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

1 Year: Luncheons of the Paper Party

Renoir’s masterpiece inspires two blog birthday gifts. Experiment Station contributors enjoy a pleasant lunch on the Seine in Marketing Communications Editor Vivian’s collage. And Museum Assistant Rolf offers the blog a majorly cheeky sales commission. Lest it raise your hopes, aspiring collectors, don’t be fooled. Our precious painting is not for sale.

In image of Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party in which guests faces are replaced with blog contributor portraits. By Vivian Djen

By Vivian Djen

Blog contributor Rolf Rykken's birthday card for the blog is a cheeky offer to sell Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party

By Rolf Rykken

Art Madness!

Every year around this time March Madness, the annual college basketball tournament involving 68 teams, sweeps the nation. In workplaces all over America, the office betting pool is organized and people gather around the actual or virtual water coolers and compare how they did in their brackets.

I’ve noticed an unsurprising lack of interest in this over-commercialized, hyperbolic expression of American sports here at the Phillips, bastion of high culture that we are. But despite my nerdy love of art history and long time as a museum professional, I am still a huge college basketball fan. In fact my first year on the job here, I won the great respect of our former director, deputy director, and CFO (all men) by winning the college basketball pool organized by the CFO. After the CFO left the museum, it fell to me to organize the college basketball betting pool.

A few years ago, I thought of a way to make the event slightly more interesting to those who had little or no interest in March Madness. What if I associated each team participating in the tournament with artists prominent in the museum’s collection? It could be ART MADNESS. Those who did not know a Duke Blue Devil from a North Carolina Tar Heel might be able to see that if this year’s #1 seed Kentucky was associated with Cézanne, they could defeat a #16 team paired with Arthur B. Davies. The higher seeds would be paired with the most prominent artists, for example van Gogh, Klee, and Picasso are #1 seeds.

There were other fun possibilities. I could pair Georgia O’Keeffe with New Mexico and William Christenberry with Alabama. Some teams were paired with artists with whom I could not imagine the relationship–what does Notre Dame have to do with Delacroix or Xavier with Ingres (aside from Catholicism)? The teams play one another in the first round, and the two artists were long time rivals. And of course, Alfred Stieglitz was paired with a team slated to take on Georgia O’Keeffe/New Mexico.

Naturally, I made mistakes. I left Edward Hopper out of the first version of ART MADNESS and did not make a place for Thomas Eakins in the final version. One participant noted that it seems unfair to give Marjorie Phillips (our founder’s wife and an accomplished painter) only a 16th seed. Not to mention that I made Renoir a #2 seed because his style of painting seems to me a perfect match for Duke. As arguable as they may be, all of my choices are based on some criteria.

Did ART MADNESS increase participation by Phillips staff, you ask? Well this year’s pool has 22 participants. Not much maybe, but that’s the largest number in my eight years at the museum. Although as the person who keeps track of the brackets, I must admit that everyone who participated picked teams not artists, and all the selections are plausible. No one seems to have made any arbitrary or artist-based selections. Hmm . . . maybe people at the museum are more interested in college basketball than I thought?

Paul Ruther, Manager of Teacher Programs

Click the image to enlarge and discover Paul’s artist/team pairings for Art Madness 2012.