‘Argenteuil with a Single Sailboat’ by Claude Monet was in the news again lately after a jury in Dublin failed to agree on verdict for a man accused of criminal damage by putting his fist through it at the National Gallery of Ireland.
Monet was fascinated with reflections on water and boating on the river Seine in the basin at Argenteuil was the subject of many of his paintings. I visited the town some time ago because to see the area for myself because I am writing about places in his life for ‘Lets Trail Monet’.
The densely populated grey suburban sprawl of Argenteuil today is certainly not lovely so finding the artist’s favourite places was never going to be easy but when I hopped off the RER after the short journey from Gare St Lazare in Paris I immediately found the house he lived in right where it always had been, directly opposite the railway station. Number 21 Boulevard Karl Marx is now the headquarters of the town’s Historical and Archaeological Society and they maintain its white walls and green shutters and have even replaced the wooden balconies. In fact it looks little changed from Monet’s time, except then of course the street was called Boulevard St Denis and the house was number five.
The name change says it all and a walk up town soon tells you why. A Communist council after the Second World War made Argenteuil the heart of the famous ‘ceinture rouge’ around Paris that celebrated the worker and the practical. Construction of a wide central boulevard effectively cut the town in two and with the development of huge tower blocks on either side the town that Monet knew disappeared forever. The river still flows powerfully past, but a very busy four lane highway means you cant get to it let alone stroll by the heavily industrialized water’s edge.
Interestingly though industry had already arrived in the area in Monet’s day and he liked ‘modern’ subjects often including the bridges rebuilt after the Franco Prussian war of 1870-71 in his Argenteuil paintings. The railway also made it very convenient for him to live there.
The six year period in the town was one of rare prosperity for him and he could at last provide a real home for his wife Camille and their young child. The house had a cellar, a main floor and bedrooms and best of all a garden, which became the focus of family life.
He often painted his wife among the profusions of fuchsias, geraniums and daisies but ‘The Artist’s House’ of 1873 captures a quite a simple moment. Camille appears at the doorway of the vine covered façade ready to step down to the terrace, where the blue and white Delft pots, bought by the couple during their short stay in Holland on their return from London after the war, are filled with summer blooms. Here young Jean Monet in a large straw hat plays with a hoop but the scene is also somewhat poignant considering his mother’s early death after a long and painful illness.
Monet’s second home in Argenteuil (the first house is long disappeared) is only open for visits on occasions but I was charmed to see it even from the street with its bright blossoms spilling over the fence. I thought of the artist who described his time in Argenteuil as one of the happiest and most fulfilled periods of his entire life.
by Áine Ni Chárthaigh