A Winter Moment
Claude Monet, Boulevard des Capucines, 1873-1874, oil on canvas, 31 ⅝ x 23 ¾ in.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Desiring an alternative to the traditional conventions of the French academy, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and others organized the first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, thereby leaving an indelible mark on the history of art as we know it. These avant-garde artists sought to capture their fleeting impressions of the beauty around them by using harmonious colors painted with quick, brush strokes heavy with impasto in depictions of modern day life. Reviews of this new Impressionist art were mixed at the time, but when critic Armand Silvestre wrote of these artists that “the means by which they seek their impressions will infinitely serve contemporary art,” his words could not have been more telling.1
Painted from the apartment of Monet’s friend - the French photographer Nadar whose studio housed the first Impressionist exhibition - Boulevard des Capucines gives an overhead view a crowded Paris street engulfed in the cold of winter. A strong diagonal line of black carriages divides the scene between bustling pedestrians dominating the foreground and the characteristic Parisian buildings nestled behind the horse-drawn carriages which line the boulevard, obscured by a canopy of brown winter trees. Monet has captured the feeling of winter with muted blue and brown tones that strongly contrast with the bright sunlight shining down from above. The use of atmospheric perspective blurs the trees and buildings in the background and heightens our perception of the image as a fleeting moment. Though a winter scene, we see the figures not as cold or borne down, but thriving with energy and life. Monet’s quickly sketched, detached figures speckled with sporadic flecks of red add a quality of vitality and movement while, though animated, are completely indistinguishable and as impersonal as modern life itself.
1. Paul Tucker. “The First Impressionist Exhibition and Monet’s Impression, Sunrise: A Tale of Timing, Commerce and Patriotism.” Art History 7, No. 4 (1984): 465-476.