Photo: Phillips Collection

Renoir And Friends

Imagine the scene of your last great party. Maybe it was sometime in the summer, in an outdoor setting, surrounded by friends and more than a few empty bottles. That doesn’t sound too farfetched, does it? It turns out that even the greatest artists in history have shared those moments with friends.

“Luncheon of the Boating Party,” a painting by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, will be on display at the Phillips Collection from October 7 through early January as part of the first exhibition in two decades focused on the classic painting.

Renoir and Friends will feature more than 40 works of art from collections around the world including paintings, drawings, pastels and photographs, all chosen to tell the story of the boating party. According to Phillips Collection Exhibition Curator Eliza Rathbone, we all need a little joyful art in our lives.

“It’s enormously colorful – the still life of bottles and glasses on the table shimmering with the light off the water,” Rathbone says. “It just has a joyful quality. It just feels uplifting and delightful and enormously pleasurable. Who wouldn’t wish they were there?”

And you don’t have to be an art aficionado to appreciate “Luncheon of the Boating Party.” Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, the painting is definitely one that makes even those most ignorant of art (myself being a card-carrying member of that exclusive club) think something along the lines of “Oh, I know that one.”

The painting has been reproduced around the world countless times. Not only is it a joyful scene, one that may seem familiar to anyone who’s wasted a summer day away with friends and booze, but it’s a beautifully colorful work, too.

“People may think they’ve never seen it, but they probably have because it must be one of the most loved paintings in the world,” Rathbone says. “I really think that’s true. I have walked into a hotel room in Helsinki and seen a reproduction of it on the wall.”

And the longer you look at “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” the more obvious the distinct personalities of its subjects become. My personal favorite? Look for the lady surrounded by interested men with her hands over her ears. Who hasn’t wanted to do that at some point or another?

“They’re quite individual too,” Rathbone continues. “One of them is wearing a top hat, one of them holds a dog, another leans over someone to join the conversation, another one looks at boats on the river…they all seem to have individual personalities. They’re people with whom everyone can identify in a way. Who hasn’t enjoyed such a situation?”

Don’t miss the Renoir and Friends exhibit, opening on October 7. And on November 2, head to Phillips After 5’s Fashion a la Renoir soirée from 5-8:30 p.m. Other events include a film screening of the 2012 film Renoir on October 12 and a book signing of Renoir: An Intimate Biography on November 9. Learn more at


Reem Nadeem

Reem is a Cairo-DC transplant, teacher and journalist. She has a B.A. in English from George Mason University. If she isn’t writing, teaching or staring longingly into the cat shelter next to On Tap’s office, she probably has her nose in a book.