Claude Monet Regatta at Argenteuil
Claude Monet's 1872 Regatta at Argenteuil is a shimmering study of light and movement painted from a bobbing boat in the Parisian village suburb of Argenteuil. A favourite haunt of middle class city-dwellers wishing to escape the noise and pace of the city, Monet's iconic study measures the sublimity and harmony of the natural world. In the second half of the nineteenth century Argenteuil became popular with Parisians for its rolling landscapes and river-based leisure activities. For almost seven years, Claude Monet took up residence there and perfected his craft during the uncertain early years of Impressionism, before the style finally dethroned the dominant practice of French Academic art. These years are often classified as the most brilliant in the history of Impressionism. Regatta at Argenteuil is a deft study of the changing effects of light, as the painter observed not only the figurative or material character of the scene but also painted the movement of sunlight upon the spatial plane. The result is a stunning transmission of values and colours, allowing light to take centre-stage as the main object of study. By documenting the subtle changes in intensity Monet's games with light track the movement of time across the canvas, and for the first time allow the emergence of a temporal dimension in painting.
Regatta at Argenteuil depicts a bridge built after the destruction of the earlier bridge during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Built in corrugated iron, the crossing was a sudden shard of industrial modernism that cut through the untouched French countryside. During the devastating war Monet relocated to London with his family, eventually returning through Holland to Argenteuil where he found the symbolic and brutalist bridge. Setting up a studio in a boat Monet almost exclusively focused his attention on landscapes, studying the scenery under the varying effects of different weather and light conditions. The result is an image blending timeless and idyllic serenity with the ceaseless march of war and industrialization.
Monet's artistic revolution took French, and later international, painters out of their studios and into nature, setting up the ubiquitous image of silent painters at their easels, dotting the countryside. Yet while other Impressionist painters would adopt the aesthetic and move onto other thematic subjects, Monet's focus would always remain fixed upon the changing characteristics of light. Forms instead become diluted by the bouncing glimmer of the changing sun, as the painter joins the great British artist Turner in founding a theoretical basis for painting, imagining, and envisioning light and time on the canvas.
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