Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1844-1919
acquired by Duncan Phillips in 1923 for
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
The artist’s friends at the Maison Fournaise in Chatou on the Seine, France.
As complex as this painting is, it was painted without underdrawings. Instead the painter painted and repainted the characters and the constituent parts of this painting on the canvas until he was satisfied.
A masterful deployment of yellow, the first colour the eyes sees. And of orange.
There is a young woman at the center of this painting: the daughter of the owner of the Maison Fournaise.
That your eye does not stay with her has to do with the distribution of yellow on either side of her.
The yellow of her straw hat is the apex of an upside-down triangle of yellow points.
There is the boater on the man standing at the left front. His body mass and backward-leaning stance balances the concentration of bodies on the right of the picture.
Your eyes flicker from his boater to the young woman’s straw hat, to the orange shoulder pads on the jacket of a young man.
On to the hat of a man: beige-yellow with an orange headband.
Then your eyes settle briefly on the splash of bright yellow foliage in the far right top corner.
The ‘bottom’ line of this upside-down triangle is the yellow at the top of the foliage around the enclosure in which the friends have met. This yellow fringe ends with the foliage in the right top corner.
Your eyes move
down to the boater on the head of the painter Gustave Caillebotte sitting in the front right plane opposite
the young lady (Renoir’s fiancé) with a dog and her boater of soft cream-yellow straw with orange flowers.
The orange flowers and the orange of her lips unites her with lines, dots and smudges of orange across the entire painting as she and her fiancé (Renoir did not include himself in this tableau) are united under an orange-and-blue awning on a brilliant day with their friends in a boating party on the Seine.
A brilliant painting. Life itself.
News reports of long, long lines in France waiting to view this painting when The Phillips returned it to France on exhibit a few years ago were not surprising.
Nor reports of some people in tears. They must have recalled, if not this very painting, an astonishing talent, one among so many which France produced in the 19th and early 20th century.
A time of life before the disturbance of world wars and other disequilibria of modern life.
The Studio on the Rue La Condamine, oil on canvas, 1865. Frédéric Bazille, 1841-1870. Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France on loan to the National Gallery, Washington, DC in the winter/spring, 2017.
The painter Frédéric Bazille shared this studio with Renoir after moving to the Batignolles district of Paris in 1868. Paintings of Monet and Renoir are on the walls.
From the extreme left: Renoir (thought to be), Monet, the critic Zacharie Astruc, Manet wearing a hat. Bazille (painted by Manet) is seen looking at the easel. At the piano is a close friend of Bazille’s, Edmond Maître.
The Luncheon of the Boating Party (Le Déjeuner des Canotiers), 1880-81, oil on canvas.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1844-1919, French. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC