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“Snow at Argen­teuil” by Claude Monet is on display now at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Wikipedia

Smudges of blue paint like foot­prints speckle the snow beside a mud-worn path. A traveler in a blue coat, which seems to have been stamped on his torso by a divine finger, ambles forward, pro­ceeding down the muddy trail to leave the town behind. 

In “Snow at Argen­teuil” by Claude Monet, a handful of trav­elers wander through a suburb of Paris, but the snowy scene cap­tures the feeling of winter in any rural town. 

The painting accom­panies several others by the famed impres­sionist at the Detroit Institute of Arts in “Monet: Framing Life,” an exhi­bition that opened last fall and will run until March 4. Monet spent four years living in Argen­teuil (ar-jahn-toi-yuh), France, where on canvas after canvas he painted his wife and young son, the town’s harbor, and its blotted skyline. 

But Monet tended to shrink from the indus­trial. He pre­ferred painting gladioli flowers.

On the two-hour car trip to Detroit’s Art Center, snow rests on wooden homes with peeling yellow paint and mimics the pallor of “CHEW MAIL POUCH TOBACCO” spread in giant white letters on the side of rotting barns. Old, aging fac­tories flank a father-and-son tire shop that shut­tered years ago. 

The signs of decaying indus­tri­alism con­trast with the crisp stone walls and massive murals in the halls of the DIA. But most of all, they belie the sail­boats and sunlit gardens of almost a dozen paintings in the small, dark room that hosts an exhi­bition of impres­sionist art. 

“Framing Life,” with its paintings of gardens and homes, centers around the only Monet painting in the DIA’s per­manent col­lection. Known for 99 years as “Glad­ioloi,” the painting was recently renamed “Rounded Flower Bed (Cor­beille de fleurs)” by the museum to reflect what it may have been called when it was dis­played in 1877.

A plaque under­neath the painting explains that an inscription on the back led curators to believe it was dis­played under this alternate title at the 1877 exhi­bition where artists first labeled them­selves “Impres­sionists.” 

“Rounded Flower Bed” caps Monet’s artistic suc­cesses in Argen­teuil. Thanks to Monet’s ivy-coated home, the town became a center for artistic activity, where he cul­ti­vated a cul­tural center for impres­sionism by drawing other artists into his orbit. But soon after the painting’s com­pletion, he would move to his home in Giverny and paint his famous water lilies.

The other paintings in “Framing Life” develop the context of “Rounded Flower Bed” by expressing the whole of Monet’s activ­ities in Argen­teuil. He paints his son standing outside their home as his wife appears in the doorway. He depicts a great bridge over the Seine and the little skiffs that approach it. And his friend Pierre-Auguste Renoir paints Monet himself, standing in a garden with a paint­brush and canvas. 

Renoir’s por­trait of Monet as painter (named, appro­pri­ately, “Monet Painting in his Garden at Argen­teuil”) depicts him sur­rounded by society: A series of homes and a smoking chimney loom in the back­ground. But Monet in his indigo coat directs his eye, and his canvas, toward the garden. 

Amid Monet’s scenes of idyllic greenery, “Snow at Argen­teuil” stands out with its cream and pink puffs of pow­dered-sugar road. But like the artist’s other paintings from Argen­teuil, its frame is filled with not industry, but natural imagery.

The town sprouts up like a mon­ument from the snow, but our eyes turn to the blue foot­prints by the muddy path.