Painted in 1892, Bateaux au mouillage sur la Seine à Argenteuil
exemplifies Caillebotte’s Impressionist pleinairisme
and his love of sailing. The scene depicted here is that of the Seine alongside Ile Marande, just across the river from Argenteuil. On the right of the composition is the Château Michelet, featured on the banks of Argenteuil. It is possible Caillebotte painted the present work from a boat similar to the bateau-atelier
that Monet used on many of his painting excursions on the river. This area along the Seine was a favorite amongst the Impressionists, and provided ample subjects for artists such as Manet, Renoir and Monet in the early 1870s.
In exploring boats on the Seine, Caillebotte followed in the footsteps of Claude Monet who lived and worked in Argenteuil from 1871-78. Anne Distel and Rodolphe Rapetti wrote of the influence of Monet’s Argenteuil works on Caillebotte: “We know that Monet exhibited several Argenteuil canvases from 1876 onward, and that Caillebotte acquired one of them. It is certain that he began to frequent Argenteuil and Petit Gennevilliers on a regular basis only after Monet’s departure, in early 1878. But it is also probable that Caillebotte saw the bans of the Seine through Monet’s eyes and that, his boating activities aside, this was one of the reason’s the site interested him” (Distel & Rapetti, Gustave Caillebotte, Urban Impressionist
(exhibition catalogue), Paris, 1994, p. 268).
Caillebotte, like Monet, was familiar with the Argenteuil area and purchased property on the Left Bank of the Seine at Petit Gennevilliers in May 1881, where he lived full-time with his brother Martial from 1887 until his death in 1894. Located eleven kilometers west of Paris, Argenteuil and its surrounding area had come into prominence over the second half of the nineteenth century as a boater’s paradise. Its elegant yachting club was renowned in the area, and its annual regattas and other nautical events lured crowds from the city during the summer months. Caillebotte’s property was located next to the Paris Sailing Club, and in December of 1881, Caillebotte was appointed chairman of the subcommittee of the sailing regattas in Cabour, Dives-sur-Mer and Beuzeval-Houlgate.
The artist’s commitment to the sport of sailing and its presence in his compositions is discussed by Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark: “Like the depiction of the modern metropolis, the leisurely life in the countryside was also a subject that Caillebotte shared with several of the other Impressionists, but in his version it was to be given a highly personal interpretation. This statement is particularly valid regarding his pictures of open-air life by the water. During the Second Empire, sailing – both rowing and yachting – had appeared in France as a favorite leisure activity. The phenomenon had come from England and from the eighteen-seventies on became a veritable vogue. In their leisure time the Parisians went out to the Seine and Marne to amuse themselves in the sailing clubs and restaurants that grew up along the riverbanks. The Impressionists, not least Manet, Monet and Renoir, seized on the motifs and also captured this aspect of modern life on their canvases. Caillebotte himself was to paint a whole succession of works that had sporting activities in, on, and by the water as subject” (A. B. Fonsmark, Gustave Caillebotte; In the Midst of Impressionism, An Introduction from Gustave Caillebotte
(exhibition catalogue), Ostfildern, 2008, p. 14).
Caillebotte’s focus in Argenteuil was razor-sharp, honing in on details of the landscape that often melted into the haze of Monet’s Impressionist canvases. Here, for example, his focus is on the rippling water surrounding the sailboats, where the surface of the water reflects the sky with saturated brilliant blue, green and steely gray tones. The clarity and specificity of the view and the angle from which it is depicted lends a near photographic quality to the composition. Caillebotte’s stunning composition documented the rapidly changing environment and the structural elements that sustained modern life. In Bateaux au mouillage sur la Seine à Argenteuil,
the palate and brushwork resonate with the excitement of modernity that was developing before Caillebotte’s eyes.
The first owner of this picture was Martial Caillebotte, who inherited many of his brother’s pictures upon his death in 1894. Martial exhibited the present work in the important retrospective exhibition organized by Durand-Ruel in Paris in 1894.