Edouard Manet,Argenteuil, les Canotiers, 1874
(Musee des Beaux-Arts Tournai, Belgium)
When we look at this painting of a couple sitting in front of boats by the water, at first sight it looks like a typical middle class courting couple, out for a day of leisure on the beautiful, blue waters of the Seine. Upon closer inspection, we can see clues which counter this first assumption.
There is a sense of disconnect between the couple. While the man has his arm behind the woman and is turned towards her in a gesture of trying to creep into her space, she seems to be distant in her own world, staring out towards us. Clearly the man is trying to encourage the woman to come boating with him. But he is dressed for boating and she is not.
She has agreed to come with the man on a date. They strolled by the side of the river, but then he made a suggestion that horrified her and shocked her to her very core. He wants to go sailing!!!
What will become of this couple? Will the man persuade the woman to share his passion for sailing? Will they win the French National Cinq O Cinq Championship in a few years time?
Or will she reject his courtship and walk away on her own carrying her parasol and bouquet?
Or will love triumph? Will they marry and live happily ever after for decades and have a brood of grandchildren? Will she stay at home on the weekends and cook delicious meals for them in her French country kitchen while he sails his Laser in the frostbite races?
Here, Manet gives us a small portion of life, a slice of his vision. He has given us a sense of what Argenteuil was like in the 1874 with all its incongruity, the current fashions of the lower-middle classes, the mobility and search for leisure of the petite bourgeois, and the eternal tension between male and female, sailor and non-sailor, horizontal stripes and vertical stripes...