)
The Phillips Collection, Washington
DETAIL of glasses on table
Renoir’s reverence for the history of art, particularly the paintings in the Louvre, provided a source of inspiration throughout his career. In the case of Luncheon of the Boating Party,  he may well have looked at such works as Paolo Veronese’s lavish, banqueting scene, the Marriage Feast at Cana (1562-63, Musée du Louvre, Paris) and the flirtatious Rococo fête galante, Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717, Musée du Louvre, Paris) by Antoine Watteau.

Renoir masterfully created Luncheon of the Boating Party‘s mood of enchantment by capturing both the immediacy and specificity of a moment of leisure on the Seine and the universal appeal of human celebration. Moreover, he, in this canvas, combined several of the traditional categories of painting: still life, landscape, portraiture and genre. The result is a timeless painting that captures the atmosphere of an idyllic place, where friends share the pleasures of food, wine, and conversation.

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party not only conveys the light-hearted leisurely mood of the Maison Fournaise, but also reflects the character of mid- to late-nineteenth century French social structure. The restaurant welcomed customers of many classes including bourgeois businessmen, society women, artists (Renoir and Caillebotte), actresses, writers (Guy de Maupassant), critics and, with the new, shorter work week – a result of the industrial revolution – seamstresses and shop girls. This diverse group embodied a new, modern Parisian society that accepted, as it continued to develop and advanced the French Revolution’s promise of  liberté, egalité, fraternité.

The Maison Fournaise

Parisians would flock to Chatou’s Maison Fournaise to rent rowing skiffs, eat a good meal, or stay the night. In 1857, the entrepreneur Alphonse Fournaise bought land in Chatou to open a boat rental, restaurant, and small hotel for the new tourist trade. From the mid 1870s, Renoir often visited the Maison Fournaise to enjoy its convivial atmosphere and rural beauty. He painted scenes of the restaurant, as well as several portraits of Fournaise family members and landscapes of the surrounding area. In fact, Renoir occasionally traded paintings with the Fournaise family for food and lodging.

by Donna McKee and Suzanne Wright  copyright The Phillips Collection

Girl with Basket of Oranges c. 1889 Girl with a Basket of Fish  c.1889
Girl with a Basket of Oranges

c. 1889

oil on canvas, 130.7 x 41.8 cm 
Gift of William Robertson Coe
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Girl with a Basket of Fish

c. 1889
oil on canvas, 130.7 x 41.8 cm Gift of William Robertson Coe
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC