Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Political Impressionism: Contrasting Paintings of Monet and Manet

          The political upheavals and wars from the 1850’s to 1878 in France caused much unrest and destruction.  The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the Paris Commune in 1871, a civil war and urban uprising that lasted 72 days, both had devastating affects on the newly remodeled “Haussmannization” of Paris and the people.  There was much bloodshed and loss of life that was caused by the wars along with the destruction of architecture and roads.  After the wars, many of the French people wanted to forget about the destruction and the horrible events that had taken place.  They were interested in the present and looking to a brighter future.  Much of this attitude of forgetting about the past can be seen in the Impressionist art that was created after the Paris Commune.

            With artist focusing on events of the present day France, and hiding aspects of the past in their paintings, Impressionism became known as the “Forgetful Art”.  Some artist showed this new future and joie de vivre in the their bright and colorful paintings.  Not all artists, though, wanted to forget the events of the past, and instead of trying to escape in their paintings the events that occurred, some drew attention to the past with reminders the price of war.  By comparing two works of art through their use of subject matter and radical techniques, we can better understand the “Forgetful Arts” and some of the political radicalism still present during this time.   Two painting, created about the same celebration of the 30th of June, 1878, in France, are the works of Claude Monet and “The Rue Montorgueil, Festival of 30th June, 1878” and Édouard Manet’s “The Rue Mosnier with Flags”.

The subject matter at first seems to be the same for both the paintings.  Both artists captured the waving flags of the celebration, the warm sunny day, and a scene with people on the streets.  The compositions are somewhat similar, they both show a scene of the street from above, but Manet’s is much closer to the ground and shows only a hint of blue sky and a few flags fluttering near the edges of the painting.  Monet’s painting of “The Rue Motorgueil, Festival of 30th June, 1878” is vibrant and energetic.  His view point from above captures a scene full of bustling energetic people and gives a sense of life to the street.  There is a sense of “joie de vivre” with the bright colors, the sunshine, the bright warm light, and the light palette.  The repeated use of the red, white, and blue cause almost a constant undulating pattern of waving flags that emphasizes the energy of the celebration.  The bright colors draw a similarity between “its own coloristic brightness and another kind of brightness it claims for the future (Wood p.124).”  We can also see another color reference of the future with the lightening of color as the scene progresses to the background and the bright sunny sky that can be seen between the buildings and waving flags. 

Manet’s painting of “The Rue Mosnier with Flags” seems almost stark in contrast.  He uses a much cooler palette of colors.  The buildings and the streets almost look washed out with bright light.  The street is far emptier than Monet’s street, whose street was packed full of moving people.  Instead Manet shows very few people, and those people seem to be more intent on their own personal business.  No one is shown waving flags and there are workers in the background who are repairing the street.  A man on crutches, a veteran of the war, is in the foreground, and his stark contrast with the street changes the mood of the painting.  Not only do we not see the same bustling energy and joie de vivre of Monet’s painting, instead, we see reminders of the past and the price that was paid.

Both artists were radical in their technique.  Both paintings show the radical techniques associated with Impressionism of loose brushstrokes, painting directly on the canvas (“à la prima”), the use of oil paint in tubes, painting “en pleine aire”, or outside, and the building up of thick layers of paint.  While both artists seem to embrace the technical radicalism of the times, Manet’s painting, with reminders of the past and not just showing a brighter future, shows the ongoing tension of the division of radical art and radical politics in Avant-Garde.


  1. I agree with what you pointed out about Manet's painting that it shows the "ongoing tension of the division of radical art and radical politics in Avant-Garde". Instead of emphasizing the celebration which Monet did in his painting, Manet was more concerned with depicting the political issues that were going on at that time. It seems like he was trying to bring out a reaction from the politicians by placing the veteran in the middle of a festival.


  2. I like that you mentioned how Manet's palette is much cooler in color than the palette of Monet's painting. It is also interesting to see how good sections of Manet's painting seem much more rigid and calculated than Monet's work. For example, most of the brushstrokes in Manet's street are all applied in the same horizontal direction. This whole painting seems much more calculated than Monet's. Visually, it seems to me that Manet spent more time composing and executing his painting. And, in turn, I think that Manet requires that the viewer spend more time in front of his painting; Manet invites the viewer to contemplate the veteran and price of war.

    -Prof. Bowen