Claude Oscar Monet's iconic canvas Bathing at la Grenouilliere, painted in 1869 and currently on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, is an experiential rendering of a popular boating and bathing spot near Bougival to the west of Paris. This waterside bar was a favorite haunt of the emerging group that would become known as the Impressionists. In the summer of 1869, Monet was living near the establishment with his mistress, Camille.
Often painting alongside Auguste Renoir, and always working outdoors, Monet painted sketches of the scene with little to no underpainting, developing a style of direct, vivid depiction which would reach their zenith in the turbulent works of Van Gogh some twenty years later. Bathing at la Grenouilliere depicts the same scene as Renoir's painting La Grenouillere – as the two artists were sitting side by side. Many believe that the pair's sketches were in preparation for a more expansive composition to be completed in the studio – yet this reproduction from life retains an urgency and chromatic intensity that would be impossible to achieve in the studio.
Bathing at la Grenouilliere is an impeccable conjuring trick of light and movement. Monet used thick, confident strokes of color to hint at the boats moored beyond the canvas, and the small, yet highly intricate flecks of light unite to become a relaxed party of bathers. Although the constructive brushwork indicates a sketch in preparation for a larger work, it is hard to imagine a more dense and complex realization of a summer's day. Monet's truly impressionistic reproduction of the dancing rays of light between the leaves and upon the surface of the water perfectly enacts and embodies the lives of the leisure classes that would take the train from Paris to this idyllic spot.
The composition in this artwork is dynamic and daring. The pier divides the canvas horizontally, as the horizon would normally do in a landscape. Many people are walking and talking to each other on this boardwalk, some in swimsuits – like the group of individuals in black on the right – and some with more elaborate clothing – like the two women on the left with colorful dresses. The boats on the forefront are mostly green and red, and the water next to them is blue and green. The background portrays some houses and thick vegetation. There are many people in the water behind the pier as well.
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