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Claude Monet The Bridge at Argenteuil
The Bridge At Argenteuil, painted by Claude Monet in 1874, is a glorious achievement of the Impressionist style that in 2007 once again became the subject of international news. During a late-night opening at the Musée d'Orsay a group of young men, drunk from a night out, made their way into the back door of the famous gallery. After causing some superficial damage one of the men stepped towards The Bridge At Argenteuil and threw a punch into the centre of the canvas, denting the painting which only survived being torn by the sturdy construction of the stretched frame. Although clearly not attacked for any ideological purposes, the loutish gesture reminds us of the divisive power bore by many of Monet's early canvases upon their first presentation to the public at the inaugural Impressionist exhibition of 1874. One of a series of seven views that the artist made of the Argenteuil Bridge, the canvas features a modern bridge, circumvented by a railway line running across the river Seine and towards the suburban town where Monet was residing and where he honed the style that would revolutionise art history.
The bridge depicted was destroyed during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and had recently been refurbished, causing Monet to make a number of studies from life of the scene which included a number of juxtaposed ingredients of late-nineteenth century modernity. Argenteuil was a popular destination for Sunday days out, as Parisians flocked back and forth via the newly built commuter railway that led to the Gare Saint-Lazare in the centre of Paris. Monet, attracted by the play of water upon light, and the curious mix of quaint retreat and industrializing modernity, settled in the area and fused his idiosyncratic style through the balance of light and shade, and the play of steel diagonal lines anchoring a scene of ephemeral natural beauty.
Not known for their dialogues with urban reality, many of the early works of Monet and Renoir reflect instead the changes undergone during the French railway revolution. New equipment and hardware had been built for cleaving a straight light through forests, fields, and across rivers. And as these new commuter train lines bought people from the city to the town and from the town to the city for a day out, the relationship of French citizens to their land changed. This fragmentation and penetration of the countryside is articulated magnificently in The Bridge At Argenteuil, and is a testament to Monet's divisive engagement with his own particular time and place in history.
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