Beneath the Surface of Luncheon of the Boating Party (Part 3)

In order to understand how Pierre-August Renoir created Luncheon of the Boating Party, a technical study was conducted in the conservation studio. By closely examining the surface and comparing it to x-radiographic and infrared images, we learn that Renoir made numerous changes both large and small over several months. While he deftly captured the moment of friends casually enjoying an afternoon at a restaurant on the Seine, the in-depth analyisis shows that he labored to capture the immediacy of the scene.

Explore fresh findings from a recent technical analysis of Luncheon of the Boating Party through this interactive feature

Raking light (left) and infrared (right) details of the table setting

Raking light (left) and infrared (right) details of the table setting

Revisions to the table setting
Just as he reworked his sitters, Renoir also revised objects on the table.
a) A wine glass in front of the cask was painted out.
b) An aperitif glass was replaced with a small bunch of grapes.
c) Another wineglass in front of the fruit bowl was removed.
d) One of the tall glasses on the right was originally a stemmed glass.

Although it is possible that tableware changed between painting sessions and Renoir modified his depiction accordingly, these may be deliberate choices he made after the fact or in his studio.

Beneath the Surface of Luncheon of the Boating Party (Part 1)

In order to understand how Pierre-August Renoir created Luncheon of the Boating Party, a technical study was conducted in the conservation studio. By closely examining the surface and comparing it to x-radiographic and infrared images, we learn that Renoir made numerous changes both large and small over several months. While he deftly captured the moment of friends casually enjoying an afternoon at a restaurant on the Seine, the in-depth analyisis shows that he labored to capture the immediacy of the scene.

Explore fresh findings from a recent technical analysis of Luncheon of the Boating Party through this interactive feature

Repositioning of the Two Men
The artist made a surprising rearrangement to the pair of men standing at the end of the balcony, indicated in raking light by the underlying textured brushstrokes around their heads. The revision the artist made becomes clear in the infrared image: Charles Ephrussi, wearing the top hat, initially looked out toward the front of the balcony with his head in three- quarter view. By turning him to face the man next to him, Renoir strengthens their relationship, making them appear more involved in conversation.

Infrared image of part of Luncheon of the Boating Party

The infrared image (right) shows a second set of hats, heads, and shoulders, indicating that these
figures were also lowered after the introduction of the awning.

Gustave Caillebotte: Renoir’s Friend and Champion

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party, on view October 7, 2017-January 7, 2018.

Born into a family that made its money in the textile business, Gustave Caillebotte used his considerable means to support his Impressionist colleagues and to purchase their work, acquiring paintings by Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, and Sisley, among others. Although he was the least-known member of the “core” Impressionists (he was almost 10 years younger than the others and missed the group’s early development), during the late 1870s and early 1880s Caillebotte was an important participant in the dramatic revolution in French painting.

Among his early acquisitions was Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (1876, Musée d’Orsay), shown at the third Impressionist exhibition; he even included it in the background of an 1879-80 self-portrait. Since Caillebotte bought many works by other Impressionists, his reference to this painting in his self-portrait seems a deliberate symbol of his admiration for and friendship with Renoir. During these days of struggle and ambition for Renoir, Caillebotte emerged as a stalwart advocate for his fellow artist and became a lifelong supporter of his work. Their friendship was a close one: in 1876, Caillebotte named Renoir executor of his will, and when Renoir and Charigot had their first son in 1885, they asked Caillebotte to be the child’s godfather. Caillebotte painted a portrait of Renoir’s wife, Aline Charigot, in the garden of his house at Petit-Gennevilliers in 1891; so too did Renoir paint Caillebotte’s sweetheart, Charlotte Berthier, though a few years earlier and in a more formal indoor setting. Renoir and Caillebotte were close friends until Caillebotte died of a stroke in 1894 at Petit-Gennevilliers.

Gustave Caillebotte, Madame Renoir in the Garden at Petit Gennevilliers (Madame Renoir dans le jardin du Petit-Gennevilliers), 1891

Gustave Caillebotte, Madame Renoir in the Garden at Petit Gennevilliers (Madame Renoir dans le jardin du Petit-Gennevilliers), 1891. Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 × 19 3/4 in. Collection of Bruce Toll