Autumn Effect at Argenteuil (1873) by Claude Monet
Monet was a master at capturing the seasons on canvas and here he gives us autumn. The water – a branch of the river Seine – is dappled with golden reflections. The trees boast a profusion of colours: yellow, purple, pink and green. The most famous of all the Impressionists painted the scene from his bateau atelier (a studio on a boat). In the distance is the town of Argenteuil, northwest of Paris, with a cluster of white houses and a church. The smoke from a factory chimney wafts into the sky and gets lost among the billowing clouds. There are no solid outlines, except for the blue stripe – the main stream of the river – that runs in front of the town. Like the seasons, the shapes and patches of colour are in flux.
Montagne Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine (c.1887) by Paul Cézanne
If it’s a view you’re after, look no further than this simplified impression of the landscape surrounding Cézanne’s hometown. The open expanse is framed by the gently curving trunk of a tree, whose branches – like fingers held to a forehead – prevent the sun from shining in your eyes as you take it in. They also echo the form of the mountains in the distance, rising above the patchwork quilt of sketchily outlined green-and-yellow fields dotted with local farmhouses. Paving the way towards Abstraction, Cézanne turns the countryside around Aix into a study of geometric shapes and colours, all bathed in a warm light – his modern touch mirrored in the inclusion of a railway viaduct.
The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder (1613-1615) by Peter Paul Rubens
A celebration of family and friendship, this portrait by Rubens show his good friend and frequent collaborator together with his wife and two children. Brueghel’s second wife, Catharina, sits at the centre, with her arm around their son, Pieter, and her hand holding that of their daughter, Elisabeth. Brueghel stands behind, watching over them while also looking kindly at Rubens. It may be a display of the Flemish family’s wealth – marked by their lavish clothing and jewellery – but this is also a tender portrait whose close grouping recalls that found in Rubens’ depictions of his own family. Rubens and Brueghel made several paintings together, Rubens taking care of the figures and Brueghel the animals.