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Group: Modern Life Modern Vision
Artist: Claude MONET
Title: The railway bridge at Argenteuil
Date Made: 1874
Lender: Philadelphia Museum of Art
Credit Line: The John G. Johnson Collection
Monet painted two views of The railway bridge at Argenteuil seen from below at a sharp angle. One was painted in brilliant sunshine, the other in grey light. Hiroshige’s Tile kilns and Hashiba Ferry, Sumida River, suggest a source for Monet’s representation of the plume of smoke as a shape rather than as a blur, in such a way that it becomes another dynamic force in a structure of linear forces. The colour structure of a yellow bridge set against blueness in Hokusai’s The drum bridge at the Kameido Tenjin Shrine also relates to Monet’s painting, as does the juxtaposition between the bridge and the horizontal band of hard gold-tinted clouds and the decorative placing of green foliage.
Monet exploited the Japanese artist’s juxtaposition between the flowing river and daring close-ups of man-made structure to express the staccato, fragmentary visual ‘shock’ associated with modernity — the moment when the train bursts into view as it crosses the iron and concrete bridge that slices across the river and into the distant bank, with no subtle transition between the organic and the manufactured. Hokusai created a similar effect in his pre-industrial Under the Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa.
The marks in Hiroshige’s The ‘Monkey Bridge’ in Kai Province suggest the leaves of trees, the striations on the cliffs, the ripples on the water, the grassy mounds in the distance with a multiplicity of dark lines. It is tempting to write of these marks as brushstrokes, but they are in fact the impress of the woodblock. Monet recognised that such marks could help him to articulate the energies in natural forms, but he always handled them in terms of oil paint. For example, in The railway bridge at Argenteuil, he laid in a broad area of green in the foreground, over which he painted small articulating strokes, squiggly lines and dabs of paint that suggest shadows in the grass, the curve of a hidden path, the interweaving of grasses and foliage. He gave animation to the bright blue wedge of water by superimposing a multiplicity of smaller strokes that represent the flicker of light over the mobile surface; the reflections of lit and shadowed forms; the golden glow reflected under the bridge.
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