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Chemin de halage à Argenteuil (Towpath at Argenteuil, Winter)

Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926). Chemin de halage à Argenteuil (Towpath at Argenteuil, Winter), 1875-76. Oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 39 3/8 inches (60 x 100 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Charles Clifton, 1919 (1919:8).

Painting an Impression

Featuring Claude Monet’s Chemin de halage à Argenteuil (Towpath at Argenteuil, Winter), 1875–76

Conceptual Basis

Impressionist paintings are categorized by bright colors and loose brushstrokes meant to represent the impression a viewer has on a moment. The effects of light on a scene are also a characteristic of many Impressionist paintings. Claude Monet’s Chemin de halage à Argenteuil (Towpath at Argenteuil, Winter), 1875–76, gives the viewer an impression of a cold gray winter’s day in a suburb of Paris. In this lesson, students will become inspired by Impressionism and create their own technique and styled landscape painting.

Featured Work

Claude Monet
(French, 1840–1926)
Chemin de halage à Argenteuil (Towpath at Argenteuil, Winter), 1875–76
Oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 39 3/8 inches (60 x 100 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Gift of Charles Clifton, 1919
1919:8

Lesson Objectives

  • Become familiar with the artist Claude Monet and the art movement of Impressionism
  • Learn about the invention of the paint tube and its influence on art
  • Increase awareness of the effects of light on color in a work of art
  • Create a painting or a series of landscape paintings experimenting with an impressionistic painting style
  • Support the understanding of basic art elements and principles

Materials

  • Paint (watercolor, tempera, or acrylic)
  • Paintbrushes (a variety of sizes)
  • Water buckets (or individual water cups for outdoor painting)
  • Thick canvas paper
  • Sturdy board (for outdoor painting option) 

Background Information for Teachers

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.

Vocabulary for Students

Impressionism: a nineteenth century art movement that was characterized by short brushstrokes intended to depict the visual impression of a moment, especially the effect of light on color

plein-air painting: the act of painting in the open air

Discussion Exercise

The following questions can be used when discussing Claude Monet’s Chemin de halage à Argenteuil (Towpath at Argenteuil, Winter):

  • What time of the year is Monet representing? What time of day?
  • What is the mood of the painting? What contributes to that mood? Color? Texture? Subject matter?
  • What colors can be found in the sky? Where else can students locate optical blending in this painting?
  • How did Monet paint the figures in this painting? How many figures are in this painting?
  • Try to imitate the body position of the closest figure. How might that person feel?

Artmaking Activity

Depending on the age of your students and time available for classes, students can create an impressionistic landscape painting a few different ways. Students can create a painting from a photograph of a landscape scene. Students can also create a landscape painting by viewing the scene outside of a classroom window. If time and materials are available, your class could work outdoors by painting the landscape in their surroundings.

Encourage students to begin by blocking off areas of color in their landscape using a light wash of paint. This will help avoid exposed areas of canvas in their painting as well as lay out the different elements of their scene. Students should layer their dabs of paint starting with the background.

Lesson Tips

  • Challenge students to avoid using black in their paintings. Emphasize the blue, brown, green, and lavender colors Monet uses as shadows in his painting.
  • If students become discouraged that their painting does not have realistic qualities to it, encourage them to view their painting from farther away. Note that the optical blending and areas of impression are seen in different ways when the viewer is closer or farther away from the artwork.

Optional Reflections and Lesson Wrap-Up

  • A review of Impressionism and the effects of light on color can be done with students when viewing additional Impressionist art. Ask students to identify the time of day or season in which the painting was created. 
  • A short writing assignment or reflection about their artmaking process can give teachers insight for the next time students do this lesson. 
  • Students can create a series by painting a landscape at their homes at different times of day. This activity could consist of one painting in the morning, one at midday, and one before nightfall.

New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum Standards

  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts: 1, 2, 3
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening: 1, 2, 3
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language: 1. 2. 3
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading: 1, 2, 4, 6

Teacher Example

Impressionist style painting of a bridge over a river with a sailboat
Example of finished artwork based on lesson plan by School Program Coordinator Kelly Macagnone and Education Intern Ashley Cancel. Artwork by Kelly Macagnone.
Impressionist style painting of a sunset reflected in water
Example of finished artwork based on lesson plan by School Program Coordinator Kelly Macagnone and Education Intern Ashley Cancel. Artwork by Kelly Macagnone.

 

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