Renoir and Claude Monet were the two most daring innovators among the Impressionists and between them existed a close, lifelong friendship. At the time this picture was
painted, Renoir often stayed at the Monet house in Argenteuil, a small community near Paris, on the Seine. The two men painted many pictures there, often setting up easels
side by side. As a result of their and other Impressionists' pictures, Argenteuil will have a lasting renown in the annals of art as a proving ground for Impressionist
On one occasion Edouard Manet joined the two friends. He was working on a picture of Mme. Monet and her son, with Monet in the background. From time to time he glanced at Renoir, who had also set up an easel. At an opportune moment, he drew Monet aside and, making what is one of the worst wrong guesses in history, said: "You're a good friend of Renoir's. Why don't you tell him to give up painting? You can see he'll never get anywhere."
Amusingly enough, Renoir at this time was considerably under the influence of Manet's painting, which he admired for its terse clarity, its boldness of attack, and its elimination of shadow. The plate opposite is very Manet-like, and shows these characteristics.
It is really a study in instantaneous vision: in every respect the canvas exemplifies the attempt to strip painting to what is caught in a fleeting glimpse. Mme. Monet, at her ease on the couch, looks up momentarily from her reading; the artist, in a stenographic manner, notes the main color areas and shapes. There is almost no modeling; sharp contrasts of color and value establish features, hair, the details of the costume. The figure cuts across the canvas on a diagonal; one half is the thriftiest possible indication of pillows and wall, the other half is given to sketchy details and more assertive color. The picture has grace, air, vivacity, and complete assurance: a veritable tour de force.