Claude Monet's On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868
Discussion questions and activities for home and classroom about Monet's early work, often regarded as the first Impressioninst landscape.
Many Faces: Modern Portraits and Identities
Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Education Department: Teacher Programs. Many Faces: Modern Portraits & Identities, 1997, p. 103-05.
On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Oil on canvas, 32 1/16 x 39 5/8 in. (81.5 x 100.7 cm)
Monet objectively painted informal scenes from modem life. Look carefully at this painting and describe what you see. What catches your attention first and why? Is anything realistically portrayed? Where do you think the artist was when he painted this scene and what makes you think that? Describe your feelings when you look at this image. Although a figure is included, is she the real subject of this painting? If not, what is?
This canvas can be divided into approximately four equal quadrants. Examine the primary focus of each section and how they all seem to work together, the whole becoming greater than its separate parts. Discuss how Monet was not interested in painting realistic details, but rather in capturing a particular place and time as if seen in a glance. Do you think he has succeeded?
1. Monet has created a landscape where everything — figure, sky, trees, water — has been treated equally. Compare this landscape to those by three very different artists. Representing Romanticism, the Barbizon School, and Realism respectively, these include: Turner’s Fishing Boats with Hucksters Bargaining for Fish, a dramatic seascape; Millet’s In the Auvergne , a simple scene of peasant life; and Courbet’s The Rock at Hautepierre, a powerful, unsentimental landscape. Become one of these artists and explain why your painting is the "best" inter-pretation of nature.
2. Monet’s primary subjects in this painting were leisure time near water and capturing the effects of air and light through color. Examine how his brushstrokes and use of color suggest movement. Look into a natural body of water (lake, river, pond, pool) and see the reflections, shadows, and subtle changes which fascinated Monet. If this is not feasible, place a pan of water near a window and see what it reflects when the water is still. Stir it gently with your finger and discover what happens to these reflections. Create two paintings, one of the objects as seen in still water and one in rippled water.
3. Relaxing on a riverbank or rowing a boat helped relieve some of the anxiety of city life. Examine some of the factors that created stress for modem Parisians in the 1860s (i.e. population growth, traffic congestion, job pressures). In what ways are these stress factors similar to those faced by people today? How do you cope with anxiety and restore balance to your life? Describe your personal "Seine at Bennecourt" activity (such as listening to music, biking in a park, playing basketball with friends, hiking in the woods) in the form of an essay, drawing, or collage.
Alternative: Create a picture postcard which could be sent by the woman in this painting. What image would be on the front? What message would she write and to whom would she send it? Exchange and discuss your postcards.
4. Monet painted this work on site over a period of several days, carefully choosing what to include and altering nature to suit himself. To better understand the decisions made by landscape artists, go outside and find an interesting scene to draw (or use the view from a classroom window). Create several quick compositions based on what you see. One sketch, or a combination of several, may become the basis of a more finished work. Discuss with your classmates the problems and pleasures you encountered in creating your landscape.
5. The Paris scenes Monet painted record a city undergoing a major transformation. Research the city’s development and the changes taking place (Haussmann’s new city plan, population growth, new transportation systems) and the effect these had on the surrounding suburbs. Present your research in one of the following forms: a chart showing the changes in terms of statistics on a graph; a personal diary entry or objective newspaper report describing the changes; or a collage (photocopies of historic photographs, artist’s renditions, and/or your own drawings) showing "before and after" views of the city.
Alternative: Research another major city (anywhere in the world) which has undergone a similar transformation at any point in its history, such as Chicago after the 1871 fire, or San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Address the reasons for and effects of the transformation.