The Art of a Picnic

Last week, my good friend George and I decided to go to Griffith Park for a picnic photoshoot. The sun was out, the sky was blue, there wasn’t a cloud to spoil the view (if you read that in Buddy Holly’s voice, we’ll be great friends). I picked up an adorable wine bottle from my most recent wine club shipment from Sort This Out Cellars (the greatest winery in the whole world!), a couple of pies, and a basket of fruit and we headed out to Griffith Park. I wanted to make sure I included very typical elements for a sweet summer picnic.

It was a bit strange at first, since people kept staring at us as we took photos, but after a while, I completely forgot anyone else was watching and just had so much fun.

Initially I wanted something reminiscent of typical pinup picnics, since I was primarily thinking of Gil Elvgren’s work. Then I started thinking about the depictions of picnic scenes in the history of art. I immediately thought Jean-Antoine Watteau’s Fete galantes and Edouard Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass. 

There must be a reason why picnic scenes with women as the primary subject have always been so popular…

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Jean Antoine Watteau, The Pleasures of Love, 1718-1719. Oil on canvas.

Watteau was known for his contributions to Rococo art, a softer painterly style with delicate and pastel colors and rounded, soft curves. Fete galantes were a style popularized by Watteau as charming and idyllic scenes of the patrons enjoying life, almost as if merging traditionally mythological scenes with imagery of his commissioners. This blend resulted in paintings such as The Pleasures of Love (1718-1719). We, as the audience, are viewing the figures even though their backs are turned to us. We’re unwelcomed visitors watching their lovely picnic. The women in the painting are in dialogue with the men, with their body language suggesting a sense of carefree flirtatiousness.  Sarah Cohen, in “Watteau’s Fete Galantes and the Artful Body,” said:

As in a painting such as The Pleasures of Love, the explorations of what elegantly clothed bodies could do, and what they could do with one another, provided ample interest to sustain the attention of early eighteenth-century audiences.

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Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, 1862/1863. Oil on canvas.

Fast forward to the mid 1800s, and you have Edouard Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, possibly one of the most controversial and intensely studied paintings in art history and gender studies. Two dressed men are in conversation as a fully nude woman turns her gaze directly towards the viewer – aware of her nudity, aware of our gaze. For Watteau, the female picnickers were simply bodies to admire. In Manet’s painting, the nude woman is either accepting and returning our gaze or challenging it – we are left unsure of her motives. Regardless of her nudity and vulnerability to the male gaze, by returning the gaze she is acknowledging and owning her unclothed, vulnerable body, causing much controversy for nineteenth century audiences.

In my photoshoot, I was not unclothed and I did not feel like Watteau’s wealthy patron stuck in a mythological scene. However, I felt as if the way I chose to position my body, and the gaze I was very comfortably and fearlessly returning to the audience, were heavily influenced by scenes of leisure I’ve studied in art history.

While I had analyzed these female subjects in textbooks before, for the first time, I realized I have become that female subject of my analysis. A very strange feeling, indeed.


For my first outfit, I chose the Trixie top and skirt in BBQ print by Bernie Dexter. It just screams pinup picnic, don’t you think? To avoid gingham overload, I primarily posed standing or sitting on the grass. I wanted the outfit to speak for itself, so I kept props very minimal as well.

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People recommended that I size up when I ordered the outfit, which I did. Unfortunately, I should have just purchased my true size. Since I was too lazy to go through the exchange process, I had to alter my skirt to fit properly. The Trixie skirt is also shorter than many other dresses and skirts I own, so I bought a shorter petticoat from Malco Modes in order to give it some fullness. While the Jennifer petticoat would have worked, it was just too full for my taste – especially for a picnic photoshoot on such a hot day.

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For my second outfit, I chose the red bustier top by Pinup Girl Clothing and a pair of high waisted navy blue shorts I got off the sale rack at Urban Outfitters 3 or 4 ago.

Fun fact: If I’m not mistaken, it was my first pinup-y piece of clothing. Plus, they were $7! I was the real winner that day.

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The shade of red that Pinup Girl Clothing uses is such a true red it matches perfectly with almost everything. I love wearing red clothing, and I find that PUG red is the most flattering. The bustier top has a few large buttons on the back and no zipper, so it is a bit difficult trying to get it on. Imagine how tough I had it, as I was trying to button it up in a park bathroom stall! The easiest way for me was to button it in the front and then move it to the back. Even though getting it on is a pain, it’s definitely worth the effort since it looks so beautiful!

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The shoot ended when I spilled wine all over the blanket. However, we did have two delicious pies to enjoy afterwards. What a wonderful reward for a day of hard work! 😉

All photography: GeorgeK Photography

Outfit #1 Details:
Top and skirt: Bernie Dexter
Shoes: Pinup Girl Clothing
Petticoat: Malco Modes
Stockings: What Katie Did
Lipstick: Besame Cosmetics

Outfit #2 Details:
Bustier Top: Pinup Girl Clothing
Shorts: Urban Outfitters
Hair Flower: Nancy’s Fancy Fruits

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