In this enduring icon of Impressionist painting, completed in 1881 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the shimmering stars of the social scene are displayed reclining amid the buoyant atmosphere of a waterside café. United together at the favorite haunt of the Impressionists Monet and Renoir, the Auberge du Père Furnace, critics, artists, authors, lovers, and hangers-on all cascade from a flimsy table. It is a work of youth and vigor, of romance and aspiration, but perhaps most importantly it is a testament to the social cohesion of Parisian artistic sub-cultures. Gathered around the table sit representatives from every rung of the socio-economic ladder. There is Hippolyte Alphonse Fournaise, the son of the owner of the inn where the scene is set, Baron Raoul Barbier, a former cavalry officer sitting with his back turned, the painter Gustave Caillebotte, as well as a sailor, a naval architect and a millionaire patron of the Impressionists. There is the actress Ellen André, Maggiolo the director of the influential newspaper Le Triboulet, there is journalist Paul Lhote with a pince-nez, the financier Ephrussi wearing a top hat, and the poet Jules Laforgue. In this ‘Last Supper’ of the inner mechanisms of the art world, Renoir takes a wry glance at the machinations of success. While their trailblazing ingenuity accounted for much, the artist reminds the viewer never to forget the power of the social circle to get things done. “The Luncheon of the Boating Party” is a powerful, ethereal glimpse of serenity, ambition, and humor, all set against the sleepy willows and bobbing ships that first made the Impressionists’ name.
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