Who’s Who in the Painting

Who’s Who in the Painting

There are 13 people depicted in the Luncheon of the Boating Party, all of whom are friends and colleagues of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Just as restaurant Maison Fournaise attracted Parisians from various backgrounds, Renoir selected a similarly diverse group of friends for his painting. However, Renoir’s goal was not to depict accurate representations of his subjects but to transform an everyday luncheon scene into a fête galante (festive party).

Wearing a top hat, the amateur art historian, collector, and editor Charles Ephrussi (8) speaks with a younger man in a more casual brown coat and cap. He may be Ephrussi’s personal secretary—poet and critic Jules Laforgue (5).

At center, the actress Ellen Andrée (6) drinks from a glass. Across from her in a brown bowler hat is Baron Raoul Barbier (4), a bon vivant (a person with refined taste) and former mayor of colonial Saigon. He is turned toward the smiling woman at the railing, thought to be Louise-Alphonsine Fournaise (3), the proprietor’s daughter. She and her brother, Jules-Alphonse Fournaise (2), who handled the boat rentals, both wear straw boaters. At the upper right, the artist Paul Lhote (12) and the bureaucrat Eugène Pierre Lestringuez (11) seem to be flirting with actress Jeanne Samary (13).

In the foreground, Renoir included a youthful portrait of his fellow artist, close friend, and wealthy patron, Gustave Caillebotte (9). An avid boatman and sailor, he wears a white boater’s shirt and flat-topped boater. He gazes at a young woman cooing at her dog. She is Aline Charigot (1), a seamstress Renoir had recently met and would later marry. He is also grouped with the actress Angèle Legault (7) and the Italian journalist Maggiolo (10).

In the classroom ideas below, students will identify the subjects in the painting to either write a poem from different perspectives or delve deeper into their biographies to write a short play.

In the Classroom: Perspective Poems Activity

In this activity, students will work in pairs to create a “poem for two voices.” This poetry activity asks students to empathize with a figure in the painting and then express a certain idea or message in their collaborative poem. To begin, each student should select a figure in the painting. Then, each student will brainstorm words or ideas associated with their figure. Are there certain words or phrases that both students wrote down? What words or phrases are different?

Students can use these words or phrases to begin writing their poem. The poem should include 3–4 lines from each student and two lines written together as a pair. Bring the class together to read the poems aloud; the lines written separately  will be read aloud individually, while the two shared lines are read in unison.

This activity can be completed in English or French.

Learn more information on two voice poetry.

In the Classroom: Setting the Scene Activity

Ask students to further identify the subjects in the painting with research, sharing their findings in groups. Then, ask students to synthesize their research by creating a mini play about the Luncheon of the Boating Party based on these biographies. Students may begin by imagining the characters, setting, and dialogue that would be used. They can research the fashion of the time for costumes or props. Students can choose to create a one act play about the scene that is depicted in the painting, or they could create a play that explores a scene that happens before or after the image in the painting. Students can be arranged in small groups or work together as a whole class.