Looking Closely at Composition

Looking Closely at Composition

Composition is the arrangement of objects or people within an image. In Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir used different compositional techniques to create a coherent scene that depicts a sense of lightheartedness, camaraderie, and relaxation.

First, the composition can be seen as a series of glances between small groupings of people in twos or threes.

Second, Renoir used the yellow straw hats on different heads to form triangles or figure eights within the painting. For example, the viewer can trace a line from Gustave Caillebotte to Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise, to her brother Jules-Alphonse, back down to Aline Charigot and across the canvas to Ellen Andrée.

He also positions Caillebotte and Jules-Alphonse Fournaise opposite each other with each wearing similar boating boating shirts and hats. Their curved arms almost act as parentheses to the picture, enclosing the space.

Additionally, Renoir combined other categories of painting—portraiture, landscape, still life, and genre painting—into the canvas. Explore his signature style and technique in the Artistic Process section.

In the classroom activities below, students are asked to compare different compositional techniques used two paintings. They can also create a “soundscape,” creatively interpreting Luncheon of the Boating Party through sensory interpretation.

In the Classroom: Inviting the Viewer into the Picture Activity

In Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir extends the edge of the table to the painting’s foreground inviting the viewer to pull up a chair and join the party. Similarly, in Gustave Caillebotte’s Boaters Rowing on the Yerres, the viewer is made to feel as if they’re sitting in the boat with the rowers. This technique of manipulating the depth or perspective of an object is called foreshortening.

Ask students to compare the role of the viewer in each painting and discuss how each artist uses foreshortening to engage the viewer. Then students can create their own image which uses foreshortening or other compositional devices to invite the viewer into the picture.

In the Classroom: Soundscape Activity

Students will create a soundscape to capture the mood of this festive scene. Conduct this any way you wish. For example, make a list of the sounds, dividing the composition into background, middleground, and foreground. You can assign groups of students to each part of the painting. Then ask students identify people, objects, scenery, gestures—any detail that intrigues them. Once they select their focus, students will create a sound to reflect that object, idea, or person. Have students practice their sounds before putting them all together.

Once students have created their sounds, the teacher or a student will  be the conductor. The conductor can ask one or many students to express their sounds to create a soundscape that reflects a new audio interpretation of the painting.


• Students list observations: People eating and talking at a fancy table, hats, clothes, tablecloth, dog. Notice other details: background with river, boats, buildings, colors.
• Facilitator asks: What’s going on in this painting? Who are these people? What’s the weather like?
• Facilitator asks: What sounds will you hear in this place?
• Students come up with sounds individually or in small groups. Student or facilitator demonstrates the signals for making the sounds louder, softer, and stopping. Perform. Record it on a recording device, like a smartphone or tablet, if possible and play.