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Review: Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland

Luncheon of the Boating Party is a truly excellent book. Set in the Summer of 1880 in Paris and Chatou, the novel follows the story of the famous painting by Auguste Renoir, now in the Phillips Collection in DC. Egged on by an article written by Emile Zola, Renoir begins painting an idyllic scene on the balcony of the Maison Fournaise, of thirteen friends.

The story is intriguing because it’s told from the point of view not just of Renoir, but the models in the painting. We’re introduced, for example, to Augustine Fournaise, daughter of the owner of the restaurant, and Gustave Caillebotte the artist. We also meet Aline Charigot, the seamstress who later married Renoir. The iconic painting represents a mingling of classes as they devote a Sunday to the pursuit of leisure.

In all of this, Vreeland creates a beautiful novel that combines the realistic with the idealistic. We’re also introduced to the fascinating artistic process Renoir’s mind went through. It’s a well-written and researched novel. Vreeland is in her element when she writes about art, and Luncheon of the Boating Party is no exception. What helps is that the painting appears right on the cover—I guarantee you’ll turn back to the painting many times as you read. There are also illustrations inside, including a map of Paris and Chatou.

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