National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

The Impressionists at Argenteuil


Exhibition Brochure | Brochure Images | Related Information
Introduction | Impressionism | Group Exhibitions | The Paris Suburbs | Impressions of Nature
Impressionist Techniques | Landscapes of Modernity | Leisure | Group Dynamics

Cover Image The town of Argenteuil lies on the banks of the Seine eleven kilometers to the northwest of Paris, a fifteen-minute train ride from the capital's Gare Saint-Lazare. With its railway line and factories, residences and river walks, it is in many ways typical of the suburban towns on the outskirts of Paris. Yet the contribution it made to the evolution of modern French painting sets it apart from neighboring villages. During the 1870s and 1880s Argenteuil became an important source of inspiration for the impressionist artists, who immortalized its river views, bridges, streets, and gardens in their groundbreaking paintings. Their depictions of Argenteuil, fifty-two of which are gathered together in this exhibition, constitute one of the most exhaustive representations ever made of a single place and present a panorama of the predominant themes and quintessential features of impressionist painting.

Fig 1a Argenteuil is described in nineteenth-century guidebooks as an agréable petite ville. Dating back to the seventh century, when a convent was founded on the site, the community became well known for its superior agricultural produce--wine grapes and asparagus--and gypsum deposits, a source of the famous "plaster of Paris." By the 1870s, however, when the impressionists painted there, the picturesque village had developed into a thriving town. The transformation began in 1851, when a railway line connected Argenteuil to Paris, attracting many new factories and businesses and increasing the town's population. By the second half of the nineteenth century local industries included tanneries and chemical plants as well as the Joly iron works, one of the largest iron fabricators in France. Despite these developments, Argenteuil retained much of its rustic charm and during the 1850s became a popular destination for day-trippers from Paris, drawn there by the pleasant riverside promenades and boating activities. This spectacular stretch of the Seine, where the river reached its widest and deepest points, hosted a great variety of events, from sailing and steamboat races to water jousts and recreational boating. Argenteuil was therefore a town with many facets, a place that combined leisure and labor, fields and factories, rural beauty and urban life. These contrasts epitomized the modernity and change that the impressionists sought to embody in their novel landscape paintings.

Introduction | Impressionism | Group Exhibitions | The Paris Suburbs | Impressions of Nature
Impressionist Techniques | Landscapes of Modernity | Leisure | Group Dynamics