As the whole world watches the streets of Paris and their inspiring chants of “Je suis Charlie,” it seems fitting to turn to a painting that has become symbolic for French recovery – Claude Monet’s ‘La Rue Montorgueil.’ In an effort to regenerate the national fraternity and spirit destroyed by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War, the French government held celebrations (like the one depicted here by Monet) in the name of peace and national revival. Monet beautifully demonstrates the French nation finding solace, comfort, and pride within collective action – a phenomenon that started with the Revolution, and continues today in the Place de la Republique.
A sense of national enthusiasm infiltrates every aspect of ‘La Rue Montorgueil.’ Most obviously, the French tri-colour flag adorns virtually every building from the distance to the foreground, becoming the main feature of the painting. Notice how Monet takes this one step further, diffusing the very colours of the tri-colour into the rest of the painting. From his blue and red brush strokes in the crowd, to the pink, white and blue hues of the summer sky, the whole painting is infused with the three colours of the French flag; red, white, and blue.
However, what gives this work its ability to convey the idea of a recovering nation, more than merely a patriotic nation, is Monet’s skilful creation of movement. The flags do not hang from the buildings they adorn, but rather flutter from them. Equally, the crowd in the streets below does not stand still and solemn, but rather appears as a blur of activity and colour. By creating such movement within his work, Monet paints ‘La Rue Montorgueil’ as a street filled with vitality. By extension, it is also a street filled with hope.
Yet, although undoubtedly positive, Monet does not leave his painting without a degree of ambiguity. Notably, the painter is clearly separate from the action depicted, and with him, we, the viewer, are also distanced. While we can appreciate the festivities of the streets below, we are not invited to join them.. Moreover, although the small brushstrokes of the impressionist painter create a sense of movement, they also further isolate the viewer from the scene. Notice how we cannot fully grasp the activities taking place in the Rue Montorgueil, how we cannot associate with the blurred figures on the street, and how we cannot know what they hope to achieve. Ultimately, all Monet truly allows us to perceive is a sense of hope and revival – but for what, we cannot know.
Perhaps Monet was highlighting an idea beyond is time – the idea that we simply cannot know the outcome and the details of such events. Much like the marches in Paris today, the importance of the June day depicted here by Monet lies not in the specifics and the particulars, but in the humane and stirring emotions that they generate.