Luncheon of the Boating Party

Luncheon of the Boating Party

3.5 29
by Susan Vreeland

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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


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).

Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Inquirer
Vreeland's most ambitious book yet.
If a trip to Paris is a bit outside of your price range, Vreeland's new novel is the next best thing.
San Diego Union-Tribune
A masterwork.
Seattle Times
Exquisitely wrought . . . this summer's most satisfying historical novel.
Baltimore Sun
Vreeland takes the big bold brush strokes of Renoir's personal and artistic oeuvre and displays them with her usual vividness in this eponymous novel. . . . Sensual and provocative.
Publishers Weekly
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 Emile 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 fiance. 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. (May) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Here, Vreeland uses words to paint the changing world of late 19th-century France. After being stung by remarks in an essay written by French novelist Émile Zola concerning the inadequacies of Impressionism, Pierre-Auguste Renoir is goaded to paint a masterpiece surpassing his Montmartre spectacle Bal au Moulin de la Galette, which will finally establish this school as heir to the artistic traditions of France and Italy. He uses models, allowing the listener to experience la vie moderne, the new modes of living, thinking, and expressing that transformed the social world of the late 19th century into the one we inhabit today. Alphonsine, daughter of the proprietor of La Maison Fournaise, and Angèle, a debauched child of Montmartre, are naturals. The beautiful yet spoiled Circe, fobbed off on Renoir by a jaded Parisian socialite, provokes a crisis when she quits midstream, refusing to be painted in profile. Renoir finds her replacement in Aline, a 19-year-old seamstress he will one day marry. Other models add their own piquancy. Karen White brings a cadenced elegance to her reading that is set off by her irreverent over-the-top voicing of the snobby Circe and the naïve innocence of Aline. Recommended for libraries with a commitment to historical fiction and books about art.
—David Faucheux

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Meet the Author

Coming out of the Louvre for the first time in 1971, dizzy with new love, I stood on Pont Neuf and made a pledge to myself that the art of this newly discovered world in the Old World would be my life companion. Never had history been more vibrant, its voices more resonating, its images more gripping. On this first trip to Europe, I felt myself a pilgrim: To me, even secular places such as museums and ruins were imbued with the sacred. Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, religious and social history--I was swept away with all of it, wanting to read more, to learn languages, to fill my mind with rich, glorious, long-established culture wrought by human desire, daring, and faith. I wanted to keep a Gothic cathedral alive in my heart. My imagination exploded with the gaiety of the Montmartre dancers at Moulin de la Galette, the laborer whose last breath in his flattened chest was taken under the weight of a stone fallen from the Duomo under construction in Florence, the apprentice who cut himself preparing glass for the jeweled windows of Sainte Chapelle, the sweating quarry worker aching behind his crowbar at Carrara to release a marble that would become the Pietà.

In a fashion I couldn't imagine then, I have been true to this pledge. I have brought to life the daughter of the Dutch painter Vermeer who secretly yearned to paint the Delft she loved. I've given voice to the Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, raped at seventeen by her painting teacher, the first woman to paint large scale figures from history and scripture previously reserved for men. On my own continent, I've entered deep British Columbian forests with Emily Carr, whose love for native people took her to places proper white women didn't go. My imagination has followed Modigliani's daughter around Paris searching for shreds of information about the father she never knew. I've imagined myself a poor wetnurse, bereaved of her own baby so that a rich woman, Berthe Morisot, might paint. I've taken my seventeenth century Tuscan shoemaker to Rome to have his longed-for religious experience under the Sistine ceiling. I've followed Renoir's models to cabarets and boat races, to war and elopement, to the Folies-Bergère and luncheons by the Seine.

Now some facts as to how I arrived there: After graduating from San Diego State University, I taught high school English in San Diego beginning in 1969 and retired in 2000 after a 30-year career. Concurrently, I began writing features for newspapers and magazines in 1980, taking up subjects in art and travel, and publishing 250 articles. I ventured into fiction in 1988 with What Love Sees, a biographical novel of a woman's unwavering determination to lead a full life despite blindness. The book was made into a CBS television movie starring Richard Thomas and Annabeth Gish. My short fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, New England Review, Confrontation, Alaska Quarterly Review, Manoa, Connecticut Review, Calyx, Crescent Review, So To Speak and elsewhere.

My art-related fiction, products of my pledge on Pont Neuf:
Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999, and a Hallmark Hall of Fame production in 2003, tracing an alleged Vermeer painting through the centuries revealing its influence on those who possessed it.

The Passion of Artemisia, 2002, disclosing the inner life of Artemisia Gentileschi, Italian Baroque painter who empowered her female heroines with her own courage.
The Forest Lover, 2004, following the rebel Canadian painter, Emily Carr, seeking the spiritual content of her beloved British Columbia by painting its wild landscape and its native totemic carvings.

Life Studies, 2005, stories revealing Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters from points of view of people who knew them, and showing that ordinary people can have profound encounters with art.

Luncheon of the Boating Party, 2007, illuminating the vibrant, explosive Parisian world of la vie moderne surrounding Renoir as he creates his masterwork depicting the French art of living.

Selected awards:

New York Times Best Sellers: Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Passion of Artemisia, Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Book Sense Pick, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 2007.

Book Sense Year's Favorites, for The Passion of Artemisia, 2002.

Book Sense Book of the Year Finalist, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999.

International Dublin Literary Award, Nominee, for Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 2001.

Independent Publisher Magazine, Storyteller of the Year, for Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999.

Foreword Magazine's Best Novel of the Year, for Girl in Hyacinth Blue,1999.

San Diego Book Awards' Theodor Geisel Award and Best Novel of the Year, 1999, for Girl; 2002 for Artemisia, and 2005 for Life Studies.

My work has been translated into twenty-five languages.

So, what have I learned from all of this? That entering the mind and heart of painters has taught me to see, and to be more appreciative of the beauties of the visible world. That I can agree with Renoir when he said, "I believe that I am nearer to God by being humble before his splendor (Nature)." That people are hungry for real lives behind the paintings. That readers' lives have been enriched, their sensibilities sharpened, even their goals for their own creative endeavors given higher priorities in their lives.

And especially this: Thanks to art, instead of seeing only one world and time period, our own, we see it multiplied and can peer into other times, other worlds which offer windows to other lives. Each time we enter imaginatively into the life of another, it's a small step upwards in the elevation of the human race. Consider this: Where there is no imagination of others' lives, there is no human connection. Where there is no human connection, there is no chance for compassion to govern. Without compassion, then loving kindness, human understanding, peace all shrivel. Individuals become isolated, and the isolated can turn resentful, narrow, cruel; they can become blinded, and that's where prejudice, holocausts, terrorism and tragedy hover. Art--and literature--are antidotes to that.

Brief Biography

San Diego, California
Date of Birth:
January 20, 1946
Place of Birth:
Racine, Wisconsin
San Diego State University

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Luncheon of the Boating Party 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A friend had suggested the audio version, but being a lover of books I chose the book. I love Impressionist art and even had a print of the subject painting in my home. I'm really enjoying the details and personality quirks of the characters and how the author has wound the history and politics and fashion of the time into the story. Looking forward to another!!
katknit More than 1 year ago
What goes through an artist's mind during the act of creating a painting? Susan Vreeland makes that question the theme of Luncheon of the Boating Party. Generally agreed to be one of Renoir's masterpieces, Luncheon is a huge canvas depicting fourteen people enjoying a repast at an inn along the River Seine. Renoir is depicted at the pivotal point in his career when he was struggling to decide whether to persist with the impressionist genre, or to incorporate more formal techniques and styles. Provoked by a critical comment from Emile Zola, he embarks upon a quest to produce a work to serve as the definitive rebuttal. Vreeland immerses her readers within the heart of Montmartre and the romantic Parisian ideal of "modern life". A joyous commingling of street scenes and cafe society, artists and models, dealers and yachtsmen, Luncheon is an earthy, incandescent evocation of one of the art world's most momentous eras. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The rich characters and luscious landscapes of Paris and the surrounding countryside made this book so much fun to read. Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very interesting fictional book based on Renoir's famous painting. The people in this painting have actually been identified. The author has built a story around the diverse people in the painting and the interaction between them as they got together to pose for this painting. It is not filled with a lot of action but is more a description of the people and how Renoir might have painted this work of art.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very enjoyable read, filled with atmosphere of the period. Interesting insights into the picture and the artist's struggle to depict an idea. Very descriptive of the relationships among the people portrayed.
lubs2read More than 1 year ago
This book is great! If you love Renoir (and I do) then you will appreciate this book. It really brings the artist to life and the painting as well. I have enjoyed this author before and look forward to reading more of her books. This would make an excellent gift for impressionist art lovers! I recommend this book to all!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the characters and the background of Renoir's painting. I loved reading about the people in the painting and the life of Renoir and the culture of France. It was amazing to learn that the people were real. I would have loved to meet them all. This is another fine book by Ms. Vreeland. This a must read for those who love the Impressionist artists.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book
leopardiNJ More than 1 year ago
In the summer of 1880 at a restaurant along the banks of the Seine downstream from Paris, goaded on by the taunts of Emil Zola, Pierre-Auguste Renoir set out to produce the definitive masterpiece of Impressionism. Over a period of several weeks during that summer Renoir assembled a troupe of friends and models, posing them on the upper terrace of the restaurant La Maison Fournaise overlooking the Seine. The author details both the artistic (such as eliminating the appearance of scene floating in air) and the practical (such as coming up with fourteen rather than thirteen characters) challenges faced by Renoir in producing the huge canvas. Susan Vreeland has written a story of that titled work, Le déjeuner des canotiers, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, that simultaneously captures both the artistic temperament of the Renoir and the personalities of the models in the masterwork. The author skillfully employs a grammar and structure that mimics in words what Impressionism meant to deliver on the canvas. Only toward the end of the book does Vreeland drift occasionally into bits of modern language and political correctness that mars somewhat a text that is otherwise historically and artistically accurate.
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