The Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil
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More about The Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil

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The Impressionists were famous for capturing natural, spontaneous moments in time, and Manet was no different from his cronies.  

Argenteuil was a popular tourist destination for Parisian boating parties, but by the 1870s it was already heavily industrialized. Manet painted this in the summer of 1874 while visiting his buddy Claude Monet and his family. While Monet had a tendency to see the industrial revolution through rose-colored glasses, and conveniently glossed over the urban sprawl that was encroaching on his beloved meadows and river banks, Manet alludes to the urban sprawl. Sure, he tones down the ravages of industrialization with beautiful blue skies and water, but if you look closely in the background of The Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil you can see factory smokestacks looming on the horizon.

Furthermore, the large size and contrived poses in some of the impressionist paintings of Argenteuil suggest that they weren’t done plein air (outdoors) as is generally supposed, which takes away some of the romantic mystique. It’s the artistic equivalent of finding out there’s no Santa Claus (sorry kids). This painting is relatively small, and marks a transition in Manet’s style to looser, choppier brushstrokes, so this one was likely a genuine outdoor scene. Vive la Santa Claus.

The fashionable lady and child could be Monet’s wife Camille and bastard son Jean. Camille was a noted beauty who modeled for Monet, Manet and Auguste Renoir. The hat with the black ribbon was one of Manet’s favorite props, and probably belonged to his own wife Suzanne, because it appears in several portraits of her. Never marry an artist or a drag queen unless you want them to raid your closet for props.

In The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), Pierce Brosnan steals this painting to prove his love to Rene Russo.  A word of advice guys: show this movie to your girlfriend and she’ll never be satisfied with flowers and candy again.