Argenteuil, fin d'après-midi, painted at the dawning of the Impressionist movement in the early 1870s, is one of Monet's first major landscapes of his new home, just outside of Paris. Argenteuil was famous for its annual regatta, and Monet took full advantage of the town's nautical resources to depict scenes of sailboats on the Seine. As Paul Hayes Tucker explains, '[By] 1871, when Monet moved there, his new home was not just some secluded little town outside of Paris but a celebrated center for pleasure boating in France. Boating meant Argenteuil and Argenteuil meant boating; the two were inseparable. The importance of this fact cannot be overemphasized, considering how much of Monet's work is devoted to sailboats on the Seine. He could have painted the barges or the fishing boats as Daubigny had when he came to neighbouring Bezons – for these vessels could still be seen coming and going on the river in Argenteuil in the 1870s – but they were old-fashioned. Rather, Monet chose to depict only those craft that represented the leisure activity of the day, and one of the most up-to-date aspects of the life of the town' (P. H. Tucker, Monet at Argenteuil, New Haven, 1982, pp. 90-91).
Painted in 1872, the present work was one of Monet's first major compositions depicting the theme of boats on the water and the popular promenade of Argenteuil. Monet devoted several canvases to the subject in the early 1870s, most famously in his renowned Le Havre composition, Impression, soleil levant, which would launch the avant-garde movement named after a derivative of that painting's title. In this scene, Monet is looking downstream and to the west, and the viewer is drawn in by the well-worn path that follows the river. To the right of the centre of the canvas is the Château Michelet, a grand Louis XIII-style home flanked by smokestacks visible in the distance.
Prior to 1873, France, along with the rest of western Europe, enjoyed a period of prosperity due to advances in industry, technology, wages and standards of living. Those who could afford it moved to once-rural areas that were now quickly and easily accessible from Paris by train. With their increased earnings, a leisure class of boaters and Sunday travellers emerged in these suburbs. Factories replaced inexpensive farmland and soon began to appear just outside the city. Monet and his fellow painters delighted in depicting the symbols of progress that emerged across the landscape. Daniel Wildenstein remarked in his catalogue raisonné on Monet's painting that this scene is no longer recognisable in present-day Argenteuil. As was the fate of many second-empire edifices on the outskirts of Paris, the château was eventually demolished and replaced by a factory. Monet's composition is thus a reminder of the radical transformations that the French countryside would undergo around the turn of the century.
As was characteristic of his best Impressionist landscapes, Monet painted Argenteuil, fin d'après-midi on location, setting up his easel along the river bank in order to capture the fleeting effects of light and shadow glistening on the surface of the water. His vantage here is of the boat-rental basin, a heavily trafficked area that provided one of the best views of the surrounding landscape. He captured this view in four canvases (Wildenstein nos. 221-224), including the present work and one in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (fig. 2). To the north on the river bank and directly opposite Monet's vantage here is the road bridge, famously featured in some of his best known compositions from this era (fig. 3). Monet's approach to these pictures was an exercise in celebrating the pleasures of modern life. According to Tucker, the depictions of the promenade, including the present work, 'are poems of tranquillity where the house and factories, the placid water of the Seine, and the peacefulness of the nearly deserted promenade speak for the idyllic harmony of the modern suburb' (ibid., p. 101).
Fig. 1, The road bridge at Argentuil, circa 1875
Fig. 2, Claude Monet, Le Promenade d'Argenteuil, 1872, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Fig. 3, Claude Monet, Le Port d'Argenteuil, 1872, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Oil on canvas
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Collection Maurice Masson, 1911, no. 22
New York, The Museum of Modern Art & Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, Claude Monet, Seasons and Moments, 1960, no. 12
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Claude Monet, 1976, no. 11, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Hiroshima, Prefectural Art Museum & Tokyo, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Monet and Renoir: Two Great Impressionist Trends, 2003-04, no. 1, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Brescia, Museo di Santa Giulia, Monet: la Senna, le ninfee. Il grande fiume e il nuovo secolo, 2004-05, no. 57, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Argenteuil, tramonto)
60 by 81cm. 23 5/8 by 31 7/8 in.
Camille Mauclair, Les Musées d'Europe. Le Luxembourg, Paris, 1927, pl. XIII, illustrated p. 61
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne & Paris, 1974, vol. I, no. 224, illustrated p. 211
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, catalogue raisonné, Lausanne & Paris, 1991, vol. V, no. 224, p. 26
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, no. 224, illustrated in colour p. 99
(probably) Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist in 1872)
Maurice Masson, Paris (sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 22nd June 1911, lot 22)
Durand-Ruel & Bernheim Jeune, Paris (purchased jointly at the above sale)
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the above)
Comtesse Joachim Murat, Paris (acquired by 1912)
Marquis de Ludre, Paris
(possibly) I. Montaignac, Paris
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York
Mrs Bernard F. Combemale (née Pamela Woolworth), New York (acquired by 1956. Sold: Christie's, London, 27th November, 1964, lot 42)
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (purchased at the above sale)
Jack Lasdon, New York (1964)
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Lawrence Lever, New York
The Estate of the above (sold: Christie's, New York, 15th May, 1979, lot 12)
Mr & Mrs Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., U.S.A.
Private Collection (sold: Christie's, New York, 14th November 1990, lot 13)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner