Poetry or 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.