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La Grenouillére Frog Pond Inspired Starving Artists

La Grenouillére Frog Pond was a trendy destination on the island by the same name on the Seine (1850-1930). It offered boating, bathing, dancing, wining and dining. The sometimes risqué hot spot created a visual feast for artists working en plein air (in fresh air). Among them were Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir.

Both were starving artists in the summer of 1869. Monet was living in poverty with his mistress and their son in a town off the Seine. Two of his works had been rejected that year at the Paris Salon. Renoir was living nearby with his parents. He frequently brought table scraps to feed the young Monet family.

Inspired by the exquisite light and vibrant colors of the resort, the friends painted side by side. Capturing the exuberance of the Grenouillére Frog Pond they worked in the bold new style of Impressionism. The resort offered subject matter they hoped would appeal to buyers and judges at the upcoming Salon of 1870.

As an extra bonus Monsieur Fournaise, the owner of La Grenouillére exchanged food for works Monet and Renoir created that summer.

La Grenouillére Frog Pond Was The Place To Be Seen

If Instagram could time travel, La Grenouillére Frog Pond would hit the top ten destinations for the beautiful people. The restaurant was located on a pontoon boat on the edge of the island on the Seine, a short train ride from Paris. It featured an enormous ballroom, catering hall and bar.

A large weeping willow tree grew in the center of the small island near the restaurant. It was known as the flowerpot (Pot de fleurs) or Camembert because it resembled a wheel of the famed cheese. Accessible by gangplanks from the restaurant, it was a source amusement as tipsy Grenouillére Revelers tiptoed back and forth.

Beside the restaurant were rental boats and a long barge of bathing cabins. While mixed-sex swimming was prohibited in most of France, Grenouillére Revelers were known to mix it up.

The resort attracted Parisians who took the Paris-Saint-Germain-en-Laye line. The Frog Pond was so popular even Napoleon III had to be seen there in 1869 with his Empress Eugenie.

La Grenouillére Frog Pond Revelers Were A Wild Bunch

The name Grenouillere had a double meaning. It was both a frog pond and the colloquial term that described a certain type of woman who partied in Paris. In Renoir: My Father, Renoir’s son Jean writes that these women:

“…were not exactly prostitutes, but a class of unattached young women, characteristic of the Parisian scene, changing lovers easily, satisfying any whim…”

Renoir cast many of his volunteer models from that group. Jean Renoir writes:

“…the grenouilles, or ‘frogs’ were often ‘very good sorts’. Because the French people love a medley of classes, actresses, society women and respectable middle-class also patronized the… restaurant”.

The Frog Pond was a precursor to French hotspots like the Folies-Bergere. At the dawn of female emancipation, visitors to the Frog Pond were the predecessors to the Cherettes that Jules Chéret portrayed in the later 1800s in his famed posters and paintings.

Monet And Renoir View La Grenouillére Revelers

La Granouillere Frog Pond presented a difficult subject. Both Renoir and Monet captured the vibrant excitement of its revelers socializing, boating, swimming and strolling. They worked quickly to capture light glimmering off agitated water and flickering through the trees and the movement of the human subjects. While each had their unique focus, both presented a visceral slice of contemporary Parisian society.

According to Andrea Hope, writer and owner of the Kiama Art Gallery in Australia:

“They painted rapidly with short, comma like brushstrokes, and they juxtaposed sharply contrasting, unmixed colors, which brought a shimmering life to water. It enabled them to portray the transitory effects of light and atmosphere – goals they had been pursuing for years. Both came to value the sketchy, unfinished quality of the work.”

In a letter dated September 25, 1869 to fellow artist Frederic Bazille, Monet writes that he made some “bad sketches (pochades)”. The sketches are hurried. But they vigorously capture the everyday scene as he experienced it. He did not pose his subjects or attempt to clean up the action.

Art historian and author Michael Wilson writes for NationalGallery.org:

“Although in September 1869 he does not seem to have been aware of it, Monet made a radical break-through. Bather at La Grenouillere marks the achievement of a new mode of painting which in the next decade Monet and a handful of others were to champion in the face of determined opposition by the art establishment; that is, working entirely in front of the motif to produce works that are finished, not in the conventional sense, but as a complete self-contained statement of observation.”

According to Wilson, critics including Baudelaire and the Goncourts had been encouraging artists to tackle serious contemporary themes. Only Manet had responded beginning with his work, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe) in 1863. Like him, Monet and Renoir strove to record life without distortion.

La Grenouillére Revelers Irritated Guy De Maupassant

Not all artists were smitten by revelers at La Grenouillére Frog Pond. Guy de Maupassant had been renting a house on the river banks wrote a scathing scene in “Paul’s Wife” (La Maison Tellier), 1881.

1881 short story “La femme de Paul” he described it as a place where:

“we smell, deep in our nostrils, the world’s froth, all its distinguished scoundrels, the mould of Parisian society: a mixture of salesmen, show offs, lowly journalists, chaperoned young men, corrupt amateurs of the stock exchange, cretinous party animals, dessicated old pleasure seekers; a shady crowd of all suspect beings, half well known, half lost, half greeted, half dishonoured, swindlers, rascals, suppliers of women, lords of industry with a dignified look, the look of a blusterer which seems to be saying: “The first one that calls me a rogue, I’ll bust him”.”

La Grenouillére Located At Croissy-Sur-Seine

Croissy is located on a loop of the river Seine. Parisians flocked to the island of Croissy-sur-Seine. Its thick vegetation and wild charm earned it the title  of “Madagascar of the Seine” when Monet and Renoir painted there. The small beach, boating house and restaurant of La Grenouillère was part of Croissy.

The Municipal Archives of Croissy offer a translated history with  photographs and other imagery of the area that are worth exploring. The following excerpt is from their archives.

” In 1851, the couple François Seurin and Félicie Trumeau, he fisherman and new ferryman of the island, she merchant of wines in the main street, scent the opportunity to do business on the island. “ Speculators have replaced Biro. They now serve fried foods and hard-boiled eggs a la carte and have established four-penny baths for the big crowd ”.

The Chanorier pavilion therefore gives way to the precarious installations of the Grenouillère: ” Our last hovel, they transformed it into a cardboard palace, they erased our frescoes under the whitewash “.

The creation of La Grenouillère in 1852 with its beach, cabins and straw huts on the dike opens a new chapter, that of the commercial exploitation of the site. The island of Croissy will however always remain popular with painters and novelists… but that’s another story.

La Grenouillère was destroyed by fire in 1889. The new Grenouillère was rebuilt the following year. Dumping of all of the Paris sewers upstream of the Seine gradually discouraged bathers and boaters.

The Museum at Grenouillere

The Musée de la Grenouillère brings to life the famous floating café “La Grenouillère” where Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir met at the end of the summer of 1869 to paint their first Impressionist paintings. Although limited during the Pandemic, the museum continues to present exhibits along with its ongoing historical collection.

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