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Exhibition reveals new insights into Renoir's celebrated "Luncheon of the Boating Party"
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880–81. Oil on canvas, 51 1/4 x 69 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1923.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Phillips Collection presents an exceptional exhibition inspired by the museum’s celebrated Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–81) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Comprised of more than 40 carefully chosen works from private and public collections around the world, Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party explores the process by which the artist created his masterwork, while also recounting and illustrating stories of the diverse circle of friends who inspired it.

“As the Phillips draws closer to our centennial year, it is a very fitting time to shed new light on one of the gems of our permanent collection,” said Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski. “I am delighted that Renoir’s masterwork will be displayed alongside numerous other works by the artist and his contemporaries, helping further contextualize this remarkable painting.”

Recognized today as one of the greatest achievements of the artist’s career, the work is a marvel of plein-air painting on a grand scale. While no known preparatory studies exist for this masterwork, the years before Renoir completed Luncheon of the Boating Party were marked by encounters with riverside locations along the Seine west of Paris and with specific individuals who helped him realize his ambitious undertaking. No other large-scale painting by Renoir with the exception of the Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (1876) comprises as many figures as Luncheon of the Boating Party. While never intended as a group portrait, the 14 individuals depicted in the painting appear nonetheless highly individualized and based on specific people in Renoir’s life.

“Luncheon of the Boating Party represents so much more than a diverse group of friends having a lovely time,” said Phillips Chief Curator Emerita, and project director, Eliza Rathbone. “Much has been written about Renoir and his work. Our project seeks to separate fact from fiction and to uncover as much specific detail and evidence as possible in order to bring to life this group of journalists, critics, models, collectors, and world travelers. By looking closely at these individuals who inspired Renoir, we find ourselves in a fascinating backstory that sheds light not only on this great enterprise and its models but on the artist himself.”

A room in the exhibition dedicated to research on the masterwork features an in-gallery interactive that uses findings from x-radiographic and infrared images and paint cross-sections.

“Drawing upon a recent technical study on Luncheon of the Boating Party, I am excited to share new discoveries made about the painting,” said Phillips Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele. “Inspection of the surface in raking light compared to the same passages in x-radiographic and infrared images reveal numerous changes that the artist made while completing the painting, and scientific analysis of the paint layers further illuminates these revisions. Through richly illustrated text panels and a groundbreaking in-gallery interactive, visitors will for the first time be able to track Renoir’s development of the composition on their own.”

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