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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

Renoir Revisited

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Poetryor fiction that extols the virtues of art is certainly not a new phenomenon. Think of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” In recent years authors like Tracy Chevalier and Jeanne Kalogridis have come to prominence for constructing fictional narratives around specific works of art, using them as a starting point from which to explore the social or historical context within which they were painted. Perhaps more importantly, they allow readers to peek beneath the shroud of mystery surrounding artists and their subjects.

Susan Vreeland’s new novel, Luncheon of the Boating Party, belongs to this vein of fiction. Based on Renoir’s painting of the same name, it allows readers to enter the painting’s leisurely scene and capture a view of Parisian society in the late 19th century. Most of us are familiar with the painting—a flock of young people lounging about a table laid with wine and fruit, their faces bathed with the inimitable radiance of youth at leisure.

Vreeland’s book explores the characters that make up the scene, and allows us to eavesdrop on their animated chatter and penetrate their wistful stares. It makes for a rather ironic reversal of processes, drawing a narrative from a work of art in much the same way the academic art rejected by the impressionists was inspired by historical narratives.

Vreeland will speak at the Milwaukee Art Museum on Feb. 28 at 6:15 p.m. The talk is free with museum admission, but a reception that follows in Cafe Calatrava requires reservations and costs $15 per person. For information, call (414) 224-3293.

Also this week Martin Hintz and Pam Percy, the same local authors who brought you compelling titles like The Complete Chicken and Wisconsin Off the Beaten Path, come to Sendik’s in Mequon to talk about their newest book, Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide to the Cheeses of Wisconsin. The book is packed with more than 100 recipes, cheese trivia, profiles of cheese-makers and much, much more. The event takes place at 10930 N. Port Washington Road, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and includes an author presentation as well as an opportunity to taste some of the cheeses mentioned in the book.