Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

Impressionism has always been my favorite style of art. However, I must admit that I have never really understood the obsession with the iconic Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting: Luncheon of the Boating Party.

After reading this delightful book, I understood so much more about the impressionists. This book describes vividly who these painters were, how they lived and the enchanting Paris of the 19th Century.

Pierre Auguste Renoir paintings
The Grand Boulevards of Paris – Renoir [Public Domain]

This book follows the creation of the Auguste Renoir painting “Luncheon” over a period of two months.

The book delves into the descriptions of the the colors, the discussions of how to pose and the thought processes of Renoir as he tries to make this painting come together.

This book also describes a pivotal moment in time for the Impressionists. In the past, the impressionists stuck together as a group. Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir and many others, are presented as a united front against critics of their new style of painting.

However, at this point in time, the author shows us how the group is starting to fall apart. Many of the original group members are going their own separate ways.

Also, for some of the painters, the private dealers are becoming more important than submitting paintings into art shows. The entire art community is changing and this book is able to give a sense of the art politics of that time.

The models in the “Luncheon” Painting come alive with their own stories

While most of the book is narrated from Renoir’s perspective, several of the models he uses also have a voice in various chapters. Through these characters we read different view points .

The painting is literally brought to life in this fascinating book. Instead of being nameless boaters, the author Susan Vreeland, introduces to us the models in the painting. Vreeland takes you into their lives for a mere two months and, yet, you will feel like you know them really well.

Jeanne is a successful actress, Ellen is a mime in the Follies who dreams of being a real actress, Gustave is a part of the Impressionist movement who supports the others when they need it. We see the impact that many of these characters have on August Renoir’s painting.

This book is a snapshot of these lives but it shows so much to the reader!

It is heart-breaking to read how Renoir struggles to pay for his paint, when we know that his paintings are now hanging in the most prestigious art museums all over the world and worth millions.

This book helps you understand the Impressionists. But in particular, the book will show you in detail the hard work, problems, concerns, personalities and conflicts that go into such incredible paintings.

It will make you look at art differently

I will never be able to look at this painting quite the same way. I think the biggest compliment I can pay this book is that it changed the way I will look at art forever.

Now go google the famous Pierre Auguste Renoir painting “Luncheon of a Boating Party”. Check out all the models in that picture and imagine it in real life! Fascinating!!

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