Managing the Image of Paris
The Argenteuil Bridge, River Seine
The Argenteuil Bridge, Monet, 1874
In 1874, the year of the first Impressionist exhibition, Claude Monet painted the Argenteuil Bridge seven times, and the railway bridge which spans the Seine upstream from the village, four times. This shows how attached the artist was to the motif, using the flowing river as a counterpoint for the geometrical mass of the bridge and its piles reflected in the water.
Here the foreground is filled with sailboats at their mooring. The effects of light on the masts and on the roofs of the houses on the bank in the background are an opportunity for the play of complementary colours (orange and blue) which accentuate the glittering light. The Argenteuil Bridge exhibits great variety in treatment: the still firm outlines of the solid or structured elements, such as the sailboats and the bridge, a smooth, even texture for the water in the foreground, and choppy brushstrokes capturing the reflections in the middle ground.
Monet creates powerful and long-lasting impressions through his paintings. The painting has a variety of vibrant colours that turn a dull space into a relaxing getaway, which would be perfect for summer holiday homes or houses along the shore. Monet blends different colours into one.
Monet’s uses horizontal lines to create the impression of the movement of the water, sky, and trees. Monet uses a number of warm colours (orange, blue, and green). The range of light to dark values of colours create the illusion for the objects to have depth and shadows. In addition, Monet had used the hues in creating the sky’s sunlight and reflection on the water.
The way Monet painted is very poignant and inspirational. It tells a story. Each observer can have different emotional responses to what he or she sees in the painting. Furthermore, the composition is remarkable with the painting's repetition of rhythm from the boats in sync with the house on the land. Monet used the elements and principles of design. The masts of the yachts intersect with the horizontal riverbank to create a mirrored image in the water.
One of the consequences of Monet’s skilful use of colour, line and images was in creating a feeling of reassurance in his target market – wealthy Parisians.
The Bigger Picture
Monet’s work provides powerful visual reassurances to a revitalised bourgeoisie who so nearly lost their power in the Paris Commune.
The recent Franco-Prussian War and the Commune could not be further away even though they happened only a few years before he painted this scene. The Seine littered with the floating bodies of Communards murdered by the French state is invisible.
It is widely argued that Monet was not interested in politics. At one level this is correct. He was focused entirely on paintings that are accessible. He developed an approach that replaced the formalism of classic French art and the conservative academy with a fluency of brushwork that plays on our emotional senses. In that sense they were radical.
Viewed within the context of the politics of France in the 1870s, the paintings were regarded by the middle classes as positive images of a France people wanted as they struggled to build their self-confidence and businesses.
The omission of the factories that polluted the river and the workers who produced their wealth created powerful images for a particular class.
The paintings of the Argenteuil with its sailing, repaired bridges and people enjoying their leisure pursuits erased the historic memories of the Paris working-class uprisings of 1830, 1848 and 1871.
Paris in the 1870s - The Reality of the Seine
The River Seine, Pissarro, 1869
The Seine at La Grenouillere by Pissarro, 1869 shows the same stretch of river that Renoir and Monet depicted as a middle-class pleasure ground.
But look closer, and we can see that Pissarro, a left-wing activist, includes the industrial buildings and a factory chimney together with the glimpse of a polluted river.
A working boat meanders across the river from the wash-house on the bank.
The colours are muted and the sky looks threatening.