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Luncheon of the Boating Party Hardcover – May 3, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 Émile 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 fiancé. 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)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Author of the previous hit Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland comes through with another compelling historical novel centered on artists and their work. Critics agree that the concept (tracing Renoir's steps back from this joyous painting) and the research (combining facts not only about Renoir's inner circle but also details about French café society, culture, and painting techniques) demonstrate considerable skill and dedication. The Seattle Times even calls Luncheon "this summer's most satisfying historical novel." Others find that Vreeland gets too bogged down in historical detail, which slows the plot and sometimes creates a strained narrative. Despite this perhaps overabundance of historical material, Luncheon succeeds as a portrait of both a man and an era.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (May 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038541
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (206 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan Vreeland's short fiction has appeared in journals such as The Missouri Review, Confrontation, New England Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review. Her first novel, What Love Sees, was made into a CBS Sunday Night Movie. She teaches English literature and Art in San Diego public schools.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

149 of 154 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Huston on June 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Art is one of those oddly subjective things. Everyone looks at it quite literally and where one person can find extreme beauty and emotion, another will just shrug and go eh. That's both the curse and the joy of art, that everyone certainly has an opinion on it, and it's more likely than not that everyone is going to disagree about something about it. One of the greatest disagreements about art, and how it was created occured in Paris, in the last half of the nineteenth century. and it would change painting forever.

One of those rebellious artists is the protagonist of this novel, Auguste Renoir. He's struggling to make ends meet, always in debt it seems, to the supplier of his canvas and paints, to Camille who runs the eatery where he takes many of his meals, to his friends. Obligations are all around him, and he fights to keep himself going, always looking for inspiration. He is part of the artistic revolution known as the Impressionists, that broke away from the rigid Academic style and the critics of the Salon and took the heretical notion that art could be of the instant and didn't need to be executed in a staged, realistic fashion.

Now it looks as though the Impressionist movement is starting to break up -- two major factions have formed, with Edgar Degas and his followers saying that art needs to show the seedier side of reality, and others trying to stay with the original ideas. Some have died in the terrible days of the Franco-Prussian War and the Communard that followed afterwards, and even after a decade, the scars are still there in a slowly recovering Paris.

A popular way of escaping is to go out to one of the suburbs on the Seine, and go boating.
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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In previous novels, Susan Vreeland has brought artists as diverse as Jan Vermeer, Emily Carr and Artemisia Gentileschi to life in the pages of her novels, often focusing on the fictional circumstances surrounding their masterworks. Now Vreeland turns her attention to Impressionist master Pierre Auguste Renoir and the genesis of his most famous work, which depicts a group of 14 merrymakers enjoying lunch on the banks of the Seine outside Paris.

At the novel's opening, Renoir is frustrated; the Impressionist group seems to be dividing against itself, conflicted over the question of whether to exhibit paintings in the more establishment-sanctioned Salon. What's more, Renoir is outraged by an essay written by critic Emile Zola, who writes, "Despite their [the Impressionists'] struggle, they have not reached their goal; they remain inferior to what they undertake; they stammer without being able to find words."

Renoir, convinced that he is the one to prove Zola wrong and finally get a major Impressionist work shown at the Salon, sets about to paint a picture that will define la vie moderne (modern life): young people, enjoying leisure time at a riverside cafe. He envisions a monumental painting that will combine portraiture, group dynamics and still life in a composition that is both an homage to classical masters and a vision for the future of painting.

But for Renoir, realizing his vision will hardly be simple. There's the matter of assembling an appropriate group of models, which include country folk, fellow artists, writers and a former mistress or two. There's the fact that Renoir's right arm is in a cast following a bicycling accident.
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70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Receptive Reader on May 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This was like reading a painting! What a delightful book! Such descriptive colors, you could almost smell the food. The emotions behind creating this masterpiece were described so well; the characters believable; the art world they are in presented so intelligently. Yet, it doesn't get too intense. Susan Vreeland is always generous with her research. There's even more on her website. I learn so much when I read her books and always enjoy the stories.
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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Desert Dweller on June 19, 2008
Format: Paperback
Luncheon of the Boating Party is recommended for reader's interested in or familiar with the impressionist movement. The inclusion of Renoir's famous painting on the book jacket will have the reader flipping between the story and the cover. The book is a wonderful slice of Parisian life that most tourist never have an opportunity to experience. Unfortunately the plot can be slow moving and the reader may find herself skimming to get to the next bit of action. Overall, informative and enjoyable but not a page turning read.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Ryner on June 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is the story of Renoir's famous painting 'Luncheon of the Boating Party,' a work completed on the balcony of the restaurant Maison Fournaise, just outside of Paris. Combining historical fact with Ms. Vreeland's vivid imagination we learn how the painting came into existence and how the models were chosen and gathered, as well as a sense of the time and place. The models' identities are largely based on historical fact, but as with all works of historical fiction the author uses her colorful imagination in guessing their conversations, relationships and emotions. At the beginning of the story, Auguste Renoir is struggling even to cover the costs of purchasing several tubes of paint, but by the time the painting is finished the reader gets a sense that Luncheon represents a fortunate turning point in his career.

There is something compelling about an author bringing to life the story of a work of art. The characters become familiar and spark curiosity about who they were, the location becomes a real place one could visit, and the art itself becomes an intimate friend. Susan Vreeland first piqued my interest with her biographical historical fiction, 'The Passion of Artemisia.' Her background in and her passion for fine art is clearly a prerequisite in producing a story like this. The descriptions of the colors, clothing and food I can only describe as "delicious" and nearly caused me to feel that I was actually there among them.

One suggestion: Print a color copy of the painting to reference as you read. Otherwise you'll be flipping to look at the cover approximately 3,496 times.
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