The Floating Studio

Neue Pinakothek, Munich
Édouard Manet: The Boat (Claude Monet in His Floating Studio), 1874

Online articles and blogs, and the streaming of lectures, have placed the last nails into the coffin of the small art book devoted to an illustrated talk by an eminent scholar, accessible to specialists and general readers alike. The Walter Neurath Memorial Lectures and the Council of the Frick Lecture Series are two such casualties (the former’s demise in 2000 preceded the Internet Age). And so the Getty Research Institute is to be commended for commissioning David Dollenmayer’s fine translation of Willibald Sauerländer’s Manet Malt Monet: Ein Sommer in Argenteuil, a lecture given in Munich in the summer of 2004, published by Verlag C.H. Beck of that city in 2012, and now—over a decade later—appearing in a handsomely designed English edition.

Now aged ninety, Sauerländer—a contributor to The New York Review for over thirty years—is a medievalist recognized above all for his work on Gothic and Romanesque sculpture and architecture. His interests have ranged widely to embrace Poussin, Rubens, Houdon, and Fragonard, but only very recently has he chosen to write on nineteenth-century topics (as in reviews in 2012 of exhibitions devoted to Corot and Renoir). “Trained in looking at things in a very intense way,” he has noted that the art historian needs to “absorb the emotional process in front of a work of art” and then “undergo the critical task of asking ourselves whether the emotional impact of the art is identical with the historical, or original, mission of the object.”1

Two significant works by Édouard Manet, neither of which has traveled often to exhibitions—one in Stuttgart, Claude and Camille Monet; the other in Munich, The Boat (Claude Monet in His Floating Studio)—are the test cases for Sauerländer’s empiricism. Each was painted in the summer of 1874, when Monet was living in Argenteuil, a suburb on the Seine some seven miles north of Paris, and Manet was spending time at his family’s property in nearby Gennevilliers, just across the river. They show Monet and his wife seated in a small boat, the bâteau-atelier from which the artist executed many of his views of the Seine at Argenteuil. They were done in the aftermath of the first Impressionist exhibition held in Paris between April 15 and May 15, 1874, in which Monet, Degas, Pissarro, and Renoir, among others, were prominent; but it was boycotted by Manet.

Sauerländer describes above all these two works: the relatively large painting in Stuttgart, measuring 41 3/4 by 54 3/4 inches, is an ébauche, never brought to completion; the smaller work in Munich, 31 1/2 by 38 1/2 inches, is a finished canvas, signed on the hull of the boat in which Monet painted while floating on the streams that branched off from the Seine. In doing so, Sauerländer deftly introduces topics that have dominated scholarship on Impressionism over…

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