Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil

The beginning of the first distinctly modern movement in art history marks the beginning of generations of artists purposefully deviating from the beaten path that lay behind them in an attempt to question what the meaning of art is, to evoke emotion, and/or to communicate visually in new and innovative ways. Impressionism was born from a direct rebellion from beautifully finished, and perfectly rendered french academic art being exhibited in salons in the 19th century.

Claude Monet took after artists like Gustave Corbet who left their paintings looking less finished and painted more directly, letting the artist’s touch shine through. Monet took an interest in capturing imagery such as the weather changing, time passing, or shifts in the atmosphere, and in order to do so, he manipulated his brushstroke, color pallet, and compositions.

In Claude Monet’s 21 ¾” x 28 ⅞” oil painting titled Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil, finished in 1873, the very beginnings of the impressionist movement in France, the artist has masterfully constructed a balanced and symmetrical composition with a complementing color pallet that overall captures the fleeting perception of an autumn afternoon on the water in Argenteuil. The oil painting places the viewer directly in the middle of a quiet lake peering through a clearing in the brightly colored orange and blue green foliage that lines the water to the left and right of them, respectively.

Just past the four similarly colored rowboats lightly speckling the open water near the treelines, a distant collection of recognizable architecture, including Château Michelet, can be seen partially obscured by atmosphere in the middle of the horizon; faded blues and whites perfectly segmenting the calm water from a sky covered almost entirely by a blanket of clouds. The composition was obviously constructed with symmetry in mind, as the horizon line is placed across the center of the painting, the peak of the tallest building segments the canvas down just slightly to the right of the center of the painting, and the trees to the left and the brush to the right perfectly frame the overall piece.

Additionally, Monet captures the reflections of each object on the water, giving the viewer a sense of depth, perspective, and their very positioning into the scene. These reflections into the water were painted so seamlessly, where the object ends and the reflection begins would be almost indistinguishable if not for the clear horizon line and the placement of rowboats near edges of the body of water. The entirety of the piece is painted with the short, choppy brushwork that contrasts the carefully constructed composition and is colored with vibrant orange and blue, some subtle greens, reds, and yellow, and white is used to show where the diffused sunlight originating from the top right corner behind the bluegreen brush falls upon the scene.

Monet creates his works of art with intent to embody the movement of art in which he pioneered with every piece he produced, Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil being no exception to this. He places emphasis on the fleeting sensory effects of nature and overall environment in his landscape paintings and executes them with carefully selected color palettes of lighter, richer, and more pure colors than paintings of previous periods. He captures and finishes paintings from the site they are observed from in order to fully immerse the viewer in the essence of the environment; this specific piece was, “likely [painted] from the small boat he had converted into a floating studio” [SOURCE MET].

This technique called “plein air” was never before used to execute anything besides preliminary sketches, but Monet finshed the majority of his paintings on site. The technique of brushwork used was in a direct response to previous academic paintings often exhibited in french salons; Monet used short, loose strokes of oil paint to simply refer to shapes and forms rather than perfecting naturalistic subjects and smoothing out strokes of paint to have created a perfectly finished and rendered painting.

Monet’s ability to take a scene and abstract it to a certain degree forces the audience to take in the stripped down essence of perceiving the landscape as the artist did when it was painted. This rejection of previous academic art ideals resulted in this piece among others avoiding specificity of form and leaving certain objects looser and out of focus, and more important objects more vibrant and slightly tighter. This technique is seen most notably with the atmospheric perspective in Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil.

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