Claude Monet, Canotiers à Argenteuil, 1874,
Oil on canvas, 60 x 81 cm
The wonderfully blue reflection of a summer sky in softly rippling water; boat sails forming white triangles. A man stoops gently over the boat at the front while several ducks bob around in the reeds. The scene would be one of leisurely sedateness if it were not for the two red racing rowing boats that appear to be shooting along in the river like arrows. With the light brushstrokes of his 1874 oil painting “Boatmen at Argentueil” Claude Monet caught the atmosphere at the river and created a snapshot that defied the fleeting nature of the moment. He emphasized: “I want the unachievable. Other artists paint a bridge, a house, a boat and that´s all. I, on the other hand, want to paint the air that surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat, the beauty of the air that surrounds these objects. And that´s not impossible.”
Monet lived in Argenteuil from 1871 until 1878. It´s a northwestern suburb of Paris on the River Seine. Newly available metal paint tubes and portable easels now made it possible to paint outdoors with little effort. And Monet did just that, on the riverbank as well as on his atelier boat. By painting outside, ‘en plein air’, he was able to study firsthand the constantly changing light and capture its effect on the colouring of the air and water in his paintings.
A year before producing ‘Boatmen in Argenteuil’ in 1873, Monet had painted the work entitled “Impression, sunrise”. This painting gave the name to a whole new art movement: Impressionism.