The Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland…I give it Five Stars!
Vreeland’s exquisite and beautiful prose make this novel of historical fiction one to read. She details the events leading up to the finished painting, how Renoir chose his models, his relationship with each one, how they connected with each other individually within the painting, and how they interacted with Renoir and the other models, externally, separate from the painting. The reader learns that Renoir painted on Sundays, in 1880, after actually having lunch with the models on the terrace of the actual restaurant in the painting, with all the dishes, silverware, glasses, etc., left on the table.
Through the author’s distinct word visualizations I could feel his frustrations, his joy, his anxiety over each minute detail, each brush stroke. We imagine his presence, with his models in front, some more self-absorbed than others, some humble and understanding individuals. Some models don’t show up, and he has to rely on his canvas, during the week, to fill in faces, attire, etc. Renoir met his future wife while painting was in progress. We glimpse bits of life, within the realm of the painting, both figuratively and visually, as Renoir endeavors to paint “la vie moderne”, the modern life.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, took months for him to finish. It was at a time when he was struggling to make ends meet, and a time when he was trying to establish himself as part of the Impressionist movement. This painting was (in his mind) the one major work that would establish him in that genre.
If you want an understanding of the time period, the Impressionist movement, life in Paris, and how Renoir managed brush stroke by brush stroke to finish this masterpiece, then this is the novel for you, as much of it is based on historical fact. Vreeland’s prose is fluid, beautiful and is a masterpiece, in itself. Word-paintings and images abound. I could go into detail, make in-depth statements, but that would take the joy out of you reading the novel, so I leave you with the above prose.
I have actually seen the original painting, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, in the Phillips Collection, in Washington, DC. I was mesmerized by it, and it is one of my favorite Auguste Renoir paintings. The Phillips family has had it in their possession since 1923.
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