La GrenouillereNot long ago I wrote of a small, Paris bistro named the Cafe Guerbois where many of the future Impressionists hung out with their artistic mentor, Edouard Manet. Actually, another French restaurant also played a very important role in the development of Impressionism about this same time. The Restaurant was a riverside establishment with gaily-coloured 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 Monsieur Fournaise for literally keeping alive the struggling young artists, 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 very first truly "impressionist" landscapes.
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 expression 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 mattered most. It 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, add an incredible, fresh sparkle to what is perhaps one of the most beautiful Impressionist paintings ever done.
Though both Renoir and Monet could barely afford paint that summer, their richness of colour--stunning blues, deep, vibrant greens, and bright yellows--belied their poverty-stricken existence. Monet would literally paint until he ran out of colour, 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.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
1 May 1998