About the Artist
The invention of the paint tube, by John Rand in 1841, brought dramatic changes to the art world. With a portable tube of paint, artists were able to paint outdoors rather than work from sketches in a studio. Outside, artists could capture the fleeting effects of color and light on landscapes and nature. Claude Monet (1840–1926), a French Impressionist, used paint tubes to work outdoors, capturing what he called “the beauty of the atmosphere.”
Monet heavily influenced the art movement Impressionism. Interested in art at a young age, Monet studied art and learned en plein-air (outdoor) painting techniques before getting drafted in the army. Monet fell sick with typhoid fever and returned to France after only two years in service. Upon his return, he began studying at the School of Fine Art of Paris and created friendships with artists such as Frédéric Bazille, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. This group of artists found mutual inspiration when painting outdoors, focusing on the way light affected color visually. Their paintings contained short choppy brushstrokes intended to re-create the impression of a moment’s vibrating qualities of light and color. This style became known as Impressionism.
Light is an important element to Monet’s paintings, especially landscapes. To study the way light can change colors in a landscape, Monet began the practice of painting the same subject under different conditions of light throughout the day. This practice developed into several series of paintings on different subjects and color changes due to seasons, weather, and daylight.
Monet settled in Giverny, his home known for decorative gardens that inspired a number of his paintings. Through a foundation in his name, Giverny and its grounds are open to visitors from all around the world.
About the Art
In Chemin de halage à Argenteuil (Towpath at Argenteuil, Winter), 1875–76, Monet conveys the damp gray cold of a winter’s day on the banks of the Seine River near Argenteuil (pronounced are-jen-toy), a suburb of Paris where the artist lived for several years in the 1870s. The town was one of the places Parisians favored for weekend getaways, especially for summer regattas on the river.
In this scene, Monet captures the feelings of a cold winter’s day through color. Monet’s shapes and figures in the landscape are composed of quick dabs of unmixed paint. Monet employs features of optical blending throughout the painting. The sky is not simply gray, but includes pale pinks, yellows, and tones of blue. Shadows that appear black are composed of various shades of brown, blue, purple, and green.
A human figure can be seen walking along the pathway. The figure is comprised of only a few dabs of paint, which allows the viewer to get an impression of the figure. The effects of the industrialization of Paris in the late nineteenth century can be seen in the smoke and smokestacks on the horizon in the distance.