Not since the Venetian painters of the High Renaissance has the world seen such glowing opulence in painting. But whereas the Venetians generally found their inspiration in the myths
and lore of ancient times, Renoir's genius transmutes the common occurrences of everyday life into Olympian grandeur. These young gods and goddesses are friends of the painter, persons
well known in Parisian art circles at the time. Aline Charigot, a favorite model whom Renoir married shortly after this picture was painted, sits at the left toying with the dog; the other
girl at the table is another favorite model, Angele, a lady of colorful repute. Caillebotte, wealthy engineer, talented spare-time painter - who early began to acquire his great collection of
Impressionist paintings, which is now the pride of the Louvre (after a frenzy of opposition to the bequest in the 1890s), sits astride the chair. The lady who so kittenishly closes her ears
to a naughty jest is probably the actress Jeanne Samary, painted by Renoir many times. The identity of most of the others is also known.
We have already mentioned Renoir's felicity in inventing graceful, vivacious poses - poses that always seem as though this is the way people ought to look. We have mentioned his knack for enlivening his canvases with piquant notes- a face that emerges unexpectedly, a play of fingers, bits of still life, bonnets, ribbons, beards, stripes, flowers. As is customary in Renoir's large compositions (and the Venetians'), one side of the canvas is rich in things big and near; the other side presents a view into the distance - in this case, a breathtaking piece of Impressionist virtuosity.
Foreground and background are related in part by the awning, which in its striping combines the hues of the foliage with the warmer tones of the group; its delightful serpentine edge echoes freely the curves in the group, and the breeze that flutters the valance sweeps also across the balcony. The feeling of animation is given in many subtle and striking ways: for example, the perspective of the balcony leads the eye to the upper right, but the open visual path into the distance offers an opposed attraction. And all the while the eye is cunningly led back, through relationships of color - the spotting of blacks, for instance; and through line relationships, over backs, across heads, or following edges of color or light areas. And within every detail, no matter how small or casual, what a wonderful enrichment! This one canvas alone would be enough to assure a painter immortality.