Introduction: Renoir's Depiction of Bourgeois Leisure
An introduction to one of Renoir's harmonious images of bourgeois leisure in suburban Paris.

Book: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 45.

Pierre Auguste Renoir is beloved for his images of bourgeois leisure in urban and suburban Paris, such as the radiant Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (The Rowers’ Lunch), shown at the second Impressionist exhibition, in 1876. Painted at Chatou, a village along the Seine, it is a paean to the joys of youth and summer, a celebration of the rituals of friendship and the bounties of nature, with its seasonal rhythms of rest and play. Two young men lounge at a table; between them is a young woman seen from the back, wearing the blue flannel then favored by female boaters. The interchange between the figures is unclear, since Renoir avoided linking his picture to a specific narrative. Instead, he evoked a mood of conviviality. The fruit, wine, and wineglasses on the table and the way the boater languidly reclines in his chair, casually holding a cigarette, indicate that lunch is over.

Renoir’s loose brushwork suggests the slightly fuzzy state of torpor that accompanies satiety. Contours blur, merging into one another and into the surrounding atmosphere, immersing the whole scene in soft and shifting light, with whites tinted by reflections and bluish shadows. The resulting dappled effect is enclosed in the stricter rhythm of the trellis, which serves as a permeable barrier between terrace and river. Suffused with warmth, Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise is a picture of perfect harmony, a vision of a golden age located not in the ancient past but in the present. Although Renoir’s world is distinctly modern, the good life he portrayed is based on simple pleasures: friendship, food, wine, sunshine. His focus on people and the lively delicacy with which he conjured softly flickering light mark his uniquely appealing contribution to Impressionism. Pierre Auguste Renoir is beloved for his images of bourgeois leisure in urban and suburban Paris, such as the radiant Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (The Rowers’ Lunch), shown at the second Impressionist exhibition, in 1876. Painted at Chatou, a village along the Seine, it is a paean to the joys of youth and summer, a celebration of the rituals of friendship and the bounties of nature, with its seasonal rhythms of rest and play. Two young men lounge at a table; between them is a young woman seen from the back, wearing the blue flannel then favored by female boaters. The interchange between the figures is unclear, since Renoir avoided linking his picture to a specific narrative. Instead, he evoked a mood of conviviality. The fruit, wine, and wineglasses on the table and the way the boater languidly reclines in his chair, casually holding a cigarette, indicate that lunch is over.

Renoir’s loose brushwork suggests the slightly fuzzy state of torpor that accompanies satiety. Contours blur, merging into one another and into the surrounding atmosphere, immersing the whole scene in soft and shifting light, with whites tinted by reflections and bluish shadows. The resulting dappled effect is enclosed in the stricter rhythm of the trellis, which serves as a permeable barrier between terrace and river. Suffused with warmth, Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise is a picture of perfect harmony, a vision of a golden age located not in the ancient past but in the present. Although Renoir’s world is distinctly modern, the good life he portrayed is based on simple pleasures: friendship, food, wine, sunshine. His focus on people and the lively delicacy with which he conjured softly flickering light mark his uniquely appealing contribution to Impressionism.