Blind Date: Poetic Response to Renoir

DC-based writer Kate Horowitz penned this poem about about visit Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party after a visit to the museum in January 2017. It was originally published in Qu Literary Magazine.

Blind Date, Phillips Collection Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81)
by Kate Horowitz

August Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-1881.

She is frightened. Surely,
something has happened. She has just come from somewhere
where something
has happened. Hands at her face,
holding her spinning head.

She is flushed,
pinch-browed, squinting hard out onto the water. She is
not alone: there are men

mere inches from her mouth, simultaneously shushing
and asking what has happened, shush, what has happened,

an arm around her waist, shhh, they don’t want answers,

they want an arm
around her waist, their beards by her hot mouth, and
yes, she is stammering,
but shhh, she
will not be for long,
this will blow over,
nothing has happened,
shhh, shhh, Jeanne, shhh

One hundred thirty-five years later it
has not blown over,
the men are shushing still,
Jeanne, she is still frightened, something has happened, but
the museum guide will say the men “seem to be flirting”;

the museum guide
will not say
what Jeanne is doing,
or where she was before, or even that

something has happened

and when I, pinch-browed,
standing before the painting, spot her for the first time, I say
something has happened,
she is upset, and the man
mere inches from my mouth
turns from my pointing
and says,
Look at that adorable dog

An Intimate Exchange

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.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Boating Couple, 1880–81

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Boating Couple (Les Canotiers), 1880–81. Pastel on paper, 17 3/4 × 23 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Given in memory of Governor Alvan T. Fuller by the Fuller Foundation

The young woman in this exceptional pastel drawing wears a ring on her third finger and holds a bouquet of violets. She gazes into her partner’s eyes and is clearly the object of his affection. This intimate pair is thought to represent Renoir with Aline Charigot, his future wife. During the summer of 1880 the couple spent an increasing amount of time together. This artwork is one of quite a few from this moment in Renoir’s career in which he may reference himself as the male protagonist engaged in an intimate exchange with a young woman generally assumed to be Charigot. Her straw hat, with a silk flower embellishing the ribbon, looks similar to the one worn by Charigot in Luncheon of the Boating Party, whereas he appears to be wearing the jacket donned by writer and critic Adrien Maggiolo in the painting.

A Soundtrack for Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party

Gallery Educator Donna Jonte leads a school tour with Pierre-August Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. Photo: Britta Galanis

One of my favorite things about working at the Phillips is catching a group of young kids on a school tour. Just the other day, as I was taking notes in the galleries, a small stampede of children all donning the same bright yellow t-shirt came in and sat down in front of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.

As they discussed this work, I was taken to places I had never been with it before. First they spent some time talking about the subjects of the work. The children noticed the people, the setting, and different elements such as what food was on the table. But then they went “inside” the painting. Each child demonstrated what sounds they thought they would hear if they were actually in the painting. One said a bee buzzing; another mentioned the dog and how it might be barking, while the woman holding it made “kissy” noises. Others suggested whooshing of the wind, rustling leaves, and the trickling of the water far in the distance. Then, when directed, they all together made these sounds, creating a soundtrack for the work.

Before this encounter, I looked at Luncheon of the Boating Party in a totally different way. I spent time noticing the artist’s talent in making the glass and liquid in the foreground shimmer. I noticed the composition, or the painterly style so common with the impressionists of this time. These kids (and Gallery Educator Donna Jonte, who led the exercise) helped me take a step back and stop obsessing over the pictorial. They helped me to appreciate this work for what it is: a captured moment in time.

Britta Galanis, Marketing & Communications Intern