The Models

Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party shimmers like the surface of an impressionist painting. Her cast of warm and vibrant characters delights and welcomes me to their luncheon and to their lives...My heart sings with the amazing artistic achievement of the author. Through her words and imagination, I have been allowed to enter the bohemian, artistic life of Paris in the 1880s.

     --Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife and Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette.

"Light bathed the models and the table with warmth and brilliance. He admired each one, and had to blink back his joy so it wouldn't spill over."

Moving from the bottom right and going counter-clockwise around the painting, the characters are:

 01 Gustave Caillebotte spacer

Gustave Caillebotte, in the flat-topped straw hat and sleeveless maillot: Wealthy painter, collector of Impressionist paintings, yachtsman, racer, close friend of Renoir.

Gustave swaggered onto the bank swinging his arms. "I bought a painting yesterday. It's not even dry. Crysanthèmes rouges, by Claude. And I'm going to buy another today...Yours. Sunset at Montmartre. Will you let me have it for 250 francs?" ... Gustave stacked a tower of two napoléons and seven louis and a ten on the table. "I want it to be in the Louvre some day."

Auguste puffed out a loud breath. "Why all this sudden buying?"

"Because the work of the group has to be shown together as a solid movement long enough to outlast the ridicule heaped on it. Long enough so Impressionism won't be a blink of an eye in the history of art. That means everyone has to cooperate, and someone with the best interests of the group has to build a collection that will never be sold off piecemeal."

"You mean you," Auguste said.

"Of course I mean me."

 02 Angele spacer

Angèle, in a blue dress and white hat talking to Gustave: Flower seller in outdoor market, model, singer.

"Will you trust me for your modeling fee today? I need to buy more paint if I'm to go on."

"If? If? You let that chit with a broomstick up her arse kick up a fuss and make you quit, then it will be you I'll have to slap some sense into. I should have cocked a snook at her standing there on that bridge pitiful as a Maquis cat waiting for you to come crawling after her. She weren't no fleur-de-Marie pure as the Virgin's piss."

 03 Antonio Maggiolo spacer

Antonio Maggiolo, leaning over Angèle: Italian journalist.

"I write for Le Triboulet, Mademoiselle."

"That means you must be very funny."

"Not so. I am too limited in your language to produce the witticisms people expect in Le Triboulet, so I must write about the absurd."

"For example?"

"Oh, how to teach your pet frog how to flirt, how to dress your poodle à la mode, how to express yourself by the manner in which you open your umbrella, how to piss on the street with style. Essential things."

 04 Jeanne Samary spacer

Jeanne Samary, with her black-gloved hands to her ears: Actress at the Comédie-Française.

Those words, I forbid you, sent an icy tingle through her, head to toe. That a man would command her like that. Heaven and earth! It gave her a shock. She had never been told such a thing by Auguste. He was so blithe, letting her go her own way after an evening together, she to the theater, the shops, a friend's flat, while he went to some hôtel particulier to paint a portrait, or out to his river. Auguste never questioned her. Was it titillating or merely inconvenient to love a man she was a jot afraid of?

 05 Paul Lhote spacer

Paul Lhôte, in a straw hat leaning toward Jeanne: Wild adventurer, journalist, writer of short fiction, a close friend of Renoir.

Paul raised his glass. "A toast honoring Auguste's painting-to-come. A toast to la vie moderne, which allows us the freedom to row where we please and eat at the table of life. Let us spend our wealth and time gaily, preserve our liberty, and enjoy life whatever happens. A votre santé!"

 06 Pierre Lestringuez spacer

Pierre Lestringuèz, in a bowler hat looking at Jeanne: Official at the Ministry of the Interior, dabbler in the occult, close friend of Paul.

"You're on dangerous ground," Pierre said. "Thirteen figures around a dining table makes reference to the Last Supper."

"I know. It's impossible for a painter not to know that."

"The thirteenth is Judas. The number brings ill to one of them. He'll die within the year."

"A superstition, Pierre. You fret too much."

"Don't be so quick to dismiss it. There's truth to omens and this one goes back to ancient times. The number is deadly. There are thirteen witches in a coven."

Auguste laughed. "I'm not painting witches. I'm painting goddesses."

 07 Charles Ephrussi spacer

Charles Ephrussi, in a top hat: Russian-born art collector, writer and director of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts who championed the Impressionists.

"Monsieur Urbanité? Who is he?"

"Charles Ephrussi, only son in a line of wealthy Russian bankers. Self-taught art connoisseur who buys and sells profitably. He's tapped his ebony walking stick on the marble floors of every bank on rue Lafitte."

"Hm. Interesting. And nice-looking too."

"Always razor sharp creases in his trousers. Always dignified, the true flâneur strolling the boulevards, observing, then retreating to his plush study to write esoteric articles about his observations while snacking on caviar on toasted rye. But here, a-ha! A fish out of water. Wait till he discovers that he'll be posing with two sweaty men in singlets."

 08 Jules Laforgue spacer

Jules Laforgue, in a cap, holding a pipe: Symbolist poet whose work influenced Yeats, Pound and T.S. Eliot; journalist for La Vie Moderne; secretary to Charles Ephrussi.

" comes Jules Laforgue, natty in country tweed and mariner's cap." He introduced her as la belle Alphonsine, the soul of Maison Fournaise. "You ought to appreciate that, Jules. You write poems about soul, don't you?"

"Among other things equally elusive." Jules chuckled. "Equally impossible to express."

"Right, so I'm glad you've come down to earth for a day. You'll have to excuse him, Alphonsine, if he spouts Shakespeare now and then. Jules may be quiet, he may be looking off in the distance, but he's always thinking."

"I hear, yet say not much, but think the more," Jules said with a self-mocking grin. "This breast of mine hath worthy cogitations."

  09 Ellen Andree spacer

Ellen Andrée, drinking from a glass: Model for Degas as well as Renoir, mime in the Folies-Bergère.

"No! A chance to act in a legitimate theater where people come to see performances of real literature and not just to prowl the promenoirs for a thirty-franc whore. I want to be in a play instead of in a trivial entertainment. I want to say beautiful words, brave words, unforgettable words. Like Sarah Bernhardt gets to say in Phaedre. Words of wit and passion and truth. I want to be a human being on stage, not a cardboard cutout."

 10 Alponsine Fournaise spacer

Alphonsine Fournaise, leaning on the railing: Daughter of the owners of the Maison Fournaise; war widow.

"... The river has a soul, I think, and sometimes I can touch it with my thoughts, when I pause long enough to see the things of the river as ideas."

"Such as?"

She hesitated. This wasn't something she told to just anybody. "Birds in flight are aspirations soaring. Birds in nests tell of safety and family. A tree is stability. Leaves clapping together are the tree's appreciation for a breeze, and the breeze itself coming down the river is refreshment."

"See? You are a river spirit."

 11 Baron Raoul Barbier spacer

Baron Raoul Barbier, in a bowler talking to Alphonsine: Former cavalry officer and war hero, former mayor of Saigon, yachtsman, lover of race horses and ladies.

"Can't you just do without a fourteenth?" Raoul said.

"And leave thirteen figures around a dining table?" Auguste said. "Raoul, you don't know a damn thing about art."

"That's not my job. My job is to pick the winning horse. You'd be pathetic at it." Raoul ate a few bites and said, "A-ha! I have an idea of someone just right for a boating party."

"Who?" three voices chorused.

"Maybe I shouldn't say. I don't know a damn thing about art."

  12 Alphonse Fournaise spacer

Alphonse Fournaise, leaning on the railing in sleeveless maillot: Son of the owner of Maison Fournaise, renter and builder of boats, jouster in the Fêtes Nautiques.

Alphonse gestured with his thumb toward the promenade. "These office clerks in new striped shirts trying to act like oarsmen, strutting around here with an oar on their shoulder--they're only weekend pretenders. They buy their canotier in Paris instead of on the river, wear a cravat by la Coline, and smoke their fancy Chacom pipes from Saint Claude. Take a look at the ones in frock coats tapping silver-tipped canes on the dirt of the promenade. They steal glances at how other men dress. They're afraid of getting their white trousers dirty, afraid of sunburn, afraid of blisters, afraid for their liver. They don't really care about the river. They care about putting on a show."