Flea Market Renoir

Alphonsine Fournaise in a detail from
Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81. French. Oil on canvas. 51 1/4 x 69 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1923

According to the Washington Post, a Virginia woman found a Renoir, Landscape on the Banks of the Seine, in a box of knickknacks she bought in a West Virginia flea market for $7. The best part? The painting was once owned by Alphonsine Fournaise–she who flirtatiously leans against the railing in our Luncheon of the Boating Party. The lucky bargain hunter is having the painting auctioned off, and plans to use the money for house repairs and to take her mother on a trip to France.

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant


Photo of Amanda Jirón-Murphy giving her last spotlight tour

Amanda Jirón-Murphy gives her last spotlight tour on Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

On her last day at the Phillips, Amanda says farewell the way she said hello, with a spotlight tour of, what else, Luncheon of the Boating Party. Who else can discuss the industrial revolution, the  advent of tubed oil paints, gallery lighting techniques, the history of the museum, quote T.J. Clarke and Émile Zola, use the word “higgledy-piggledy,” and include a healthy dose of fashion, all with the poise of a film star from a bygone era–in just 15 minutes? We’ll miss her and wish her well!

Lunch with the Boating Party

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881, Oil on canvas. 51 ¼ x 69 1/8 inches. Acquired 1923. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

I recently tagged along with a group of local 10th graders and museum visitors on a Spotlight Tour of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party led by education intern Meagan Estep. She gave us a few minutes to study the piece in silence but this didn’t last long as sounds seem to emanate from the painting itself. The magic of Renoir’s famous work, and perhaps one reason for its popularity, lies in its ability to transport the viewer to the balcony of the Maison Fournaise for a leisurely dejéuner. Whereas painted scenes often give viewers only voyeuristic enjoyment, framing portals to far-off worlds, Luncheon of the Boating Party invites you in and lets you partake in some afternoon carousing by the Seine. It’s not hard to start feeling the summer sun or a friendly Ça va? on the tip of your tongue.

The first question Meagan asked us was, “What’s going on?” I felt like a 10th grade newcomer, getting an introduction to the complex social groupings of the cafeteria at lunch, as the students commented on one of the most noticeable and interesting aspects of this painting: the realistic and intriguing groupings of people, complete with telling gazes and expressive body language.

These gazes and poses proved not only intriguing, but gossip-worthy, as someone asked, “The woman in the back . . . who’s she really looking at?” Perhaps her dreamy gaze drifts beyond the man opposite her to the handsome guy in the white jacket. Perhaps she’s secretly ogling the studly boater in front. Or maybe those bedroom eyes are just sleepily shutting, as she’s sedated by sun and several glasses of sauvignon blanc.

It’s fun to speculate, especially given that this Boating Party is made up of Renoir’s real-life friends, including his girlfriend who plays with a puppy at lower left, and the restaurant owner’s children. There’s a story to be learned here, and more importantly, a story to be continued, as this scene is hardly complete without the engagement of the viewer, who’s readily welcomed for a leisurely lunch.

Amanda Hickok, Marketing Intern