Two in a Boat, painted during Robinson’s 1891 summer at Giverny, shows two women reading while lounging in a skiff floating on the Seine or Epte River. The scene retains the spontaneous freshness and lively brushwork of the artist’s pure landscapes, despite the carefully staged composition.
Although Robinson preferred to execute his landscapes on site, basing his figure compositions on preliminary studies—usually photographs of carefully staged compositions that he had begun to take in the early 1880s. Robinson viewed the photograph as a means to capture exactly the world around him; the convenience of being able to work in his studio (he suffered from severe asthma) and the financial benefit of reducing the number of hours spent with a model appealed to him as well. Even when Robinson adopted aspects of impressionism in the late 1880s, he continued to use photographs as preliminary studies for his figure compositions. Photographs provided compositional structure, allowing the artist use color more freely and to create shimmering atmosphere and light effects.
Robinson appears to have been pleased with Two in a Boat, because he included it in the Society of American Artists' 1895 annual exhibition and in a one-person exhibition later that year. It was also one of five Robinsons lent to the 1913 Armory Show, where he and Twachtman represented American impressionism, their paintings hanging in one of the large center rooms alongside works by Ryder and Whistler, who by this time were considered to be American "old masters." Duncan Phillips, in writing of these American painters in A Collection in the Making, stated that “Twachtman, Weir, and Robinson were the earliest American artists who painted light and air with a science blended with sentiment….”