Tableaux Vivants: Dinner Parties Inspired by Iconic Artwork

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An iconic example of an art themed soirée is socialite Marie-Therese Rothschild’s surrealist dinner party in 1972. Guests went to the moon and back with regards to their costumes – incredibly detailed masks matched even more intricately made headdresses. The event became a legendary social gathering. Perhaps we don’t have the budget to pull off Rothschild’s extravagant party, but we can certainly take a note from her creativity and look to famous art for inspiration.

Last fall, The New York Times published an article on the lack of social gatherings – informal and formal – in contemporary society. We are rallying to answer this call. Art and culture aficionados around the world, let’s revitalize the concept of the dinner party and guest entertainment.

Rothschild Dinner Party


Here are 5 festive artworks to inspire your next art themed event:

1. Picnic Fete with Edouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1862-63

Le Déjunner sur l'herbe

There’s nothing like a simple, relaxed summer picnic. We suggest gathering a merry group of friends for a relaxed party to enjoy the open air. Setting is key, so take a note from Manet and pick a lush, natural locale, preferably with a pond for a cool dip to break up the hot summer day. For the menu, keep the fare light and simple with minimal clean-up. In true French form, opt for loaves of fresh baguettes and fruit such as strawberries and apples to pair nicely with a mélange of cheese. Keep it organized by storing food in wicker baskets easily accessible to your guests. If you serve wine, don’t forget to pack a few bottle openers. Bring some water and other non-alcoholic options, like a selection of flavored sodas (our favorites are elderflower fizz or strawberry lemon). Dress code is casual. Nudity, as per Manet, is optional.


2. Jeans and T-shirt Mixer with Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners, 1857

The Gleaners

Country-style dinners are all about comfort and hospitality. Give your friends something to look forward after a long day of work by hosting a casual, down-to-earth dinner party. No need to set the table with fancy, matching dinnerware. Keep it eclectic and easy by mixing your cups, plates, and cutlery. Our suggestion for setting the right ambiance is using cloth napkins and candlesticks for an old world table accessory. For the menu, the fare should be hearty but made with simple ingredients. We recommend seasonal soup made from fresh, local ingredients. Serve the soup with ample slices of buttered artisanal bread and a simple mixed greens salad. Dessert is all about pies – apple, rhubarb, or pear. Your guests will leave feeling full, warm, fuzzy, and ready to reenter the work week.


3. Veggie Soirée with Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, c.1590-91

Rudolf II

Arcimboldo’s painting is a cornucopia of inspiration for a vegetarian menu. The vibrant, rich colors bring to mind a playful table setting with wildflowers and gold-colored accents, such as brass candlesticks or napkin rings. Be sure to study which produce is in season and at its best moment in the year. We suggest setting up a buffet-style serving approach and let your guests mix and match their seasonal produce. As an extra touch, write up a menu card listing the ingredients and honoring their origins. For dressing options, keep the standards ready: good quality olive oil, salt, and fresh pepper. Grab your favorite selection of white wines and, since you’re being so healthy, splurge for dessert on mini lemon tarts or a blueberry coconut cake.


4. Colorful Cocktail Night with Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room, The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013

Infinity Room

Kusama’s mirrored room is colorful, exotic, and sexy. Host a cocktail party and feature fresh fruit, top-shelf liquor, and martini glasses. Set up a bar area on your dinner table with the ingredients easily accessible. Don’t forget the various tools and shakers needed to make your drinks. We recommend concocting a few specialty cocktails and either write the recipes on menu cards for guests to test or splurge by hiring a bartender for the evening. Playing off of Kusama’s otherworldly display of colors, accent the space with mini mirror-reflective vases filled with vibrant flowers. Throw in a disco ball and you have a drinks and dancing party à la Kusama! Always provide your guests with a small bite of food while serving drinks. Fill some bowls with colorful candies and snacks.


5. Baroque Banquet with Heem Boijmans, Still-life With Ham, Lobster, and Fruit, c.1653

Still Life with Ham, Lobster, and Fruit

Champion your inner flair for the fancy and throw a baroque-inspired dinner party. Whether they admit it or not, most people like a good excuse to dress up, so encourage your guests to put on their best and invite them for a Sunday roast. Traditionally a British and Irish mid-afternoon meal, roasts begin midday, which allows for a long eating time. Slow and steady definitely wins this race as you’ll want to go overboard on the food selection. Rabbit stew and bacon-wrapped partridge are certainly good, gamey dishes to serve, but also throw in a variety of fruits and seafood to make it eclectic and suitable for all tastes. For dramatic effect, pile serving platters with various foods and let the contents spill over the table. Impress your guests with elegance and excess. Don’t forget some rustic red wines and craft beers to pair with the menu.