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Boulevard des Capucines

Claude Monet, 1873-74
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City


Meyer Shapiro comment on the newness of urban experience in the nineteenth century relates to Monet’s choice of technique in Boulevard des Capucines:

“This feeling that the self has been wholly dissolved by the world or the world has been absorbed into oneself, so that the boundary between self and world has been erased or blurred in sensation, is an experience often described in the literature of the nineteenth century. It has its positive and negative aspects, according to the place of this feeling in the larger field of an individual’s goals and activities.”

Meyer Shapiro, Impressionism: Reflections and Perceptions (New York: George Braziller, 1997), 38.


Matthew Simms explains the innovative way Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines involved beholders:

“Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines, exhibited in the 1874 [Impressionist] exhibition, for example, does not simply offer a passive viewing experience in which an instantaneous impression is served up finished to the spectator….Low down around the tree trunks appear numerous horizontal marks of silvery gray pigment. These marks at once indicate the roofs of carriages seen through the leafless branches and trunks, and appear to hover suspended on this side of the trees, owing to the way in which they frequently run across the trunks. Such ambiguities, rather than being failures in the image, are in fact the very entry points for the perception of the beholder, the teasing limnal regions that call upon the beholder to take up the transcribed perception and to explore its ambiguities, just as if they were encountered in real perception, like squinting to make out the lineaments of a fog enshrouded boulevard or pausing to gain one’s bearings in a steam- and smoke-filled train station. This narrowing of the gap between daily perception and viewing paintings caused consternation for [art critic Jules-Antoine] Castagnary. ‘I never could find the right optical point from which to look at Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines,’ he complained. Becoming sarcastic, he concluded: ‘I think I would have had to cross the street and look at the picture through the windows of the house opposite.’”

Matthew Simms, “Cézanne’s Unfinish,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 36 (Autumn 1999): 232

Similar Subjects by Other Artists:

 Camille Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning, 1897 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) 


About the Artist

Born: Paris, 14 November 1840
Died: Giverny, 6 December 1926
Nationality: French