The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, 1874. Édouard Manet. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Joan Whitney Payson, 1975.
In July and August 1874 Manet vacationed at his family’s house in Gennevilliers, just across the Seine from Monet at Argenteuil. The two painters saw each other often that summer, and on a number of occasions they were joined by Renoir. While Manet was painting this picture of Monet with his wife Camille and their son Jean, Monet painted Manet at his easel (location unknown). Renoir, who arrived just as Manet was beginning to work, borrowed paint, brushes, and canvas, positioned himself next to Manet, and painted Madame Monet and Her Son (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).
By all accounts, the sociable Manet was on good terms with many of his peers. He had met Edgar Degas in 1859, when they both copied paintings at the Louvre; he befriended Berthe Morisot, who eventually married his younger brother; and he spoke with countless others during the now-famous evening gatherings at the Café Guerbois. His first encounter with Claude Monet was strained due to Manet’s belief that Monet was copying his style in "despicable pastiches," then signing them with a signature too close to Manet’s own. After the confusion was cleared, the men became close, as is obvious in a work such as The Monet Family. Boating, also painted during the summer of 1874, records a moment when Manet, Monet, and Auguste Renoir painted together at Argenteuil, a suburb northwest of Paris. That spring, Degas, Monet, and Morisot were among the artists who exhibited together as the Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (an event more commonly referred to as the first Impressionist exhibition). Manet declined invitations to participate in this or any of the seven subsequent exhibitions organized by the group. They nonetheless influenced one another and shared an interest in modern subjects, plein-air painting, bright colors (often purchased ready-made, in tube form), and visually arresting cropping (inspired by both photographs and Japanese prints).
When Manet’s health began to deteriorate toward the end of the decade, he was advised to take a cure at Bellevue. In the summer of 1880, he rented a villa in that Parisian suburb, and he painted his last portrait of his wife, the Dutch-born pianist Suzanne Leenhoff, in the villa’s garden. The following spring, he won a second-class medal at the Salon for his portrait of Henri Rochefort (Kunsthalle, Hamburg), and in the fall he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. He continued to work until his premature death in April 1883.
Within a year, a posthumous exhibition of 179 of his paintings, pastels, drawings, and prints was organized at the École des Beaux-Arts, the officially sanctioned art school. At least one critic commented on the irony of the location for an artist whose works had been ridiculed and refused by so many Salon juries. It seems unlikely that Manet would have minded. He himself wrote that he had "no intention of overthrowing old methods of painting, or creating new ones." The critic Louis Gonse viewed things slightly differently. "Manet is a point of departure, the symptomatic precursor of a revolution," he wrote. To this day, Manet is still considered by many art historians to be the father of modernism.