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Monday, March 21, 2011

La Grenouillere

Some time ago I wrote of a small, Paris bistro named the Cafe Guerbois where many of the future Impressionists hung out with Eduoard Manet. Actually, another French restaurant played a very important role in the development of Impressionism about this time. The Restaurant was a riverside establishment with gaily colored tables, bunting, awnings, and flowers next to the Seine a few miles outside Paris. The restaurant was Fournaise's and the world will forever be indebted to Moisseur Fournaise for literally keeping alive the struggling artist Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir during the seminal summer of 1869, by accepting some of their paintings in trade for food as the two men struggled to give birth to some of the first truly "impressionist" landscape paintings.         
La Grenouiliere, 1869, Claude Monet

The popular bathing and boating attraction was known as La Grenouillere, which literally translates to "frog pond". The name is something of a misnomer in that it was not a pond and there were no "frogs" there to speak of. But the term "frog" did not refer to the Kermit type or his warty little cousins. No, instead, "frog" was a slang used by young men of the time to refer to girls, much as girls today might be called "chicks" or in England, "birds." Though both men were married, they no doubt enjoyed the "view" in more ways than one. However it was the painting the two men did there that summer that marked a sort of congealing of Impressionism into something tangible and substantive. Monet's watery reflections in particular, as the two men painted the same boats and the same tiny island next to Fournaise's, make up what is perhaps one of the most beautiful Impressionist paintings ever done.   

La Grenouiliere, 1869, Auguste Renoir
Though both Renoir and Monet could barely afford paint that summer, the richness of color--stunning blues, deep, rich greens, and bright yellows--belied their poverty-stricken existence. Monet would literally painted until he ran out of color, then take up sketching in preparation for the next time he could pull together a few francs from his friends in order to continue. The two though, seem to have developed a camaraderie there on the banks of the Seine as they painted numerous versions of the same festive, adult playground that transcended art, hunger, or money troubles. You can see it in their work.  It is a sort of painted jubilation at having finally arrived at a mature style, something they could put their fingers on and say, this is who I am in paint.     

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