It depicts a tranquil, domestic scene featuring two figures sitting at a table in a room looking out across the bay. The atmosphere pervading this painting is relaxed yet contemplative as both figures are caught up in their task; both have paused to reflect or possibly allow inspiration to strike, as warm sunlight pours into the cool room. A beautifully observed piece, this captures two people in relaxed and natural poses in contrast to other works by Manet in which the subjects often look stiff and formal, for example, In The Conservatory (1879), depicting a married couple yet conveying little intimacy or warmth in the upright position of the woman as she stares ahead, rather than at her husband.
Another example is The Balcony (1868-9), which shows a group of people known to be friends and family of Manet, and yet have the characteristic rigidity often depicted in portraits by the artist. Manet was born in 1832 and was a prolific portrait artist and painter of real life scenes. He was also extremely well-travelled which enabled him to discover the works of other successful artists such as Goya and Titian and he drew influences from many of these.
Manet was painting during the Impressionist period and was well-acquainted with other well-known Impressionists of the time, counting Monet and Renoir among his friends. However, Manet’s frequent and sometimes heavy use of black in his paintings set him apart from the typical mark of Impressionism, which characteristically avoided using black and relying more on the blend of hues to create shadow and depth. In the painting, Interior at Arcachon, both figures are dressed in black and this balances the rest of the picture which is a soothing palette of blues, purples and ochres.
The scene complements this equilibrium as the door of the room is open, allowing the warmth and brightness outside to balance the quiet shade inside. Although there is no communication between the two figures, they are clearly comfortable in each other’s company as she pauses from her writing to gaze out beyond the door with her foot resting on a stool and he contemplatively ceases to read, with his back to the view. Lying just over 30 miles southwest of Bordeaux, Arcachon was officially established by Napoleon 3rd in 1857 and was mainly a fishing town shrouded by pale golden beaches and forest. ‘Interior at Arcachon’ is currently housed at the Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts.