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 the past two decades. These include the development and reception of modernist painting in the aftermath of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the convulsions of the Paris Commune; the topography and culture of the suburbs as sites for the representation of modern life; industrialization, leisure, and fashion; and the depiction of gender in avant-garde painting. For Sauerländer, Monet’s influence in the summer of 1874 is crucial to what he considers to be Manet’s “conversion” to Impressionism:

Summer vacations, the outdoors, gardens—these were not the customary sociotype of the dyed-in-the-wool Parisian Manet. Nevertheless, in those happy weeks he achieved a receptive if also distanced rapprochement between his own work and Monet’s plein air painting.

As earlier historians of Manet have done, Sauerländer relates the paintings under consideration to the two other principal works on which the artist was engaged during this productive summer: Argenteuil (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tournai) and Boating (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), paintings similar in scale and ambition to Claude and Camille Monet, executed in the bright palette and the kind of handling of paint that was common among the Impressionists. What Sauerländer does not consider is that in embarking upon all three of these works in the summer of 1874, Manet—as was his custom—was already thinking ahead to the Salon of 1875 and to the sort of frontal, legible figure paintings that would have a strong presence in the vast and crowded rooms of the Palais de l’Industrie. Routinely identified as the “drill sergeant” of the Impressionists—despite his refusal to participate in any of their exhibitions—it is clear that Manet now intended to come out (as it were) and show solidarity with the fledgling avant-garde, including such painters as Monet and Renoir.

Despite having the appearance of being painted quickly, Manet’s canvases were notoriously slow and deliberate in their gestation. The artist required the human presence of his subjects at all times; his friend Stéphane Mallarmé alluded to “the fatigues of the twentieth sitting.” Madame Morisot informed her daughter, Edma, in March 1869 that all the models for Manet’s Balcony (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) were exhausted; Antoine Guillemet posed fifteen times, “with no likeness to show for it.” The critic Philippe Burty noted that Manet might require months of his models’ time, “but the result sometimes appears too hasty.”2


Realizing that he could not monopolize Monet—whom he would have prevented from working, since the bâteau-atelier would have had to remain moored for hours on end—Manet turned to his thirty-one-year-old brother-in-law, Rodolphe Leenhoff, and hired female models to pose as Rodolphe’s companions. Dazzling and virtuosic, his painting Argenteuil is louche and playful at the same time, with its lusty canotier balancing his companion’s parasol over their adjacent laps, her millinery confection, as T.J. Clark has written, a “wild twist of tulle, piped onto the oval like cream on a cake.”3

The appearance of the second Argenteuil boating picture, also likely completed in the summer of 1874 but held back until the Salon of 1879 (where it was exhibited with the more anodyne title En bâteau [Boating]), suggests something of a withdrawal from Monet’s shimmering chromatic language. It would now appear that Manet, having shown this work in Paris in the spring of 1876 with a group of recent paintings in his studio on the Rue de Saint-Pétersbourg, sent it to London that summer where it appeared at the “Twelfth Exhibition of Pictures by Modern French Artists” at C. Deschamps Galleries at 168 New Bond Street.4 Entitled Les Canotiers, it was dismissed by The Art Journal as “a couple of very ordinary-looking lovers sitting on the gunwale of a boat, with a piece of the most intensely-blue water we ever saw.” Critical of the painting’s “vulgar figures,…coarse brushwork, and…outrageously-crude colour,” the reviewer characterized Manet as “the expounder of the new faith,” noting that “the banner under which he and his fellow disciples propose marching to glory has inscribed on it the legend ‘Impressionists.’”5

There can be no doubt of Manet’s artistic and affective complicity with Monet at Argenteuil in the summer of 1874. On July 23, Manet had been invited to paint en plein air in the garden of Monet’s rented villa on the rue Pierre Guienne (a house that Manet had found for him three years earlier). In a vibrating, high-keyed canvas, today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he portrayed Camille Monet and their seven-year-old son Jean seated on the lawn, with Monet in his painter’s smock tending to the flowers behind them. As Sauerländer observes in one of his most endearing insights, a cock, hen, and chick line up in the left foreground, affectionately paraphrasing the family as in an animal fable. While Manet was at work, Renoir arrived, borrowed paints, brushes, and a canvas from Monet, and executed a vivid close-up of Camille and Jean, joined by the rooster. Irritated by Renoir’s intrusion, Manet is reported to have told Monet, “He has no talent, that boy. Since he’s your friend, you should tell him to give up painting!”6

Cordiality is also in evidence in Manet’s smaller, finished painting, now in Munich, of Monet and Camille in his floating studio, one of ten works selected for the artist’s mid-career exhibition at La Vie Moderne, Charpentier’s gallery, in April 1880. Antonin Proust recalled how fond Manet was of this canvas—“toile qu’il affectionnait particulièrement et qu’il intitulait Monet dans son atelier.”7 The title, like the painting, testifies to the general effacement of Camille.

Monet and Manet’s acquaintance of eight years had not always been amiable; the tensions and jealousies between them—as well as their fundamentally divergent approach to the Salon—are somewhat occluded in Sauerländer’s retelling of the friendly summer encounter in Argenteuil. In an interview given in November 1900, Monet, aged sixty, noted that he had “never forgotten the contempt that [Manet] showed for my beginnings,” adding that Manet had it in for him at the time (“Manet avait contre moi une vieille dent”).8 Monet had first crossed Manet’s path at the Salon of 1865, where confusion resulted owing to the regulation of hanging works alphabetically by artists’ names. There, Monet’s two large seascapes had been placed near the older artist’s highly controversial nude Olympia (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and Christ Mocked by the Soldiers (Art Institute of Chicago), and the Monets were much admired. Infuriated at being congratulated for Monet’s seascapes, Manet apparently exclaimed, “Who is this rascal who pastiches my painting so basely?”9

The following year, Monet’s Camille (Kunsthalle Bremen) was well received at the Salon of 1866—Manet’s two entries had been rejected—with critics and caricaturists reveling in the similarity of the two artists’ surnames. “Monet or Manet! Monet! But we owe this Monet to Manet. Bravo Monet. Thank you Manet!”10 The realist critic and novelist Edmond Duranty wrote to the artist Alphonse Legros in October 1866 that Manet “is much troubled over his rival Monet. So much so, people are saying that, having ‘manetized’ him, he would now like to ‘demonetize’ him.”11


Monet was dismissive of Manet’s Woman with a Parrot (1866, Metropolitan Museum of Art)—Zola considered it the best of his recent paintings—writing to Frédéric Bazille in June 1867 that “La Femme rose is bad, his earlier work is better than what he is doing at the moment.” He was also critical of Manet’s hunger for approval at this time—“God, how annoying it is that he courts compliments as he does”—and thoroughly insensitive to the financial and professional pressures the artist faced in mounting his one-man exhibition at the Pont d’Alma in the summer of 1867.12 In this period Monet was friendlier with Gustave Courbet, who was a witness at his marriage to Camille in June 1870. Although Monet was a part of Manet’s circle at the Café Guerbois in the late 1860s, in a letter to Bazille from Étretat in December 1868, he claimed not to be missing their reunions in the slightest.

Against this background, we arrive at a clearer understanding of Monet’s marginal, indeed precarious position in Fantin-Latour’s Atelier in the Batignolles (1870, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), where he appears at the far right, hidden behind the tall and elegant Bazille, and seems to be struggling to keep his foothold in the canvas. By contrast it is Renoir who, with Manet’s encouragement, is portrayed at the center of the composition in a pose of solemn veneration, his profile heightened by the halo of the empty gilded frame.


Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tournai

Édouard Manet: Argenteuil, 1874

In his figure paintings, landscapes, and still lifes of the 1860s, Manet had created a new pictorial language that would sustain, consciously or not, the younger generation of Impressionists in the 1870s. Most radical were the technical innovations of Manet’s peinture claire—the abandoning of traditional chiaroscuro, the suppression of half-tones (only good, he said, “for the Magasin pittoresque engravers”), a greatly heightened chromatic register, and the equal value given to all aspects of the composition. (This was described by one anxious critic as a consequence of Manet’s “pantheism.”) Despite his willingness to exhibit in dealers’ galleries, at home and abroad, and in provincial exhibitions, Manet’s primary arena of engagement was always the Paris Salon, whose calendar and protocols determined his working process until the end of his life.

Although Manet claimed in 1867 to have “painted sincere works” and to have been “concerned only to convey his impressions,”13 throughout the 1860s he could never entirely liberate himself from “the richness of the museums…and the memory of paintings done by the old masters.”14 Pace Baudelaire and Zola, Manet’s exhibition pictures of the 1860s remained indebted to a pantheon of artists of the past: Titian, Velázquez, Zurburán, Vermeer, Hals, Goya. Manet might assert that “he has simply tried to be himself and no one else,”15 but until the 1870s—and notwithstanding the originality of his style—the reverse would seem the more accurate assessment.

Manet was dismissive of Monet’s claims to have originated painting in nature: “Just look at this young man who wants to do plein-air painting. As if the old masters had never considered such a thing.”16 Nor did he need Monet’s example to free him. Manet’s earliest plein-air paintings, In the Garden of 1870 (Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont) and The Railway of 1872–1873 (National Gallery of Art, Washington), predate the summer in Argenteuil.17 If the suburban encounter chez Monet was not quite the road to Damascus that Sauerländer imagines, it is the case that Manet’s exposure to Monet at work and his growing sympathy and engagement with the group around him led to even greater freedom in his brushwork and a heightening of his palette. Yet there were always limits to Manet’s pleinairisme. He was unable fully to embrace the Impressionists’ reliance on coloristic modeling to replicate the effects of daylight, and was never at ease with the softer, more fragmented brushwork that Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro pioneered during the mid- to late 1870s.

Paradoxically, Manet’s most fully realized Impressionist landscapes—done far from Argenteuil and Monet—are the two dazzling views of Venice’s Grand Canal, painted in Tissot’s company in the autumn of 1875. To a compatriot he meets at Florian’s, Manet confides: “It’s the most difficult thing, to give the impression that a hat is sitting properly on the model’s head, or that a boat has been constructed from planks cut and fitted according to the rules of geometry.” (This is a comment also applicable to the paintings discussed in Sauerländer’s essay.) The artist dominates his motif as an act of mind: “I must…define my picture, as if I could already see it framed.” It is the fundamental structure and harmony of the composition, no less than the instantaneity of the scene, that preoccupies him:

The lagoon mirrors the sky, and at the same time acts as a great stage for the boats and their passengers, the masts, the banners, etc. It has its own particular colour, the nuances it borrows from the sky, the clouds, from crowds, from objects reflected in the water. There can be no sharp definition, no linear structure in something that is all movement; only tonal values which, if correctly observed, will constitute its true volume, its essential, underlying design.18

In seeking to capture sensation and the experience of being present through the tâche colorante, Manet allies himself with the most forward-thinking practitioners of the New Painting in the 1870s. But he is equally attentive to the poetry of place, as described by Henry James in The Aspern Papers: “How the sense of floating between marble palaces and reflected lights disposed the mind to freedom and ease.”

The depiction of water provides a leitmotif in Sauerländer’s book, one that draws attention to the “colorful reflections of light on water [that] were the inexhaustible main theme of Monet’s painting.” Manet’s designation of Monet as le Raphäel de l’eau is quoted several times. But as remembered by Antonin Proust, Manet’s comment implies a more profound appreciation of the principles of Impressionism. Manet praised Monet for knowing how to paint water in “all its movements, whether deep or shallow, at every time of day.” And he concluded:

I emphasize that last phrase, because of Courbet’s magnificent remark to Daubigny who had complimented him on a seascape: “It’s not a seascape, it’s a time of day.” That’s what people don’t fully understand yet, that one doesn’t paint a landscape, a seascape, a figure; one paints the effect of a time of day on a landscape, a seascape, or a figure.19