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Video transcript

we're in the Phillips Collection in Washington DC and we're looking at one of red wasps largest paintings this is the luncheon of the boating party the states to 1880 1881 so we're now about seven years or so after the first impressionist exhibition of 1874 so sometimes we think about this is moving into a valet der period for Renoir then why is stepping away certainly from the earliest impressionist interest in the city we are in the suburbs about a half hour train ride from the city of Paris at a restaurant which you could approach by boat and so this is literally a boating party that has stopped for lunch if you think about Renoir is earlier work like the Moulin de la galette that is a scene of leisure but in the city painted in very different ways the Moulin de la galette has very open brushwork and it's very difficult to find the edges or the contours of forms and here we have forms that seem much more three-dimensional where the forms really do have contours and there's a real sense of mass to the figures you can see that especially in the bare arms of the two men that are close to the foreground that's actually the son of the proprietor of this restaurant the other man in a straw hat that's the artist kya baat who is one of the great impressionist painters who focused on both the city and the suburbs he himself loved the boats and actually was an act of rower we're looking at a group of pretty well-to-do City people who've come to go boating and are now taking a break and having lunch with their friends and these are friends of the artist and in fact the young woman who's playing with that cute little dog in the lower left corner is Renoir's girlfriend Aileen who he'll eventually marry we have a sense of sociability of flirting of delicious food and wine and of enjoying a type of enjoying a lovely summer's day of the breeze of the water of the outdoors and life is good and that's not an uncommon feeling that one gets from looking at Renoir look at the way that the figures lean around each other lean back lean forward and are steadied by each other there's a wonderful weight and counterweight throughout this painting and glancing encounter glancing the male figure in the upper-right in that straitjacket who leans forward looks down at this young woman but she looks at the man across the table from her and he looks at the young woman playing with the dog this painting is wildly colorful and against all of these rich greens and blues and the whites of the tablecloth really shimmer in the light of the day look at the way he's played that brilliant orange across the surface it's sometimes a ribbon it's sometimes flowers and a hat but it's more than just the colors I can hear the China I can hear the clinking of the glasses I can hear the rustle of the leaves in the wind the laughter of the figures yeah it is a painting that is absolutely alive this is a large painting probably largely painted out of doors with more than a dozen figures many of whom Renoir knew who had to sit for him outside so he could capture that sense of outdoor light we think it was probably completed in the studio but when artists painted out of doors a smaller painting it's usually preferable and easier to deal with well painting outside is difficult you have the same breeze you have light changing it's not a controllable environment but it is that gentle chaos that I think makes this painting so pleasurable so much fun and I think that's beautifully picked up in the way that the mass of the sailboats are tilted this way and that or look at the edging of the awning and the way that the wind has pulled some of those little lobes in towards us and some out away from us and so there is the constant and gentle movement and change we can see that movement back and forth in the figure in the front he leans back toward us and pokes his elbow into our space and opposite him that figure leans back on his arm but what I sense throughout all of this is Renoir's interest in the three dimensionality of the figures we're losing the flatness that was created by those very choppy brush strokes in the Moulin de la galette it's interesting because I see that increasing sense of solidity especially in the figures but much less in the things around the figures the glasses are still constructed only out of glints of light out of bits of shadow and that light and shadow is touches of white paint and touches of purple and blue paint and so we still see the same kind of handling that we saw in Moulin de la galette from almost a decade before and we see that to you in the background where we have this sketchy greenery around the river that we see in the background with the boats in it there is this new concern for figures and a construction of a composition right the composition is a little bit more studied is a pyramidal structure if you follow the railing from the lower left towards the center of the painting you have one side of that pyramid and then if you follow the hand of the woman in blue a pastor shoulder I get the other edge of that pyramid and it really does recall the kind of classicism that harks back to a renaissance painting right we have a sense of the creation of an illusion of space something that was not important in the beginnings of Impressionism that railing acts like an orthogonal like that creates space the other issue is that we have no direct sunlight on these figures except perhaps the figures at the very edge like the woman who's leaning over the railing where you can see perhaps a little bit of direct Sun on her hat maybe on her hand because all the other figures are safely tucked under this beautiful awning which is creating this emphasis on the pinks and the blues and it's enriching this internal atmosphere even though they're outside it's really a modern utopia Renoir's created for us it is this new bourgeois utopia that the French had achieved at least for a particular class