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Luncheon of the Boating Party: A Novelby Susan Vreeland
Synopses & Reviews
Bestselling author Susan Vreeland returns with a vivid exploration of one of the most beloved Renoir paintings in the world.
Instantly recognizable, Auguste Renoir's masterpiece depicts a gathering of his real friends enjoying a summer Sunday on a café terrace along the Seine near Paris. A wealthy painter, an art collector, an Italian journalist, a war hero, a celebrated actress, and Renoir’s future wife, among others, share this moment of la vie moderne, a time when social constraints were loosening and Paris was healing after the Franco-Prussian War. Parisians were bursting with a desire for pleasure and a yearning to create something extraordinary out of life. Renoir shared these urges and took on this most challenging project at a time of personal crises in art and love, all the while facing issues of loyalty and the diverging styles that were tearing apart the Impressionist group.
Narrated by Renoir and seven of the models and using settings in Paris and on the Seine, Vreeland illuminates the gusto, hedonism, and art of the era. With a gorgeous palette of vibrant, captivating characters, she paints their lives, loves, losses, and triumphs in a brilliant portrait of her own.
"Imagining the banks of the Seine in the thick of la vie moderne, Vreeland (Girl in Hyacinth Blue) tracks Auguste Renoir as he conceives, plans and paints the 1880 masterpiece that gives her vivid fourth novel its title. Renoir, then 39, pays the rent on his Montmartre garret by painting 'overbred society women in their fussy parlors,' but, goaded by negative criticism from mile Zola, he dreams of doing a breakout work. On July 20, the daughter of a resort innkeeper close to Paris suggests that Auguste paint from the restaurant's terrace. The party of 13 subjects Renoir puts together (with difficulty) eventually spends several Sundays drinking and flirting under the spell of the painter's brush. Renoir, who declares, 'I only want to paint women I love,' falls desperately for his newest models, while trying to win his last subject back from her rich fianc. But Auguste and his friends only have two months to catch the light he wants and fend off charges that he and his fellow Impressionists see the world 'through rose-colored glasses.' Vreeland achieves a detailed and surprising group portrait, individualized and immediate." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"You've seen the painting before: a group of friends seated outside under a red-striped awning, the remains of a leisurely lunch on the table before them. Their faces are flushed, perhaps with wine, perhaps from their earlier boating venture on the Seine, which can be seen as a mere splash of blue in the background. It's Pierre-Auguste Renoir's 'Luncheon of the Boating Party,' the jewel in the crown... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) of Washington's Phillips Collection and the subject of Susan Vreeland's latest novel. Vreeland has lately made a career out of writing fiction about painters painting. The best-selling 'Girl in Hyacinth Blue' followed an imagined portrait by Vermeer through its creation to the present day, and 'The Passion of Artemisia' recounted the operatic life of a recently rediscovered post-Renaissance artist, a woman. In 'Luncheon of the Boating Party,' Vreeland tells the tale of Renoir's impressionist masterpiece, of his artistic struggle and the lives of the models who posed for him, as played out against the backdrop of late 19th-century Paris and what was called la vie moderne. But the resulting novel is as unconvincing as the study that an art student might make of the masterpiece. The colors and figures and perspective are creditably executed, but without the animating genius of the original creator, it all lies flat on the canvas. Vreeland obviously has researched Renoir and his milieu thoroughly. At the time of the painting — 1880, a decade after the Franco-Prussian War, and the bloody Paris Commune that followed — the impressionists were viewed as outsiders who shunned, and were shunned by, the career-making Salon. Their paintings were too frivolous, too obsessed with beauty and pleasure. Meanwhile, a new movement was shoving its way forward: As Vreeland has the unpleasant writer Guy de Maupassant tell her hero, 'You're out of fashion, Renoir. It's realism, the grit, that's current now, la vie moderne, not la vie en rose.' While Renoir had no stomach for painting grit, when Vreeland's story begins he is trying to decide 'whether to withdraw completely from the Impressionist circle, continue to submit to the academic Salon and betray his friends, or to return to the Impressionist group he had helped to form.' And then, as Vreeland tells it, on July 20, 1880, Renoir has an epiphany. He will paint a boating party on his favorite island spot along the Seine, the Maison Fournaise. 'It would be an experiment,' writes Vreeland. 'The faces modeled with more classical techniques, one hue blending seamlessly into another to create shape, but the landscape and still life in looser, distinct strokes. Every figure, every feature a small painting in and of itself.' And each model would be a friend, each woman someone he could imagine loving. The logistics were daunting: 'If he had to pay for his paints he wouldn't be able to pay for his models. If he paid his models, how would he pay for Mere Fournaise's luncheon and the wine that would make them relaxed and convivial, the mood he wanted to paint? If he paid them this Sunday, he couldn't pay them the next Sunday.' Renoir's efforts to wrangle his models out to the country for several Sundays that summer, before the light fades in the fall, drive the plot. His ex-lover, the famous actress Jeanne Samary, shows up just once, with her dandyish fiance in tow, so he places her in the back. The artist Paul Lhote nearly gets himself killed in a duel. The actress Ellen Andree misses a sitting because she must fill in onstage for a colleague suffering from a botched abortion. Renoir scrapes the brittle society girl Cecile-Louise Valtesse de la Bigne out of the picture at the last moment because she refuses to let him paint her in profile. His search for her replacement produces the young seamstress who eventually became his wife. But these characters, as interesting as they are, do not develop distinct voices, a problem as the point of view shifts from chapter to chapter, leaving the reader to wonder at times who is speaking and to whom. Only the widow Alphonsine, the engaging daughter of the Maison Fournaise's proprietor, rings clear. Through her, Vreeland manages to convey the psychic destruction of the war and the rural beauty of her father's island in the Seine. Through her, we learn the colors that Renoir sees in the river, 'yellow ocher even though the water's dominant color is blue, but there's lavender and green too.' And that the best place to pick raspberries is along the walls of a ruined convent, where she gathers 'plenty for two feuilletes aux framboises, one pie for each table on Sunday. When the models would eat them, they would be blessed with all of the elements of earth and sky and water, all the goodness of this river world ... it would be her own blessing on the painting.' If only Alphonsine's blessing extended to the rest of this uneven novel, for only when she speaks does 'Luncheon of the Boating Party' capture what Vreeland describes as the impressionist ideals: 'to record sensation' and 'catch an instant in time.'" Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.comTerry Pluto, a sports columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal and the author of 'The Curse of Rocky Colavito' and 'Dealing: The Rebuilding of the Cleveland Indians'Dennis Drabelle, who is a contributing editor of The Washington Post Book WorldPatrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.comRachel Hartigan Shea, a contributing editor at The Washington Post Book World, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A]n amazingly engrossing reinvigoration of the lives of the individuals who modeled for Renoir...all are given a third dimension in Vreeland's lovely prose, beyond the two dimensions in which they were painted." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] profoundly moving portrait of the creative process and of a community of people who came together for a moment to help create one great work." Library Journal
"As impressionistically dazzling and humane as the Renoir painting that inspires it, Luncheon of the Boating Party is itself a true work of art that blends the manifest joys and the impossible longings of life into a single coherent vision. Susan Vreeland has for some time been one of our finest writers, and this is her best book yet." Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
A bestselling author returns with a vivid exploration of one of the most beloved paintings in history: Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party.
A vivid exploration of one of the most beloved Renoir paintings in the world, ?done with a flourish worthy of Renoir himself? (USA Today)
With her richly textured novels, Susan Vreeland has offered pioneering portraits of artists? lives. Now, as she did in Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland once again focuses on a single painting?Auguste Renoir?s instantly recognizable masterpiece, which depicts a gathering of Renoir?s real friends enjoying a summer Sunday on a café terrace along the Seine. Narrated by Renoir and seven of the models, the novel illuminates the gusto, hedonism, and art of the era. With a gorgeous palette of vibrant, captivating characters, Vreeland paints their lives, loves, losses, and triumphs so vividly that ?the painting literally comes alive? (The Boston Globe).
About the Author
Susan Vreeland is the internationally renowned bestselling author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Passion of Artemisia, The Forest Lover, and a collection of stories, Life Studies. Her novels have been translated into twenty-five languages.
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