Phillips Collection’s new curation of Renoir mimics DC youth life


By Lauryn Cantrell, Staff Writer

The physical construction of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” draws a newer crowd to The Phillips Collection, who see a still life of themselves in one of the Impressionist artist’s most impressive works.

In the gallery’s latest installation, Chief Curator Emerita Eliza Rathbone focuses on the underlying process by which Renoir created his masterwork, as well as the backstories of the artist’s colorful contemporaries, whose personal narratives parallel the diversity of today’s millennials in Washington.

Since its acquirement in 1923 by founder Duncan Phillips, “Luncheon of the Boating Party” has served as a symbol of pride and continued research conducted by america’s first modern art museum.  

“The only painting by Renoir in the [permanent] collection, “Luncheon of the Boating Party” has remained its greatest treasure”, writes Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski.

“Luncheon of the Boating Party” draws interest from a younger Washingtonian generation. For them, the painting is a mirror-image of their present rather than an old scene rendered on canvas.

“This is a painting about young people.  You are [Renoir’s friends] in the painting.  It is a painting about being in the prime of life and extraordinary vitality” explains Rathbone.

The painting celebrates the essence of youth culture in France’s Third Republic by highlighting thematic symbols of gaiety, leisure, and love.

“It’s people doing the same things we do today. We identify with being with our friends, having lunch together by the water, dancing, parties…It’s a world of social interaction and pleasure painted by young people in love, meant for young people in love” describes Dr. Lisa Passaglia Bauman, Associate Professor of Art History at Mason.

“Although it is deliberately a period piece, we certainly hope that it will draw young people and they will discover The Phillips and look at art on a human scale.”  

The experience of viewing “Luncheon of the Boating Party”, the central motif of a grander collection of over 40 different works by Renoir and his friends, assists millennials with a further exploration of art while strengthening their confidence to discover other worlds, says Bauman.

“The art world is their world. You can have a life that is bigger than you think.  Art is a fairly easy door to open in which a tiny bit of information can take you a long way, leading you to other places…”  

It may even lead one to an established masterpiece in the heart of Washington D.C.

“Renoir and Friends: Luncheon on the Boating Party” is on view at The Phillips Collection through Jan. 7, 2018.  For more information, tickets, and events related to the exhibition, visit

Photo courtesy of The Phillips Collection