LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY

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Susan Vreeland

Luncheon of the Boating Party, the novel and the painting, depicts the summer of 1880, an exuberant postwar time when social constraints were loosening, Paris was healing, and Parisians were bursting with a desire for pleasure. The fourteen painted figures on the terrace overlooking the Seine enjoying this moment of la vie moderne are Renoir’s very real friends, whose lives unfold and connect during the course of the making of the painting. Seven of the models are viewpoint characters who reveal in their own voices the events of their lives during the weeks in between painting sessions.

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Luncheon of the Boating Party, the novel and the painting, depicts the summer of 1880, an exuberant postwar time when social constraints were loosening, Paris was healing, and Parisians were bursting with a desire for pleasure. The fourteen painted figures on the terrace overlooking the Seine enjoying this moment of la vie moderne are Renoir’s very real friends, whose lives unfold and connect during the course of the making of the painting. Seven of the models are viewpoint characters who reveal in their own voices the events of their lives during the weeks in between painting sessions. Their chapters take us into Paris – to the Ile de la Cité, to Montmartre, to a dance and pleasure garden, backstage at the Comédie-Français and the Folies-Bergère. Chapters from Renoir’s point of view take us to his studio, the Café Nouvelle-Athènes frequented by artists and writers, his neighborhood crémerie which has its own set of amusing characters, place Pigalle, a string of Montmartre cabarets, the Tuileries gardens, and, of course, the Louvre. Besides the fourteen models, the novel has a rich cast of characters from all social classes – Alphonse and Louise Fournaise, engaging proprietors of the Maison, Edgar Degas, the writer Guy de Maupassant, an influential and legendary art dealer, a rich patron, a passionate art supply dealer and his quirky wife, eight fully-developed characters who have something to do with the painting, and ten more of lesser importance. Although some chapters appear to take us far afield from the posing, what goes on in these chapters always impacts the painting – everything is woven together like a canvas. Through it all, there is the eternal Seine, an ever-changing backdrop, city and country, a gentle influence on the characters, and thus on the painting.

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About Susan Vreeland

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