The development of the suburbs was just as important to the Impressionists as the transformation of Paris. The expansion of the railroads made areas of the countryside newly accessible to those seeking a respite from the city. Argenteuil, a small suburb fewer than 10 miles from the center of Paris, was one of the most popular retreats. Many Impressionists, including Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley, immortalized Argenteuil’s river views, bridges, streets, and gardens in their paintings.
Among the best-known images of Argenteuil are those painted by Monet, who spent extended periods of time in the small town. He painted the railroad bridge numerous times, from various angles and at different times of the day, and in 1873 he created The Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil (A Corner of the Garden with Dahlias), a painting of his garden. The two tiny human figures in the background are overwhelmed by the vibrantly colored flowers, painted in a thick impasto that gives the blooms exaggerated prominence as they seem to pop off the surface of the canvas.
These pastoral images of suburban life stood in stark contrast to the busy, and more gritty, scenes of Parisian life, such as Degas’s Dans un café (L’Absinthe), which shows a solitary woman drinking absinthe in a bar, a figure who represents the alienation of modern urban life, viewed from the voyeuristic perspective that the artist was known for.