Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Oarsmen at Chatou, 1879. Oil on canvas
Rowing was the foremost attraction at Chatou, while only a few kilometers upstream Argenteuil’s more reliable winds attracted sailors. Here a man brings a pleasure gig to shore. These two-person boats were designed for more relaxed recreation than the sculls we see in the distance. The rower sat facing his companion, who controlled the rudder by means of ropes. The man in this gig, wearing the boater’s typical costume of short jacket and straw hat, may be the artist’s brother Edmond. The man standing on the bank, similarly attired, is probably the painter Gustave Caillebotte, a devoted rowing enthusiast. The woman may be Aline Charigot, who became Renoir’s wife and was a favorite model.
The painting captures the brilliance of sun and water, summer and youth. In the water, skips of strong blues and white alternate. Their shimmering intensity is enhanced by the equally strong presence of orange in the boat’s reflection and the scarlet accent of Aline’s bow. Renoir has put into practice aspects of current colour theory. The principle of simultaneous contrast suggested that colors were perceived more strongly when juxtaposed with their opposites - orange with blue, for example, or green with red. The silky texture of Renoir’s feathery brushstrokes mirrors the languid and leisurely scenes.