City dwellers in the countryside

City dwellers in the countryside

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Title: Poppies.

Author : MONET Claude (1840 - 1926)

School : Impressionism

Creation date : 1873

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 50 - Width 65

Technique and other indications: Surroundings of Argenteuil Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 94DE50060 / RF 1676

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: October 2010

Historical context

In the XIXe century, the term "suburb" gives rise to a certain number of negative impressions: one can easily imagine the filth of precarious dwellings, the inconvenience of insufficient roads, the ugliness of stations and their railway tracks, hell of gigantic factories or unsanitary workshops. It is true that the industrial development of the suburbs in the XIXe century is partly linked to "transfers of unsanitary and cumbersome establishments".

Many bourgeois imagine the outskirts of Paris as a world of misery and criminality, populated by lousy families, ragpickers and vagabonds. The workers themselves appoint Cayenne the "suburban prisons" in which they work, a term which shows quite clearly "the repulsion they aroused, linked both to the remoteness and to the harsh working conditions" (A. FAURE, under the direction of, The First Commuters. The origins of the suburbs of Paris (1860-1940), Créaphis, 1991, p. 88).

However, in the XIXe century, the suburbs and the surrounding villages are also for Parisians a place of relaxation that Flaubert and Maupassant evoke as well as Zola and the Goncourt brothers. The Impressionists, headed by Monet and Renoir, took pleasure in representing these various spaces of leisure, sociability and pleasure a few kilometers from the city.

Image Analysis

What a contrast between the smoke from the factories and the trains, the black mists that enveloped the suburbs of the journey to the Edge of the Night, and the cheerful colors of these Poppies, painted by Monet in 1873!

The palette is clear and shiny: the canvas is divided between the sky, a luminous blue despite the clouds, and a slightly undulating relief where hundreds of poppies, bright spots of vermilion, burst on the light green background of the grass. This is a pleasant route for a walk: a woman in black and her child are about to descend a hill that dominates the landscape, preceded about thirty meters by another mother and her little boy. This one, dressed in an elegant mauve dress, holds a parasol which does not serve her much; beside him walks the child, a bouquet of poppies in his hand.

The scene is peaceful, family and bourgeois. By resorting to a painting which speaks to "the senses and no longer only to [the] thought" (P. DORBEC, Landscape Art in France. Essay on its evolution at the end of the 18th centurye century at the end of the Second Empire, Laurens, 1925, p. 73), by making the viewer feel the freshness of the grass, the light of the sky and up to the temperature, by immersing him in a nature taken from life, the artist communicates to him the pleasure experienced by walkers , lost in this flowery and unspoiled countryside, without anything else that reminds them of the civilization that a large building is on the horizon.


The immediacy and play of light of this sensory painting give life to the landscape of Argenteuil, a village in Val-d'Oise where Monet acquired a property before moving to Giverny. This charming suburb welcomes both the getaways of wealthy Parisian families and the pictorial research of Monet: the artist will produce numerous views of bridges, railway viaducts, docks and regattas. Around Paris, other villages more or less spared from industrialization inspired the Impressionists: Renoir painted in Argenteuil, Chatou and Rueil, Sisley also in Argenteuil, but also in Moret, Saint-Mammès, Bougival and Marlotte.

These villages, which the Parisian agglomeration has not reached, seem far from the suburbs in which the workers are thronging more and more; but, by staging elegant bourgeois women on an excursion with their son in the hollow of grassy valleys, the Poppies by Monet symbolize less the triumph of untouched nature than the domination of the city over the countryside.

  • suburbs
  • bourgeoisie
  • impressionism
  • Parisians
  • industrial Revolution
  • campaign
  • nature


Georges DUBY (dir.), History of urban France, t. 4, The city of the industrial age, Paris, Le Seuil, 1983.

Alain FAURE (dir.), The First Commuters. The origins of the suburbs of Paris (1860-1940), Paris, Créaphis, coll. “Meetings at Royaumont”, 1991.

Pierre FRANCASTEL, Impressionism, Paris, Denoël, Gonthier, 1974.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "The townspeople in the countryside"


  • Impressionism: An artistic movement bringing together all the independent artists who exhibited collectively between 1874 and 1886. The term was used by a critic to deride Monet's painting Impression Soleil Levant (1872). The Impressionists favor subjects drawn from modern life and open-air painting.
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