Thursday, March 10, 2011

Claude Monet - Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil, in Winter

Claude Monet, Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil in Winter,1875
(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The changes taking place in Paris in the name of modernity were spreading to its environs as well.  The countryside was starting to buildup with new houses, industry and places of recreation side by side. The whole landscape was changing; wide new roads were built and old ones resurfaced, drains were laid, saplings planted a la Haussman, land given over to home builders and the rest fenced off in readiness for the developers.

Monet had moved into a brand new house in Argenteuil, right next to his old one and he painted a couple of scenes of his immediate world, his street, the way he went to Paris, his glimpse of open country. His house can be seen in this painting on the right with the green shutters, as brand new as the boulevard.   From his vantage point on a hill, looking down, he has depicted one of the new roads leading to the railway station.  The painting is more populated that his river scenes, full of commuters using the train to get to Paris, although more desolate.

Here snow  takes the edges of most things.  Monet's interest in the effects of light and different weather conditions (he was known to have painted in the middle of a snow blizzard) can be seen in the sun coming out of the winter sky.  It reflects its yellow light and a lavender mist surrounds the background.  The influence of Japanese prints can be seen in the pattern of the falling snow on top of the picture plane.  Monet, once again, uses triangular shapes to block in his composition and snow gives Argenteuil the unity it otherwise lacked. 

At Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil, in Winter, we are given a transient moment that has been caught by the artist, the rough brush work, the unique colors, the sense of immediacy, all typical characteristics of the  Impressionists.  The couple of paintings Monet depicted of his street, similar to this one stood too well for everything painting was suppose to ignore:  the litter of fences and factories, the town seeping like a stain into the surrounding fields, the incoherence of everyday life. But according to the art critic Frederic Chevalier, even these discordant elements might be understood as a coherent world view; together, their subject and technique could stand for the idea of modernity.2 When Monet couldn't tolerate the incoherence of the streets anymore, he was back to painting landscapes that he would construct himself, just for the purpose of painting them.

1.  T.J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life - Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (Princeton University Press, 1999)
2.  Mary Tompkins Lewis, Critical Readings in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism,(John House, Framing the Landscape)(University of California Press,2007) 90


  1. Sylvia Hahn-GriffithsMay 24, 2011 at 8:22 PM

    Thank you. Tomorrow I am teaching this painting to 3rd graders via the VTS method and your explanation is most valuable.

  2. Thanks for the comment Sylvia. I have plenty more where this came from. Let me know if you need anything else for Impressionism.



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