A Technical Tour de Force
In Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir combines traditional and Impressionist styles and techniques. For example, Renoir employed an Impressionist technique using bright and bold dabs of paint to form the tableware in the foreground, while delicate, feathered brushstrokes are used to create the background. Objects that look white, like the tablecloth and boating shirts on Jules-Alphonse Fournaise and Gustave Caillebotte, are actually made up of several other colors, creating a sense of reflected and changing light.
However, when portraying the figures, Renoir utilized more traditional techniques. He created firm outlines and subtle gradations from light to dark to create a three-dimensionality to the faces and bodies of his subjects. He also used blending and layering paint applications used by Old Masters to create a rosy glow in the faces with tints of green and blue.
In addition to his painting style, Renoir creates an inviting atmosphere through composition by tilting the floorboards so that the viewer can clearly see the figures in the upper-righthand corner of the painting.
In the classroom activity below, students are asked to learn more about the science of optics and synthesize their research to make color studies by observing subtle tone differences in the painting.
Color Wheel, 1836
The Principles of Harmony and Constrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts.
Paintbox and Palette
c. 1900. Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY.
In the Classroom: The Science of Color Activity
In 1836, Michel-Eugène Chevreul published a new color wheel and accompanying book called The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Application to the Arts. This book became an Impressionist favorite in understanding how colors can be blended together and then perceived by the viewer. The Impressionists incorporated these new discoveries in the science of color into their work. For example, in Luncheon of the Boating Party, the dog’s fur looks brown but upon closer inspection, is made up of greens, yellows, and purples that blend in the viewer’s eye.
In this classroom activity, ask students to research Chevreul’s color theories and the science of optics (which can also be understood to be the study of the behavior of light). Then, connect their research to what they see in Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Students can further synthesize their research by making color studies from details in Renoir’s painting focusing on subtleties in tone.