What moves an artist to choose a subject, composition of a still life or position of figures? What would you ask Auguste Pierre Renoir about his Luncheon of the Boating Party?
Susan Vreeland's novel of the same name takes the reader on a journey into the mind of a master during the height of the Impressionist movement in France in the 1880s. As the story unfolds, Renoir is consistently penniless and often relies on the good graces of his patroness and her salon, as well as her referrals for commissioned portraits.
Portraits pay the bills, but Renoir feels an urgency to create a painting that is truly different and can effectively portray "La Vie Moderne" - the new ways of thinking and enjoying life after the Franco-Prussian war. Tired of fighting with Edgar Degas about the direction of the impressionist movement, Renoir often reminisces about "the good old days" painting riverside with his friend Monet.
Despite his lack of money, he finds true pleasures in life: sunlight dappled shadows, excellent wine, beautiful women. In fact, Renoir claims he must love every subject, in order to paint to his best ability. His love of women, usually the models in his paintings, complicates Renoir's love life and the subsequent evolution of his "Luncheon Party," the largest canvas he's ever attempted.
The paint purveyor gives the huge canvas and paints on credit; a friends' restaurant balcony is reserved for a summer of Sundays, and Renoir gathers friends old and new to model for him. As Renoir struggles through the painting, we learn the history of his relationships as well as the evolution of his visionary painting.
In the vein of Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, Susan Vreeland takes the reader into the mind of an artist and behind the scenes of an iconic masterpiece. You may also enjoy Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue, which traces the history of a painting, kept hidden for decades, which just might be an undiscovered Vermeer.
Recommended by Frazier Walker