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Auguste Renoir Masterpiece – Luncheon of the Boating Party

Even if you are indifferent to impressionism art, you will probably still be familiar with the very famous Renoir masterpiece: Luncheon of the Boating Party. This painting is practically the “Mona Lisa” of Impressionism! Pierre Auguste Renoir painted this masterpiece on the balcony at the Maison Fournaise restaurant in Chatou Island (Impressionism Island) in France.

Auguste Renoir masterpiece entitled:   Luncheon of the Boating Party
Auguste Renoir Masterpiece entitled: Luncheon of the Boating Party [Public Domain]

The Luncheon of the Boating Party painting depicts a group of Renoir´s good friends casually chatting, eating and drinking of the balcony at the Maison Fournaise restaurant.

Renoir often painted close friends. In this famous painting, Renoir depicts the painter and art patron, Gustave Caillebotte sitting in the lower right of the picture. He also portrays his sweetheart & future wife, Aline Charigot (in the front and playing with a small dog).

Also depicted are the restaurant’s daughter Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise and her brother, Alphose Fournaise Jr., both wearing straw hats and leaning on the balcony balustrade.

The beauty of this painting is that Renoir portrays wonderfully the the golden era of 19th century France.

Renoir’s Love Affair with Chatou on the River Seine

In 1868, Renoir first discovered and fell in love with the Chatou and it’s island. It was a small town not far from Paris. He also became a regular diner and a friend of the owners of the Chatou restaurant called Maison Fournaise.

Renoir made around thirty paintings depicting the town and Island of Chatou. Some of these paintings are set in the Fournaise restaurant. Other paintings are portraits of the Fournaise family members. And of course, Renoir captured the surrounding areas of Chatou by the Seine.

Auguste Renoir Painting - Lunch at the Fournaise Restaurant
Auguste Renoir masterpiece – Lunch at the Fournaise Restaurant [Public Domain]
The Seine at Chatou - Auguste Renoir Painting
The Seine at Chatou – Auguste Renoir masterpiece

The Seine-A Favoured Leisure Haunt of the Wealthy

During the late 19th century, the wealthy Parisians and artists enjoyed spending their leisure time in the nearby towns on the Seine. They enjoyed the good life – drinking, dining and dancing. Another popular activity was boating on the Seine. All this happened with the emergence of the the new railway line connecting Paris to the nearby towns.

Maison Fournaise is located on the Île des Impressionnistes (Chatou Island), next to the town of Chatou and only 14 kms west of Paris. Alphonse Fournaise bought land in Chatou in 1857. He opened a small hotel and a boat rental on the Island to accommodate the 19th century tourists enchanted with the Seine and the river banks. His business was extremely successful!

Maison Fournaise restaurant closed it doors in 1906 and remained abandoned until 1990.

Maison Fournaise Reopens as a Restaurant & Museum

Because Maison Fournaise has such a rich historical past, the municipality of Chatou renovated and reopened the house in 1990 as a recognized historical and cultural site. Today it functions as both a restaurant and museum.

Maison Fournaise, on the Île des Impressionnistes, Chatou
Maison Fournaise: Photo by Département des Yvelines (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The small Fournaise museum showcases a lovely collection of paintings and archives relating to the history of Maison Fournaise. The museum exhibits both a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, all of which reflect French life during the late 19th century. It is a gem!

Press here for details regarding opening hours, ticket prices and current exhibitions.

Public Transport to Musee Fournaise

The nearest town to Musee Fournaise on the Impressionism Island is Chatou. Take RER A towards St-Germain-en-Laye and get off at the stop Chatou Croissy.

From the Chatou Croissy station, it takes about 15 minutes to walk to the Impressionism island. It is a lovely walk on a footpath by the river. There are buses that run from the station to the island, but they are few and far between.

Maison Fournaise, on the Île des Impressionnistes, Chatou
Maison Fournaise: Photo by Département des Yvelines (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Finished with the Museum? Walk the Impressionism Trail

After visiting the museum, take a leisurely stroll on the Impressionism trail called: Chatou- Croissy: Le Chemin des Impressionistes.

This impressionism trail is 3.6 km long and takes around an hour and a half. The trail leads to different locations on the Impressionism Island painted by the Impressionists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Maurice de Vlaminck and René Gilbert. You will view plaques showing reproductions of their paintings at the exact location where they set up their easels and en plein-air painted the views around them. It is a delightful walk!

Press here to download a map of this trail, showing the location of the plaques.

Sail the Seine on the Impressionism Trail

Another way of visiting Chatou is by boat. There is a great cruise option offered from Paris. The cruise sails along the River Seine. An experienced guide tells the stories about the impressionists and the towns along the Seine with a rich impressionism past. You will sail by places loved and painted by the Impressionists, including Seurat, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, Monet and others. Press here for more details.

For those who love art historical fiction, I highly recommend the novel based on Renoir’s masterpiece. The book is called Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. Press here to read my review.

The novel, Luncheon of the Boating Party by  Susan Vreeland.
The novel – Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

You can take a wonderful day cruise along the River Seine from Paris to the Maison Fournaise on the Île des Impressionnistes (Chatou Island). En route, you will also see other significant impressionism landmarks. Press here for information.

For more articles about Renoir, see the articles below: