Monet's The Afternoon Meal, painted around 1874, after the artist settled in Argenteuil, shows the ingredients of an al-fresco meal – conjuring an experiential reproduction of hospitality, warmth, and sociability that would characterize many Impressionist works.
During this period of frenetic artistic activity, the young painter found serenity in the bright, verdant landscapes of the area. Exercising his emerging techniques en plein air (outdoors) Monet conjured an experiential reproduction of the shimmering atmosphere of a day spent in an overgrown field in Summer. The vibrant contours and surprising rhythms seem to emerge organically from the natural world, with the charismatic dabs and sharp brush-strokes creating a visual impression that dances across the canvas. The human figures are used merely to anchor the painting, another element on the scale of changing color and light.
Giving up the larger-scale works of his early days, Monet began in 1870 to paint smaller, personal impressions. The Afternoon Meal is an exception to that rule. First exhibited in the second Impressionist exhibition of 1876 as a "decorative panel," The Afternoon Meal was produced on commission for the château de Rottenbourg in Montgeron. Possibly it was this painting, seen in Monet's studio or at the 1876 exhibition, which prompted Ernest Hoschedé to commission panels for his estate. This particular commission would have far-reaching consequences for the artist.
Around 1876 Monet was commissioned to paint decorative panels in the country home of Ernest Hoschedé, a wealthy businessman, and collector of Impressionist paintings. During the time at the Hoschedé family home, Monet and Ernest's wife Alice fell in love. Following the death of Monet's partner Camille in 1879, Alice and Monet’s relationship developed into love. Thus in The Afternoon Meal, it is possible to see the transition between two domestic worlds.
This painting portrays a beautiful scene of everyday life, with spectacular light and color. Monet depicts a table and a wicker basket with detailed chinaware, many fruits, bread, flowers, and glasses on top. Although he executed these elements in an Impressionist style, all of the elements are very recognizable and, in a sense, realistic. On the right of the canvas, a purse and parasol lay on a wooden bench. Right under the table, on the right side, a child plays on the ground. The whole forefront of the composition lays under the shade of a flowering tree. The background is bathed in sunlight, as two women take a stroll in the garden.
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