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Impressionist Subjects: Leisure and the City

Part 2: The Suburbs

In the 1860s and 1870s, the Impressionists became interested with the changing landscapes of the suburbs of Paris. Argenteuil was a small country town and agricultural centre located about eight miles north-west of Paris. During this period the town was being transformed by the spread of industry. Argenteuil was also popular among Parisian day-trippers as a centre for recreational sailing. Manet's Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil was painted during a visit to the home of Claude Monet in the Summer of 1874. Monet's wife and son most likely served as the models for the woman and child standing on the riverbank. Part of this painting at least was probably executed outdoors. The broken brushwork employed throughout the composition, especially in the depiction of the water, is typical of the sketchiness of much Impressionist plein-air painting. Although Manet includes the factory chimneys of Argenteuil - which can be seen rising above the treetops in the distance - they are little more than adjuncts to the verticals of the masts in the foreground. Monet had moved to Argenteuil in 1871 and Autumn Effect at Argenteuil was painted two years later. Argenteuil was by this time quite heavily industrialised, but Monet chose to play down its existence in this view of the town. Monet very rarely acknowledged the negative aspect of the presence of industry. The town is viewed from some distance upstream on a tributary of the Seine known as the petit bras

. The buildings seen in the distance include a tall, white structure which could be a factory chimney, but its ambiguity enables it to blend into an otherwise idyllic view of the town of Argenteuil. In this painting, Monet uses colour to model form and space. The composition is dominated by the contrast between the orange of the trees and the blue of the river and sky. In addition to orange, the trees also contain pink and yellow hues. Shadow in the trees on the left and right are indicated by touches of blue. The view of suburban London, Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich was painted in 1871 during the period Pissarro spent in London to escape the Franco-Prussian War. Lordship Lane station in Dulwich (South London), now destroyed, opened in 1865 to serve the crowds visiting the Crystal Palace, a popular exhibition centre, which by this date had moved to nearby Sydenham. Unlike Monet, Pissarro tended to celebrate the signs of industrialisation in the landscape and the scene shows a modern landscape in the making. The railway - a potent symbol of modernity - was a favourite motif of Impressionist painters and had been painted by both Monet and Manet. In Pissarro's composition, we meet the train head on as it steams along the line. The rows of houses on either side of the railtrack had been recently built and the banks of grass, green touched with brown, in the foreground indicate areas of as yet undeveloped scrubland.

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