In 1923, Duncan Phillips (1886-1966), founder of what is now The Phillips Collection, purchased Luncheon of the Boating Party, already recognized as one of the most famous Renoir paintings. He bought it from the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who singlehandedly "...bought over 1,000 Monets, 1,500 Renoirs, 800 Pissarros, 400 Sisleys, 400 Cassatts, and about 200 Manets," according to Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Jennifer Thompson.Duncan Phillips paid what was then considered to be the staggering sum of $125,000. (According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, that would amount to roughly $1.8 million in 2017 dollars. Draw your own conclusions about prices in the current art market).
Right: Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81. Oil on canvas, 4'3" x 5'9". The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.
A new exhibition, Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party, explores the history of the work's creation and of the models who posed for it. Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919) convinced this group of friends and sponsors to pose at the restaurant and inn Maison Fournaise, located on the banks of the Seine in Chatou, over many hours and weeks in the late summer of 1880. While the artist claimed he preferred using his peers and friends as models, economic necessity dictated preference for this impoverished artist.
Not everyone in this artwork has been positively identified, and many art historians believe that some of the female figures are composites because they so closely resemble his future wife, Aline Charigot; she is in profile in the left foreground, coddling a small black dog. A seamstress who lived in Paris, Charigot typified the 1880s French woman, roughly 60% of whom worked for a living in addition to caring for her children and managing the family home.
Left: Portrait of Madame Renoir, c. 1885. Oil on canvas, approx. 26" x 21". Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In the right foreground is Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) , who is dressed in a sleeveless tank and a sailor's "boater". A close friend to Renoir, Caillebotte worked as an engineer, a lawyer, a student, a soldier, and is now also considered one of the more famous painters of his era. A decade younger than his fellow Impressionist painters, Gustave was independently wealthy and became a patron to many of these aspiring painters. He had such discerning taste that the Impressionist paintings he bequeathed to the Louvre formed the core of its collection of Impressionism artwork.
Another notable figure in Luncheon of the Boating Party is Charles Ephrussi, who has his back to the viewer in the upper right background. His presence - in a top hat, more appropriate for the opera than an outdoor lunch party - indicates a loosening of social mores about members of different social classes
mingling together. A notable art historian and collector, Ephrussi purchased Edouard Manet's A Bunch of Asparagus for 800 francs. According to the Musee d'Orsay, the following exchange occurred:
But Ephrussi sent him [Manet] a thousand francs, and Manet, who was a master of elegance and wit, painted this asparagus [on the left] and sent it to him with a note saying: "There was one missing from your bunch".
This charming work is also include in the exhibition.
Luncheon of the Boating Party was shown to great acclaim in the 7th Impressionist exhibition of 1882, earning the distinction of being the finest painting in the show by three reviewers. In spite of the remarkable left-handed compliment from critic Armand Silvestre - It is one of the most beautiful pieces that this insurrectionist art by Independent artists has produced - Renoir's career was launched.
Right: Asparagus, c. 1880. Oil on canvas, 6.5" x 8.5". Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
This exhibition features 40 selected works—paintings, photographs, drawings, and prints - that explore these times and Renoir's colleagues, who generously allowed him to paint this 6' masterpiece outdoors. This exhibition will be at The Phillips Collection through January 7, 2018.
Note: For readers of "The Hare with Amber Eyes", its author, Edmund de Waal, is related to Ephrussi. Explore this fascinating connection!
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