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At the Maison Fournaise Restaurant
Luncheon of the Boating Party ~ Pierre August Renoir, oil on canvas, 1880-1, The Phillips Collection, Washington DC
By Mary Jo Balistreri

Could a day be more perfect!
The breeze so gentle it could be a sigh, the airy lightness
of it. As I look behind me, the Seine seems far away,
sailboats and canoes silently gliding. They have nothing
to do with us here on the balcony, the awning giving
an intimacy we rarely share.

Everyone now sated with good food and wine, I can rest.
My brother does the same—wonder what he's thinking
as he looks out over this amazing crowd of friends,
actresses, politicians, even the art historian, Charles Ephrussi.
Us in boaters, he in his top hat.

How did Renoir ever pull this off? It's the painting
of course. He wanted it modern and that meant a mix of high
and low, but these people from different stations of life,
they're truly part of his life. I can hear Renoir say, Why
not have them all share a delicious meal and paint
a masterpiece at the same time?

I lean on the railing, so happy Renoir included me in his party…
half-listening to the man in front of me, half-dreaming
on this lazy summer day. How relaxed we all are.
Cailebotte straddling his chair as if he's in a trance,
that women practically in his face. He doesn't even
seem to notice.

The women are all dramatic—such flirts, but for Aline
and that little dog of hers. And Renoir sweet on her.
One of the women is well into her cups,
the other, hands over her ears. pretends to ignore
the gossip about her in the papers.

Now in the last hours of our celebration, light
has the last word, floating spheres, translucent globes,
bubbles of pleasure everywhere, light filtered, selected,
tempered. Years from now wherever people gather
by the water for a party, they will see themselves—
why we were like this once—we too knew
the consummate savoir vivre.


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