In case you haven’t met Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, here’s a chance to get to know “the biggest small star of the comedy world on the web,” according to Brian Williams’s recent report. Marcel’s first video hit YouTube in late 2010 and since then the googly-eyed creature has had over 14 million views! This fall, a new book and a second video were released. Have a look about one minute into the second video, below, when Marcel is talking about his bed made of bread. In the background you can see a postcard of Luncheon of the Boating Party. It’s nice to know that Marcel (or his parents) have such good taste!
To celebrate our 90th anniversary The Phillips Collection held an all-day birthday party attended by 4,400 people. In honor of the event, my colleagues in the education department and I were asked to give half hour tours every hour on the special 90th anniversary installation of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. The museum’s masterpiece is on display in its original location in a gallery in the Phillips family home, which was, when Luncheon of the Boating Party debuted there on New Year’s Day 1924, known as the Main Gallery.
I thought it would be fun to reacquaint visitors with the Boating Party by describing what it would be like to view it in its original location as a form of time travel. I described the room as it looked then, with couches, rugs, ashtrays—in case anyone wanted to smoke—and a skylight. I let them know that in 1924 Calvin Coolidge was president, gas cost an average of 21 cents per gallon, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was first performed that year, and one of the year’s most popular movies was The Thief of Baghdad starring Douglas Fairbanks.
Perhaps the most interesting bit of trivia about the historic year of 1924, however, was that Duncan Phillips’s beloved Washington Senators baseball team won the World Series—remember his wife Marjorie’s most famous painting Night Baseball(1951) featured the hometown team. The Senators took game seven from the New York Giants winning four games to three, when future hall-of-famer Walter Johnson came in to pitch relief in a 12 inning game. I don’t know if Duncan Phillips ever made the connection, but the year Luncheon of the Boating Party first went on view was the first year in baseball history that a major league team from Washington ever won the World Series. The Senators have become the Washington Nationals, but we’re still waiting for the second World Series victory.
Was it a coincidence that the Senators won the World Series that year? I hardly think so.
Paul Ruther, Manager of Teacher Programs
I’ve given lots of tours of Luncheon of the Boating Party, and almost every time I talk about it, someone brings up the girl in the lower left cooing at her dog. I have been known to make a pretty bad joke, saying, well how else would you know the scene is set in France without the dog at the table? Kidding aside, the pup in the painting plays an important role.
Ever notice how almost all of the characters in the artwork seem to be engaged in flirtatious exchanges, except the girl with the dog? Guess what—she’s Renoir’s girlfriend and future wife, Aline Charigot. With his education, Renoir would have known that dogs in art operate as symbols of loyalty and fidelity, that’s why people often call their pets Fido. So it’s not surprising Renoir would have painted his future bride nuzzling a cute little pooch rather than romancing another character in the painting.
In addition to Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir created a number of important works where dogs play a prominent role. Fifteen years earlier, he painted At the Inn of Mother Anthony, Marlotte (1866) featuring diners gathered around a table with a dog (a poodle? a Bichon frisé?) curled up underneath. At New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, check out his stylish portrait of the Charpentier family complete with their Newfoundland named Porthos.
Renoir depicted Aline in the company of dogs at least two other times. In The Apple Seller (c. 1890) she sits with two young children and playful dog. Thirty years after Luncheon of the Boating Party, he painted a tender portrait of an older Aline holding her new little puppy Bob.