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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Li

Manet Paints Monet: A Summer in Argenteuil

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

By Willibald Sauerländer, Translated by David Dollenmayer, Published by the Getty Research Institute


Figure 1: Monet in his Boat Studio, 1874, Édouard Manet


Summary


Manet (1832 - 1883) and Monet (1840 - 1926) - two French painters whose names are often confused with each other - were both a part of the rising Impressionist movement in the late 19th century. Their friendship, which developed during a vacation in Argenteuil in the summer of 1874, was reflected in their artworks, most prominently when Manet painted Monet (cover painting, figure 1). The book begins with the Franco-Prussian War and describes the artists' two different styles leading up to the vacation. Manet, who served as a part of the National Guard during the Siege of Paris, produced few works during the War and worked in a gray and gloomy style after France's disastrous defeat. During this time, his paintings had a gray tone, and the people in them were often lost in thought or staring into space. On the other hand, Monet left France when the conflict began and went to London, where he painted public gardens, the towers, and the bridges. 

Monet returned to Paris a few months after the end of the War in 1871, looking for a desirable dwelling for him and his family. Manet secured a house with a garden in Argenteuil for his friend Monet to both paint the outside and deal with business in the city. Argenteuil had not only the natural beauty of the suburbs but also modern features like bridges and trains. Monet was able to integrate the glimmering water with intricate technology, producing many stunning paintings (figure 2). He also built a boat studio, which allowed him to paint landscapes while floating on the water (figure 3). While Monet almost exclusively painted scenery, Manet focused on the Parisian society. 


Figure 2: The Iron Track Bridge at Argenteuil, 1873, Claude Monet


Figure 3: The Boat Studio, 1876, Claude Monet


Manet experimented with many different things in Argenteuil. First, he painted relaxed people on vacation rather than people with their formalities in society. Second, he experimented with Monet's subjects like boats, rivers, and vegetation. Third, He used Monet's Plein air style and brightened colors (in contrast to his style after the War) in several of his paintings (figure 4). During this time, Manet created one of his most famous works, Boating (figure 5). This piece incorporated not only Monet's theme of boats but also one of Manet's repeated statements: the different roles of the sexes. In the composition, the man is focused on steering the boat while the woman stares emotionlessly at the water. It represents how men at that time were in control of what they pursue, while women can only follow them. 


Figure 4: The Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil, 1874, Édouard Manet


Figure 5: Boating, 1874, Édouard Manet


Further Exploration


Franco-Prussian War:

The Franco-Prussian War, from 1870 to 1871, was a conflict where an alliance of German states led by Prussia fought and defeated France. The War was caused by a buildup of tension as France wanted to prevent Prussia from expanding while Prussia sought to unite Germany. The Prussians were able to mobilize rapidly while the French were too slow to send men and supplies, causing the French army to surrender after two months of fighting. Despite the surrender, the French resistance desperately created a new government, demolishing the Second French Empire with the Third French Republic. The Prussians soon marched to the capital of France, leading to the Siege of Paris. This siege lasted for almost six months and resulted in the defeat of France in the War. 


The Franco-Prussian War was a devastating conflict for the civilians, including the French artists at that time. Many patriotic painters like Frédéric Bazille and Henri Regnault fought in the army and died. Others painted memorials for the tragedy that was inflicted upon the nation and used a depressing and dark tone, similar to that of Manet. 

Plein Air Style:

"En Plein Air," the French expression for "in the open air," is the act of painting outside in contrast to painting in a studio. Although this technique has existed for a long time, it only became widely used during the mid-nineteenth century among Impressionists, the Barbizon School, and the Hudson River School. These artists valued natural light and believed that the only way to capture the essence of a landscape is to be in it. French Impressionists painted outdoors in the diffused light of a large white umbrella and used oil paint, shown in figure 6.


Figure 6: A Painter's Umbrella, designed for plein air painting, still in use today.


Analysis


Manet Paints Monet: A Summer in Argenteuil, is a very well written book. The language is very concise, and the book's length is ideal (70 pages) and not a burden to read. The author uses the specific names of exhibitions and artists at that time, suggesting that he is well-informed in the subject and that he did the proper research. I would recommend this book to readers with any level of art history knowledge as it reviews both artists' styles before their encounter. 


Memorable Quotes and Excerpts


"There is not another painter from the entire Barbizon school who can get down a landscape as he can. And then the water! He is the Raphael of water. He knows it in its movements, in all its depth, at all its hours"(Sauerländer 20).

*Raphael Sanzio de Urbino was one of the three masters of the High Renaissance along with Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. He is known for his harmonious and graceful compositions. 


"Floating on the water, surrounded by the water, he(Monet) painted the water. With an easel set up in the cabin, the boat was a seductive refuge for an art that sought to capture no longer the objective corporeality of things but only their vibration in light, their reflections and aquatic mirrorings"(Sauerländer 34).

*The boat refuge is the one that Monet built for himself to gain a different perspective of the lake. 


"It is an eye full of sympathy, but nevertheless an outsider's eye that Manet casts on Monet, the plein air painter emancipated from all tradition"(Sauerländer 61).

*Although Manet esteems Monet's techniques and style, he incorporates them subtly into his works instead of completely imitating them.


Conclusion


In conclusion, this book changed my understanding of the relationship between Manet and Monet from snobbish opponents to sympathizing friends. The two artists were able to learn from each other and incorporate the other's style into their paintings without diminishing their own uniqueness. 


Works Cited


"En Plein Air." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 11 June 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/En_plein_air. Accessed 14 June 2020.


"The Franco-Prussian War and Its Aftermath in French Art." Dahesh Museum of Art, www.daheshmuseum.org/spotlight-on-november-december-2017/#.Xua49y2ZPs1. Accessed 14 June 2020.


Higgins, John, et al. "Franco-German War." Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 July 2019, www.britannica.com/event/Franco-German-War. Accessed 14 June 2020.


"Plein Air Painting is Tough! (and Some Stuff That Has Helped Me) Carol Marine — Putnam Fine Art Studio." Putnam Fine Art, 27 Oct. 2015, loriputnam.com/blog/plein-air-painting-is-tough-and-some-stuff-that-has-helped-me-carol-marine. Accessed 16 June 2020.


Sauerlander, Willibald. Manet Paints Monet: A Summer in Argenteuil. Getty Publications, 2014.


Addendum


If you are interested in learning more about Monet, the founder of the Impressionist movement, you can read about him in the post "Monet: The Ultimate Impressionist."

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