Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party (Le Déjeuner des Canotiers) affords one the rare pleasure of looking in on the cheerful charm of a group of Parisians enjoying a moment of leisure along the Seine river in the late 1800’s. Such moments of pleasure and conviviality are often accompanied by wine, as is this case here. In the center of the painting we can see bottles and glasses of wine on the table, around which unfolds conversations, flirtations, sentiments and intrigues. However, as is often case, while wine may be the center piece of such occasions, it is not the focal point but rather the axis on which the wheel turns.
One of Renoir’s largest paintings, Luncheon of the Boating Party simultaneously combines the styles of portraiture, still-life and en plein air landscape painting while embracing the changing face of French society in the late 19th century. In a dazzling display of flickering light, vibrant colours, and transient gestures, Renoir’s masterpiece celebrates the beauty and joy of the fleeting moment in all its vitality, spontaneity, and freshness. A beauty and a joy which has received overwhelming praise since its debut at the 7th Impressionist Exhibition in 1882.
In pure impressionist style, this painting is characterised by vivid colours, open brushstrokes and an emphasis on conveying the momentary effects of light. The colours themselves are rich and full of contrast where deep blues and lush greens are set against splashes of red and orange, all in turn reflected by patches of white. There is also a sense of movement and vibration in the loosely applied brushwork, at times thick, broken, or delicate and wispy, which shifts from a more conventional use of line and contour to the freshness of fluidity and spontaneity.
And it is exactly this shift in painting introduced by the impressionists which offers a new way of seeing and appreciating art. It is the bold attempt of the artist to recreate the visual sensation of the eye absorbing and embracing the immediacy of movement and light and the candid beauty of what’s in front of it.
However it must be said that while the painting seems to capture the essence of the moment, it was somewhat longer in the making. As with many impressionist artists, Renoir did not do any preparatory drawings but rather developed the composition as he went along. Contrary to what it may seem, this process took several months with a transition from painting the landscape en plein air to studio work with the models.
It is perhaps this very flexibility and openness to change within the artist’s vision that brings the painting to life with so much veracity depicted in the pleasure of passing moments.
In much a similar way, the experience of drinking wine has an instantaneous effect on our senses, which is nonetheless a product of design. What the painter does visually in way of structure, texture, balance and harmony, the winemaker strives to achieve through olfactory, gustatory, and tactile sensations. Winemakers carefully craft their wine in such a way that we might experience the pleasure of these qualities, giving an aesthetic value to wine.
Read my full article on club-del-vino by clicking the link below.