Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, Bougival, (1881. 51 x 68" The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.), a follow-up to Ball at the Moulin de la Galette of 1876, appears at first glance to be nothing more than a snapshot of a friendly social gathering of men and women enjoying a riverside meal. Interaction among the guests through conversation livens the environment. Relaxed body positioning and posture assists the artist in portraying a laissez-faire atmosphere and the setting, including the background, middle ground, and foreground, have all been designed wisely, for they do not appear too jarring in color or overcrowded. However, further observation and research unveils minute details, whose relativity and meaning could be overlooked by someone ignorant of the subject matter, unless of course, this was intentional by Renoir, and over-analyzation of this piece was never intended.
In the upper left corner, beyond the awning is a small landscape consisting of foliage, boats, a river, and a small blurred bluish gray line representing a bridge.
But, this tiny detail, probably the most overlooked element within the piece, represents the Chatou railroad bridge, which has been placed within the composition as a political statement to remind viewers of the government's recent completion of the transportation projects that made riverside gatherings of this kind possible. The railroads crossed many points along the Seine, allowing leisurely visits from Paris to the suburbs and vice versa. It was through the use of the newly constructed transportation that Renoir was able to access a nearby island of Chatou to paint this piece depicting his friends and colleagues on the balcony overlooking the Seine at the Maison Fournaise.
Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, not only conveys the lax and jovial mood of the Masion Fournaise, but it also reflects the...