three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-Luncheon of the Boating PartyPierre-Auguste Renoir, father of Impressionism, falls from a motorbike in the French countryside. Burned by critics favoring the ascendant Realist style in art, weary from his complicated love affairs, and all but broke, he stumbles, arm injured, into a nearby restaurant. There he begins to conceive one of the most famous paintings in art—of a dozen or so characters enjoying a lazy Sunday meal along the Seine. In this already best-selling historical novel, Vreeland combines meticulous research—featuring details of and cameos by other period stars like Émile Zola, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, and Paul Cézanne—with her own dramatization of the obsessions leading up to Renoir’s 1880 masterpiece.
Viking. 434 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0670038547

San Diego Union-Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Vreeland, like a god, breathes breath into the long dead Pierre-Auguste Renoir. … Like the painters Vreeland writes about, she too is leaving her legacy—some of the world’s finest examples of historical fiction." Linda Busby Parker

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"As she slowly reveals the personalities and the relationships among Renoir’s eclectic cast of characters, one can’t help but try to discern those subtleties in the art itself. The painting literally comes alive, and that, one assumes, was exactly Vreeland’s intent." Karen Campbell

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Vreeland’s prose dialogue occasionally suffers from the historical novelist’s propensity for inserting crucial information about actual events within the characters’ dialogue, creating a strained, self-conscious oratory. Still, it’s a small price to pay for the riches enjoyed in Luncheon of the Boating Party." Skye Moody

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"We are shown two months in the lives of this impressionist. [Vreeland] … does an amazing job of getting inside the head of a painter." Diane Hartman

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"[This novel] is as unconvincing as the study that an art student might make of the masterpiece. The colors and figures and perspective are creditably executed, but without the animating genius of the original creator, it all lies flat on the canvas." Rachel Hartigan Shea

Critical Summary

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.