Picnic on the River
Tempera on canvas laid on masonite
Gift of the artist; P.959.108
Ilse Bischoff painted mostly urban genre scenes in the 1930s and later turned to still life and portraiture. Picnic on the River is somewhat atypical for Bischoff in terms of its pastoral setting, but she inhabits the scene with her more customary urban types, who have escaped the city for a rustic summer excursion. The painting is in many ways a recasting of a traditional artistic subject in contemporary guise. It not only recalls Renaissance pastoral and mythological scenes—especially those devoted to bacchanals or feasts of the gods—but also draws upon Renaissance pictorial devices in its serpentine composition, numerous registers of action, and balanced poses. But instead of gods, nymphs, and satyrs, Bischoff presents us with people engaging in quite human leisure and amorous play. The decidedly twentieth-century tenor of her complex and witty composition is further underlined by the replacement of the traditional fruit and wine, riches of the earth, with luxury items from contemporary consumer society—bonbons, Lucky Strikes, and Life magazine. Initially trained as a costume designer, Bischoff here reveals her flair for rendering colorful clothing and accessories, some of them, such as the box of candies, repeated from Harlem Loge. She also frequently portrayed African Americans in individual portraits and genre scenes. Here three black youngsters stand off to the side, one of them mooring the boat. Apparently country locals rather than city day-trippers, they appear ancillary to the group, reflecting the still largely segregated and subordinate status of African Americans in depression-era American society.
Last Updated: 4/29/09