It is probably one of the most famous works of art showing people dining together … aside from perhaps Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1495-1498) and maybe even Vincent Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters (1885). Let’s change that to, it’s probably one of the most famous works of art showing people relishing dining together. After all, as someone whose artwork was as much a celebration of beauty and enjoyment, as it was an example of technical ability and compositional mastery, French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir knew a thing or two about painting a good time.

Throughout his oeuvre Renoir’s canvases are populated with figures that are full of life and vitality, with his skilful interplay of fluid brushstrokes, richness of form and delicate flickering light bringing them to life. Few of his works exhibit these qualities more successfully than his 1881 oil on canvas painting Le Déjeuner Des Canotiers, otherwise known as Luncheon Of The Boating Party, currently housed at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. The painting depicts of a group of men and women relaxing on the balcony of the open-air café Maison Fournaise, on the Ile de Chatou in the west of Paris. Like many of his most convivial artworks, Luncheon Of The Boating Party was a deeply personal painting for Renoir, featuring many of his close friends and acquaintances.

Renoir’s future wife, Aline Charigot, is pictured in the lower left hand side of the painting, sitting at the table playing with a small dog; Gustave Caillebotte, a fellow artist, a patron and a good friend to Renoir is the figure shown on the lower right hand side of the composition, straddling a chair backwards, with actress Angele Legault and journalist Adrien Maggiolo positioned next to him; Charles Ephrussi, a wealthy amateur art historian, collector, patron and editor of Gazette des Beaux-Arts can be seen wearing a top hat in the background, speaking to Jules Laforgue, a poet and art critic; French actress Ellen Andrée can be seen seated at the second table, drinking from a wine glass, and seated opposite her is Baron Raoul Barbier; Actress Jeanne Samary can be seen in the upper right hand side of the work, with Renoir’s good friends Eugene Pierre Lestringez and Paul Lhote trying to chat her up; Separated from the rest of the group by the balcony rail that divides the composition diagonally are Alphonse Fournaise Jr. and Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise who were the proprietor’s children.

With regards to what the luncheon consisted of, not much evidence remains in Renoir’s canvas. Aside from a few half empty bottles of wine, some grapes and a couple of pears, not much else remains to their midday repast, but as Eliza Rathbone, Chief Curator at the Phillips Collection, says that the lack of detail is a part of the painting’s appeal. “It’s the end of the meal. And I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a beguiling picture. It’s of that time that comes when everyone has had a delicious meal, they’ve all gathered, they’ve focused on the food and now they’re just focusing on each other and this beautiful day and they don’t want it to be over.”