The Art of Conversation

Tuesday night the local AAUW met at the Waldo Community Library for their monthly book discussion. In keeping with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art's current exhibit, Art in the Age of Steam, this month's selection was Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland.

Luncheon of the Boating Party book jacket

Many of the attendees had already viewed the exhibit and eagerly applied some of that knowledge to the discussion. Readers pointed out the rise in leisure time for the working class in late 19th century Paris. How much easier it was now to spend the day in the country, having a leisurely lunch after a morning of rowing on the Seine! Observe the mix of dining companions--boaters, aristocracy, bourgeousie!

Readers were also enamoured of the many different characters depicted in the painting and their fictional backstories in Vreeland's novel. The evening's talk was supplemented by factual biographies of many of the models in Renoir's masterpiece and other Renoir paintings of his friends.

Much conversation revolved around the idea that the painting itself is a character in Vreeland's novel that undergoes a dramatic change. This astute group of readers always find something unusual to discuss in their books.

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