Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Breakfast of the rowers

by Sylvi Weidlich


Breakfast on this carefree summer day seems over, with only a few grapes left. The rowers have invited their girls to this small Parisian suburb, perhaps to escape the heated city streets. Some of the friends are just getting together for small groups of conversations. Behind the terrace, sailboats make their circles on the Seine.

While the young women wear summery costumes with straw hats and fragrant flowers, the men clearly stand out from them in their sportswear. A warm breeze blows through the canopy, which is shone through by the summer sun, it is reflected on the shimmering tablecloth, the emptied glasses and the bottles made of glass, reminiscent of a still life.

A young woman affectionately pulls a small dog with pursed lips. Another, her sailor-like blouse trimmed with red ribbons, looks past the head of her interlocutor to a small group on the right edge of the picture, where astride a chair sits another rower, Gustave Caillebotte - also a painter and a friend of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. His gaze wanders off to the Seine, he disconnects himself from the conversation of the friends, following his own thoughts and enjoying the moment. Renoir shows his great sympathy for each sitter, as for example in the woman with doggie, Aline Charigot, and her delicate painting style: This one later becomes his wife. Caillebotte represents Renoir almost most figuratively, he thus sets his friend apart from the rest of the picture staff. Renoir thus heralds his departure as an Impressionist painter, while at the same time in this open-air composition he knows how to capture the fleeting beauty of the moment so typical of Impressionism in a perfect way.


Renoir's light and colorful painting style is reminiscent of the depiction of the "fête galante" by a François Boucher or Jean-Honoré Fragonard from the era of rococo painting. Both already showed carefree beauty and confidences in the early 18th century: Subjects of great lightness, which were condemned by their critics as superficial and immoral. The "Breakfast of the Rowers" is followed by Renoir's more plastic style of painting, one that we already see hinted at here for the first time in the astride seated rower.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Breakfast of the rowers

Oil on canvas, 1881, 129.5 x 172.7 cm, Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.

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