Say no more about the climate

Tom Crewe

  • Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile 1870-1904
    Tate Britain, until 7 May

It is a perfect Impressionist scene: a strangely empty stretch of the Seine, at the crossing-point between Suresnes and the Bois de Boulogne, where Parisians imagined themselves in the country. The view is from one side of the river, cropped so that the prow of a boat and the prongs of a tree intrude from the left; reflections seep and blur across its surface, like colours mixed into the water. A restaurant on the bank advertises itself in block print: ‘friture, vins, café, bière’. A factory chimney is aligned directly behind one of the Suresnes bridge’s towers, so that it appears to be part of the same structure: a witty optical illusion, of the kind we’ve learned to look out for and appreciate. But this isn’t a painting. It’s a photograph taken in 1870, a document of the Franco-Prussian War. Look again and you notice that the bridge itself is missing, destroyed by the conquering Prussian army; its suspension cables dangle in the air.

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