Overview: Monet's Breakthrough to Impressionism
Learn why this painting has been called the "first Impressionist landscape."
Book: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 33.
Claude Monet spent the summer of 1868 with his future wife, Camille Doncieux, and their infant son, Jean, in the small Seine-side village of Gloton. Despite the fact that his monetary situation remained difficult and the reception of his works disappointing, Monet was on the verge of an unprecedented artistic breakthrough. On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, which has been called the "first Impressionist landscape," documents that moment. Monet’s subject—quite simply, a glorious day, enjoyed quietly by a young woman—became a quintessential Impressionist theme. The artist’s gaze followed that of his model, Doncieux, across the river to the town of Bennecourt, one of the many Paris suburbs that were favored leisure spots in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Monet was not the only artist to depict a typical moment of sun-dappled relaxation in such a site, but the means he employed were revolutionary. Boldly handling brushes loaded with paints in a high-keyed range of blues, greens, and yellows, Monet seemingly created this strong composition on the spot, without premeditation. While he certainly did allow his fleeting perceptions to guide his hand, he also exercised control and selection. Patches of color exist independently, but they also retain coherent representational value: Monet used the same blue pigment for the bit of sky reflected in the water and for the actual sky; yet we instantly understand the difference and the relationship between the two. On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt constitutes a wholly new kind of painting—not a rehearsal for a fully finished studio picture, but rather a record of light and color, reduced to their most basic and powerful elements.