In the 1860s, artists took their ambitions and palettes out of doors, painting contemporary scenes of leisure that extol the fleeting beauty of a summer's day. In plein air they sought to arrest the ephemeral qualities of light and shade and the passing whims of the latest trends (such as the vogue for cotton piqué dresses, adorned with black scrollwork embroidery, represented by examples from the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and the Metropolitan).
Conceived on the scale of a grand history painting, Monet's monumental Luncheon on the Grass (Musée d'Orsay, 1865–66) evolved from plein-air studies onto a twenty-foot-wide canvas depicting stylish picnickers. The two large remaining fragments of the scene are shown together for the first time in the United States. Monet returned to the subject in Women in the Garden (Musée d'Orsay, 1866), which is joined by the once-scandalous Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer) by Monet's predecessor Courbet (Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, 1856–57), and Family Reunion, by his good friend Bazille (Musée d'Orsay, 1867).