- ALREADY SUBSCRIBED?
Fill in your credentials below.
If you’re a Claude Monet fan, you’ve probably visited Giverny. But did you know that another house where the artist lived, much closer to central Paris, has recently opened as a museum after more than 10 years of renovation work? A trip to Argenteuil, to see the Maison Impressioniste, makes an interesting half day out and it’s easy to do. Just take a 10-minute ride on a Line J train from the Gare Saint Lazare, get off at Argenteuil, turn left out of the station and walk two minutes. Then, on your right at number 21, you’ll see a charming pink house with green shutters whose wall welcomes you in with the wording “Bienvenue à la Maison Impressioniste.”
The artist first came to Argenteuil in 1871, newly back in France after a year of exile in England during the turbulent Paris Commune. He settled first into another property – now disappeared – then moved with his family into this house, which his friend and fellow painter Édouard Manet, who was living nearby, helped him find. Claude Monet lived in Argenteuil until early 1878 and his time here was prolific. Some 259 of his paintings were completed in five years from 1872, with 150 of them having the house, the little town, the river or the surrounding countryside as their subject matter.
As soon as you enter the house, you get a sense of Monet and the life he lived here. None of the furniture on display was his, but care has been taken to select authentic pieces from the 1870s, such as the free-standing tiled stove in one corner, the oil lamps and the wooden cupboards. The atmosphere of the house and garden, coupled with digital copies of some of his works, give glimpses of the life enjoyed here by Monet, his wife Camille and their older son Jean who was about seven years old when the family moved in.
A number of Monet’s well-known paintings show the garden at Argenteuil and you catch a first glimpse of it though the ground-floor windows. Only about half the original garden remains, but it has been carefully planted to recall the central circular flower bed, the shady woodland area and the trellised wall which were all features when the Monets lived here. We know the artist used to set his easel up in the garden and that he invited his friend Édouard Manet to visit him here and do the same.
In the painting Camille Monet in the Garden at Argenteuil (1876), you can see the house’s green shutters behind Camille as she stands in the shade of a large tree. The original veranda, which has been recreated, is shown in A Woman Sitting in the Garden (1876). The Luncheon (1873) portrays a delightful garden scene with a white-clothed table set for a meal amid the bushes. In the background, guests are greeted as they come out of the house into the garden. Contemplating it, you feel you’re getting a little peek at the Monet family’s life here one sunny afternoon in the 1870s.
Monet captured Argenteuil at a very particular moment in its history. What had been a country village began to grow after the railway arrived in 1851, meaning Parisians could easily visit. Some of them built second homes here, especially in the area around the station which became known as la colonie Parisienne. Soon, the lanes were being paved over and widened into avenues, a station was built and the first street lamps appeared. By the 1870s factories were being built, laying the foundation for the working class town Argenteuil would become in the 20th century. An early section of the museum shows rural Argenteuil and then charts this transformation.
Monet liked to paint street scenes in Argenteuil and often showed aspects of both the old and the new. In the foreground of The Old Rue de la Chaussée in Argenteuil, he shows figures crossing a wide road in the foreground, with a narrower street leading off into the background. Standing tall among the trees in La Rue de Pontoise (1875) is a lamppost, an example of the new technology of his day. Houses in Argenteuil emphasizes their rural setting, yet A Train in the Snow (1875) is a reminder that Monet was also interested in the railway. He visited Argenteuil station a number of times to paint the trains and shortly after moving back to Paris he began work on his famous series of paintings done at the Gare Saint-Lazare.
Other works reflect the countryside around Argenteuil, the meadows and, particularly, the river. The Seine flows straight through Argenteuil and as early as 1858 the Paris Yacht Club was set up here. After the railway was built, Parisians came out to Argenteuil for the day to walk, swim, go boating and visit the popular riverside guinguettes for refreshments and perhaps a little dancing. All of this made interesting subject matter and Monet and a number of other artists, including Renoir, Sisley, Manet and Caillebotte, saw Argenteuil as an excellent spot for painting. Here, using newly available paint in tubes, they could experiment with la peinture en plein air, or “outdoor painting.”
The top floor of the Maison Impressioniste is built as a reproduction of the “boat studio” which Monet had set up to use on the river at Argenteuil, thus putting himself right into the middle of the scene he was painting. Here was a chance to hone many of the techniques for which he became so well known, such as capturing the effects of sunlight on water, or dappling through trees on the riverbank. The Bridge at Argenteuil, in which these techniques can be seen, was painted in 1874, the same year that the first Impressionist Exhibition was held in Paris, a key moment both in Monet’s career and for the new movement itself.
The Maison Impressioniste, while neither full of objects which Monet himself used, nor showing any of his paintings in their original form, uses a range of techniques and tricks to provide a fun and interactive way to learn about the artist and discover some of the places where he lived and worked. Drawers pull out to reveal digital copies of his works, a film (with English subtitles) is projected onto a wall to recount his life in Argenteuil and demonstrate some of his painting techniques. In the boat studio reconstruction, opportunities are created for you to see and touch, smell and feel the atmosphere, perhaps to imagine yourself alongside Monet in the river, watching a painting coming to life.
Children, while not the only target audience, are well catered for. The interactive approach – opening drawers, pressing for sound effects – will appeal, as will the chance to recreate a Monet painting in puzzle form or to sit at an easel and “copy” a masterpiece in (digital!) fingerpaint. Parents will be able to lose themselves in Monet for an hour or so without being constantly tugged at to move on. The displays are spread over three floors and the garden, but the museum is not huge and I wonder if it might prove crowded at peak times. I suspect the owners will soon consider extending the public opening hours, currently Wednesday and Saturday (10 AM-6 PM) and Sunday afternoons (2-6 PM).
You need to go to the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Marmottan to see Monet’s paintings and out to Giverny to see his more famous house and garden. But the Maison Impressioniste can add a piece to the jigsaw. Cézanne may have commented that “Monet was just an eye…”, but then he added admiringly “…but what an eye!” If you want to see the world as Monet saw it during a key period of his life, then why not do as he did and take the train out to Argenteuil?
21, Boulevard Karl Marx, 95100 Argenteuil
Open Wednesday and Saturday 10 AM-6 PM
Sunday 2- 6 PM
Under 10s free
Lead photo credit : Maison Impressionniste / Claude Monet Argenteuil. Photo credit: Marian Jones