Rhythm and Rhyme: A Poetry Tour, Part 1

As part of last week’s Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days festivities, I led a tour of the permanent collection using poetry as a theme. Our first stop: Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. After looking and discussing the work for a few minutes, I shared the following Shel Silverstein poem with the group, asking them to repeat each line out loud as I read. This ‘call and response’ method allowed everyone to feel the rhythm and rhyme of the poem:

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

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, between 1880 and 1881. Oil on canvas, 51 1/4 x 69 1/8 in. Acquired 1923. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

We’re Out of Paint, So . . .

Let’s paint a picture with our food.
For red we’ll squeeze these cherries.
For purple let’s splash grape juice on.
For blue we’ll use blueberries.
For black just use some licorice.
For brown pour on some gravy.
For yellow you can dip your brush
In the egg yolk you just gave me.
We’ll sign our names in applesauce
And title it “Our Luncheon,”
And hang it up for everyone
To stop . . . and see . . . and munch on.

How do you think this poem relates to Luncheon of the Boating Party? Choose a color that strikes you in the painting. Imagine you are out of paint. What food would you use to paint your chosen color and why? Share your choice in the comments!

Margaret Collerd, Public Programs and In-gallery Interpretation Coordinator

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

The Pain Passes but the Beauty Remains

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Judgement of Paris, circa 1908. Black, red, and white chalk on off-white, medium-weight, medium-texture paper, 19 1/4 x 24 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1940.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Judgement of Paris, circa 1908. Black, red, and white chalk on off-white, medium-weight, medium-texture paper, 19 1/4 x 24 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1940.

Having worked at the Phillips for over a year, I couldn’t even begin to list all of the questions I get asked about Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Most visitors are curious about what is quite possibly the most famous painting in our collection, Luncheon of the Boating Party. I personally prefer his smaller chalk study, The Judgement of Paris, that currently hangs in a nearby gallery, because it demonstrates just how talented and determined Renoir was as an artist.

You would never know by looking at the works he produced from 1892 until his death in 1919, but Renoir suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis for those last three decades or so of his life. His hands were deformed, his joints severely damaged, and he was wheelchair-bound for most of his later years. He adapted his painting techniques to cope: his children or other assistants held his palettes, placed paintbrushes in his permanently curled fingers, and even moved his canvases underneath his paintbrush so that he could hold his arm still to reduce the pain.

And yet Renoir continued to produce masterpieces. The Musée d’Orsay‘s famous version of The Bathers was completed just before his death, the Phillips’s chalk drawing is from around 1908, and a small bronze also in our collection is from 1916. It is astonishing to think that these amazing pieces were created by a man who was in constant pain and often essentially paralyzed. Jean Renoir, the artist’s son, wrote that “visitors who were unprepared for this could not take their eyes off his deformity. Though they did not dare to mention it, their reaction would be expressed by some such phrase as ‘It isn’t possible! With hands like that, how can he paint those pictures? There’s some mystery somewhere.'”

The video below was filmed in 1915, just four years before Renoir’s death, and shows the painter and his assistants at work in his studio in Cagnes-sur-Mer. Around this time, a young Matisse asked Renoir why he still painted when it was obvious just how much he suffered. Renoir answered thus: “The pain passes but the beauty remains.”

Katherine Luer, Museum Assistant