Walking into a masterpiece: Renoir’s "Luncheon of the Boating Party"

Below we have Auguste Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, from 1881. It's part of the permanent collection of The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., and is considered a masterpiece of Impressionist painting. The painting captures a relaxed moment as Renoir's friends share food, wine, and conversation on a balcony overlooking the Seine at the Maison Fournaise restaurant in Chatou, a suburb west of Paris.


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Luncheon of the Boating Party, an Impressionist masterpiece by Auguste Renoir

Renoir captures a specific moment in time, presumably after the meal, as some of the figures have stepped away from the table. The grouping of people is especially dense in the back right corner, which contrasts from the two people at left, separated from the group by the open space that allows a view back to the Seine, where we can see a sailboat in the water. The way that the image is cropped, with bodies right up to the edge of the canvas, makes it seem like a tight space, and perhaps not a whole lot of space to move around.

But what if you, the viewer, could move around within the painting? Impossible, of course, seeing as it's a flat painting, a two-dimensional object. But thanks to the American sculptor J. Seward Johnson, he created a life-sized, three-dimensional version of this masterpiece, titled Were You Invited?, a painted bronze sculpture made in 2001, pictured below. The piece is part of the collection of Grounds For Sculpture, a 42-acre public sculpture park located in Hamilton, NJ.

a life size 3-D version of Renoir Luncheon of the Boating Party by J. Seward Johnson

It's quite a fascinating experience to see this in person, especially if you're familiar with the original painting, which measures 51 x 68 inches. All of a sudden, your experience with this masterpiece becomes a 17 x 24 foot space that you can walk into! There actually is space to move in and around the people and get different vantage points, as you can see in the pictures above and below.

moving around the 3-D version of Renoir Luncheon of the Boating Party by J. Seward Johnson

But let's think about the challenges of making a three-dimensional version of a famous two-dimensional painting. If the viewer of the sculpture is going to be able to walk into the "painting" and experience it in the round, then Johnson has to use his imagination to "fill in the gaps" of what exists but cannot be seen in the painting. For example, the man sitting next to the woman drinking in the painting, below left, is only seen in profile, with just a sliver of his face visible. Johnson had to imagine and create the clothes that he's wearing, decide how to place his posture and position at the table, decide to put a cup in his hand, and so forth. When one realizes there’s seven people in the background with just a small fraction of their bodies visible in the painting, that's a lot of "filling in" and interpretation to figure out.

comparing the Renoir painting of Luncheon of the Boating Party to the sculpture by J. Seward Johnson

YOUR TURN TO FILL IN THE MISSING DETAILS:

All that Renoir gives us of the guy, below left, is a view of the back of his head. Try drawing him from the front, wearing the same hat. What does he look like? The two men and one woman, below right: what are the men saying to her that causes her to cover her ears with her hands? Write a short dialogue of what they might be talking about after their luncheon that would cause her to react this way.

art project related to Renoir Lunchoen of the Boating Party




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