In the 19th century Argenteuil was a centre for amateur sailors and held its first regatta in 1850. During the 1870s and 1880s Argenteuil became an important source of inspiration for the Impressionist artists.
Édouard Manet's family owned a property in Gennevilliers and was a frequent visitor to the area. At Manet's urging, and on his return to France from exile in London, Claude-Oscar Monet (1840-1926) moved to Argenteuil in 1871. At his new home in Argenteuil, Monet hired two domestics and a gardener. Unfortunately, Monet's budding art business was about to hit very hard times. A bank crash in 1873 was followed by six years of nationwide economic recession.
When Monet arrived in Argenteuil, this section of the Seine had become a prime site for sailing and had hosted international competitions. All things English became chic in Paris, such as English tailoring, English gardens and English recreations. Yachting on the Seine was part of this craze. This stretch of the Seine was known as the Argenteuil basin; here the river was 200 yards (195 metres) from bank to bank, wider and deeper than anywhere else in the vicinity of Paris, and river traffic was unobstructed by either islets or sandbars. Even without its leisure attractions, Argenteuil was as picturesquely sited as any seaside town, but with the advantage of being much nearer to the capital. During the summer of 1874, Monet set up a floating studio on the river, and Manet, Monet and Renoir were all active and working as if in a collective state of aquatic exaltation - the sailing pictures they painted are among best-known in the Impressionist canon. In 1876 Gustave Caillebotte acquired from Monet an Argenteuil regatta canvas that his friend had painted four years earlier. Caillebotte's initial visit to Argenteuil came around the time of Monet's departure to Vétheuil; despite his phenomenally productive residency in Argenteuil, Monet was in dire financial straits, and needed to move to a far less expensive locale. Caillebotte returned to Argenteuil with increasing frequency as his involvement in sailing grew apace, especially in conjunction with events sponsored by the Cercle de Voile.
Fields of Poppies
An incline in the landscape with a house in the background provided the setting for Claude Monet's Poppies, Near Argenteuil. The two pairs of figures provide a diagonal to the perspective. Monet exhibited this work at the First Impressionist Exposition in 1874. He sketched in the figures of Camille and Jean with simple strokes of violet, black, and white on a hillside, covered with red poppies, outside the town.
Argenteuil like many other locations depicted by the Impressionist painters is, today, a suburb of Paris. Dating back to the 7th century, when a convent was founded on the site, the community became well known for its superior agricultural produce - wine grapes and asparagus - and gypsum deposits, a source of the famous "plaster of Paris." It is described in 19th century guidebooks as an agréable petite ville. Monet was witness to the development of the picturesque village into a thriving town. By the second half of the 19th century, the wheel of commerce had progressed to the suburbs, as local industries arrived, included tanneries and chemical plants as well as the Joly ironworks, one of the largest iron fabricators in France. Monet painted nearly 200 canvases, and during his seven years at Argenteuil, his views began to include symbols of modern life, such as the railway bridge, railway carriages and chimneys. Works by painters other than Monet include:
- "Argenteuil" and "Seine near Argenteuil" - Édouard Manet
- "Regatta at Argenteuil" - Auguste Renoir
- "The Bridge in Argenteuil" - Gustave Caillebotte
- "La Grande-Rue, Argenteuil" (1872) - Alfred Sisley.
- 1129 - Nuns of Argenteuil were evicted following a dispute over land ownership.
- 1851 - A railway line connected Argenteuil to Paris, only eight miles away to the south east, attracting many new factories and businesses and increasing the town's population.
- 1871 - A new railway bridge over the Seine replaced the 1863 bridge destroyed in the Franco-Prussian War.
- 1874 - Manet stayed at his family's house in Gennevilliers, just across the Seine from Monet in Argenteuil.