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15 Facts About Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party

Luncheon of the Boating Party is one of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's most famous works. It's also one of the most well-known depictions of an alfresco lunch outing in art history. Set in a Paris cafe overlooking the Seine, the painting captures a joyous moment among friends. But the history around this iconic Impressionist work makes it all the richer.

1. IT BREAKS FROM EARLY IMPRESSIONIST INTERESTS.

In the early days of the Impressionist movement, city scenes were one of the dominant themes. By 1881, when Renoir finished the masterpiece, Impressionism was moving into new terrain, specifically the suburbs. The scene captured in Luncheon of the Boating Party takes place roughly a 30-minute train ride from the hubbub of Paris.

2. IT SHOWED A NEW APPRECIATION FOR DIMENSION AND DEFINITION.

About four years before creating Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir painted a similarly ambitious scene set in Paris, Dance at Le moulin de la Galette. As with Luncheon of the Boating Party, the painting is set in a social setting on a sunny day, offering an intimate peek into the lives of French people. However, the open brushwork in this 1876 piece gives Dance a flatness that is rejected in Luncheon. Luncheon's more defined borders and greater attention to contouring gives its subjects an almost 3D appearance.

3. IT IS ONE OF RENOIR'S LARGEST PAINTINGS.

Luncheon of the Boating Party measures in at 51 by 68 inches.

4. ITS INSPIRATION WAS A POPULAR FRENCH HANGOUT.

The Maison Fournaise of Chatou overlooks the Seine River and was an adored destination for diners across class lines. As depicted in Luncheon of the Boating Party, businessmen, socialites, seamstresses, and artists were all frequent customers of this restaurant. Renoir had a fascination with the place, frequently painting there and recruiting models from its pretty patrons.

5. THE RESTAURANT CAN BE STILL BE VISITED TODAY.

Maison Fournaise shuttered in 1906. But its historical importance inspired the people of Chatou to spearhead a restoration project in 1990 that brought the restaurant back to its former glory. It also now boasts a museum and a craft shop that celebrate its Impressionist heritage.

6. THE PAINTING IS A PORTRAIT OF RENOIR'S DEAREST FRIENDS.

He called them to the Maison Fournaise to pose in person, perfecting each portrait one by one. Far at the back, in a top hat, sits noted art collector and historian Charles Ephrussi. He is speaking with poet Jules Laforgue. To the right, Renoir's pals Eugène Pierre Lestringuez and Paul Lhote are presented flirting with renowned actress Jeanne Samary. Meanwhile, Renoir's affluent patron and fellow painter Gustave Caillebotte sits in the lower right corner, conversing with actress Angèle Legault and Italian journalist Adrien Maggiolo.

7. THE GIRL WITH THE PUPPY BECAME RENOIR'S WIFE AND RECURRING MODEL.

Seamstress by day and muse by night, Aline Charigot carried on a passionate romance with the Impressionist painter. The two had a child named Pierre in 1885 and officially wed in 1890. In the course of their relationship, Renoir repeatedly returned to capturing her beauty with works like Boating Couple, Madame Renoir With a Dog, and Motherhood.

8. THE FOURNAISE FAMILY IS WELL-REPRESENTED.

Alphonse Fournaise opened the pictured restaurant in 1860. Twenty years later, its grandeur would be captured along with his children, all of which were named for him. The lady draped over the terrace railing is Alphonsine Fournaise. Her brother Alphonse Fournaise, Jr. can be spotted leaning against that same rail in the lower left corner.

9. A NOTED BON VIVANT MAKES A SLY APPEARANCE IN THE WORK.

In the painting, former mayor of colonial Saigon Baron Raoul Barbier—pictured wearing a bowler with his back to the viewer—flirts with Miss Fournaise.

10. THE WOMAN WITH THE GLASS IS A RENOWNED ACTRESS AND MODEL.

Ellen Andrée stands out at the center of the painting. She is in the midst of a crowd yet isolated, talking to no one. The French actress is best remembered as a model for Impressionist masters, having appeared in Luncheon of the Boating Party, Édouard Manet's The Plum and Edgar Degas's controversial L'Absinthe. Her pose in the first also inspired a pivotal scene in the acclaimed 2001 French film Amelie.

11. LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY HIGHLIGHTS A SHIFT IN FRENCH SOCIETY.

This mingling of men and women from different walks of life reflected how the divisions of class in French culture were dissolving to create the new bourgeoisie.

12. IT WAS CELEBRATED UPON ITS PREMIERE.

Luncheon of the Boating Party debuted in 1882 at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition, where three critics singled it out as the best piece in the show. Paul de Charry wrote in Le Pays, "It is fresh and free without being too bawdy," while Armand Silvestre declared it "one of the best things [Renoir] has painted…It is one of the most beautiful pieces that this insurrectionist art by Independent artist has produced."

13. AN ARDENT FAN BROUGHT THE FRENCH MASTERPIECE TO AMERICA.

For decades, Luncheon of the Boating Party was part of the private collection of Renoir patron Paul Durand-Ruel. But following his death in 1922, Durand-Ruel's sons put the piece up for sale. It was quickly acquired by American art collector Duncan Phillips for $125,000. As founder of Washington D.C.'s The Phillips Collection—America's first museum of modern art—Phillips made it his mission to bring the evolving form to the United States. And he considered Luncheon of the Boating Party not just one of the gems of his collection but "one of the greatest paintings in the world."

14. SOME CREDIT THIS PIECE FOR PHILLIPS'S DEVOTION TO MODERN ART.

In the wake of the deaths of his brother and father within a year of each other, Phillips attended an exhibition in New York City where he spotted Luncheon of the Boating Party. It moved him so profoundly that he became obsessed. He sailed to France to secure its purchase, and spent his entire year's art-buying budget on this one work.

Legend has it that fellow collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes once said to Phillips, "That's the only Renoir you have, isn't it?" Phillips replied, "It's the only one I need.”

15. A HOLLYWOOD TOUGH GUY FANTASIZED ABOUT STEALING IT.

During Hollywood's Golden Age, actor Edward G. Robinson was best known for playing gangsters in movies like Key Largo (1948) and Little Caesar (1931). Off screen, he was a passionate art enthusiast, who famously said, "For over thirty years I made periodic visits to Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party in a Washington museum, and stood before that magnificent masterpiece hour after hour, day after day, plotting ways to steal it."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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