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Summer on the Seine

Devon Murphy-Petersen devonm@waukee.lib.ia.us
Devon Murphy-Petersen devonm@waukee.lib.ia.us

This week’s book, “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Susan Vreeland is the fictionalized account of Renoir’s creation of the sumptuous painting by the same name. This painting has long been one of my favorites, so I particularly enjoyed the historical aspects of this novel.

The book opens with a quote from Renoir, “To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.”

In 1880 Renoir was a poor middle-aged artist striving to enlarge his reputation when he had the vision to paint at Maison Fournaise restaurant on the river Seine west of Paris. The painting depicts fourteen men and women in boating attire enjoying food, wine, and conversation on the terrace. The detail of each individual’s features, the light diffused by the canopy, and the sense of nature in the painting bring it to life. The novel follows Renoir and his models as they gather every Saturday afternoon for the six months required to complete the painting. The painting was finished early in 1881. It now is part of The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

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