December Picture of the Month
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A weak, wintry light casts through thick clouds, as the sun fades from the afternoon sky. Trudging through the snow, two figures meet, and appear to stop and chat awhile.
Barely more than daubs of paint, we can nevertheless sense the shapes of their arms and knees, helping us to orientate the figures – the man in blue facing us, the other figure, facing away.
Wavy brown cart tracks snake into the distance, drawing our eye to the horizon, where a blur of browns and blues gives the impression of people – we can just make out a small boy, or two, running or sliding.
Nothing is clear. What is that to the right of the couple? Street furniture? A bollard perhaps? Or do we read it as an elegantly dressed woman walking alone? We might have the sense of a face, the curves of a coated figure, the whipped up lines suggestive of the enveloping cold wind. Or, perhaps, Monet evokes the way in which our eyes and our minds deceive us, in these atmospheric conditions.
We are looking up the street, in the suburb of Argenteuil, north-west of Paris, where Monet lived for six years, from 1871. The Boulevard Saint-Denis leads away from the railway station, which would have been directly behind Monet as he painted this scene. During his time there, he painted 200 pictures of the town, and this is one of 18 paintings recording the snowy winter of 1874/5.
Here, the snow is dotted with colour to denote light and shade, and to give a sense of the snow's crunchy texture. Meanwhile, his almost monochromatic palette of soft pastel colours – whites, blues and greys, warmed with pink tones – creates a muffled effect, suggesting the hush and stillness of this bleak day.