Claude Monet, one of the most prolific painters of the 19th and 20th century, is known across the globe for his impressionist landscapes and larger than life waterlily paintings. However, hanging in the corner of The National Gallery in London there is, what I feel to be, one of the greatest paintings of his career. During his 30’s, Monet lived in the small town of Argenteuil on the Seine in the North-western region of Paris. Argenteuil soon became an artistic hub, with Monet’s contemporaries such as Renoir, Manet and Alfred Sisley gathering there to paint. With its growing attraction for leisure, whether it was sailing on the Seine in a rust-red boat or a stroll in its picturesque scenery; its vivacious atmosphere provided Monet with much inspiration. Snow Scene at Argenteuil 1875 shows a moment of calm in the exceptionally heavy snowfall of 1874-75. The painting depicts the boulevard of Saint-Denis where Monet was living, facing the Seine, of which blurred buildings can be seen in the distance. The composition is given equally to the snow covered path and the open sky, mirroring one another, providing a clear sense of harmony and balance. Figures are blurred in the distant haze of the falling snow, which blankets the surrounding trees and bushes. Monet surprisingly abandons his typically strong, vibrant colour palette, taking to monochromatic blues and greys. However I believe it is this deviation from the norm, that makes this one of Monet’s most beautiful and atmospheric scenes. The snow is no longer white but is a reflection of the light and sky around it, glowing in the bitter winter. Two dark lines across the boulevard act as an orthogonal to lead our eye backward to the blue shadowed figures, as though they are frozen in place and time. Monet has managed to capture the briefest of moments, where a busy dockland town has been quietened by nature itself. We can see Monet’s love of light and texture through his loosely dapped brushstrokes, which emphasises the hazy, snow blurred, forms on the canvas. The impasto, impressionist brushwork, which rises from the canvas, mimics the real texture of fresh fallen snow making this scene timelessly recognisable in its beauty.
It is perhaps important to note that Monet found himself living in poverty for much of the early part of his career, he was said to destroy his paintings, rather than have them go to those he owed money to. In this we must remember that although today, Monet has seen global acclaim for his work, during his lifetime; he in fact embodied the struggling artist and was a craftsman of his trade. We are lucky to have this painting with us today, as a symbol of the beauty he saw, through nature’s expansive range of light and through the unending changes of the land. He would continue to paint much of Argenteuil throughout the 1870’s, but none in my eye, are as moving or as atmospheric as Snow Scene in 1875. It was a painting brimming with the characteristics for which he would embody for many years to come: a keen sensitivity to light, a passion for colours (even here in their subtly) and an uncanny sensibility for the rhythms of nature and its seasons.