Painted in 1876, L'Yerres près de Montgeron is an absorbing landscape dating from the highpoint of Claude Monet's Impressionism. This picture was painted only two years after the First Impressionist Exhibition. The sense of spontaneity of a moment crystallised in oils, that is so distinctive to landscapes by the artists associated with the movement, is evident in the shimmering water surface, the leaves and the cloud-flecked sky of L'Yerres près de Montgeron. It is telling that, writing about the pictures by Monet exhibited at the Second Impressionist Exhibition, which took place the same year that this work was painted, the poet and critic Stéphane Mallarmé stated:
'Claude Monet loves water, and it is his especial gift to portray its mobility and transparency, be it sea or river, grey and monotonous, or coloured by the sky. I have never seen a boat poised more lightly on the water than in his pictures, or a veil more mobile and light than his moving atmosphere. It is in truth a marvel' (quoted in C. Stuckey (ed.), Monet: A Retrospective, New York, 1985, p. 61).
In L'Yerres près de Montgeron, which is dominated by the broad expanse of the river Yerres, which stretches out from the foreground, this quality is more than apparent. Monet has managed to capture and imply a range of reflections and effects, while the boat that nestles beneath the foliage at the left of the painting provides, in terms of composition, an important visual relief, a form of pictorial punctuation, while also showing the deftness that Mallarmé so praised: it appears to be bobbing lazily in the stream.
L'Yerres près de Montgeron dates from what would in retrospect become one of the most important brief periods in Monet's career, his stay at the château of his friend and patron, Ernest Hoschedé. Monet had been commissioned by Hoschedé to paint a series of works to hang in his home, including Dindons; during his stay, Monet took advantage of his surroundings to paint a series of lush landscapes as well, including L'Yerres près de Montgeron. Hoschedé's credentials as a friend of Impressionism were sound: as well as being a businessman, he was a keen amateur, and wrote on art as well as collecting a formidable array of paintings. He would often be seen in the Café Guerbois with the various artists of the avant-garde, and his château had already seen amongst its guests Manet and Sisley.
Crucially, during this stay at Hoschedé's house, Monet struck up a strong friendship with Alice, the wife of his patron. This was a friendship that was to prove central to the artist's life as, when Hoschedé's own business fell to pieces and he fled to Belgium, Alice had moved, with her family, into a house shared with Monet, his own wife Camille and their children. Alice helped nurse Camille during her illness during this period, which would ultimately prove fatal. While it is not known when Monet and Alice became lovers, they were certainly very close, and this attachment had begun at precisely the period that L'Yerres près de Montgeron was painted.
The artists who are associated in our minds with Impressionism all revolved around Paris and the rivers and landscape around the French capital, be it at Argenteuil, Gennevilliers or Pontoise. This was, in a more minor sense, the case at Montgeron too. For nearby was the town of Yerres (as opposed to the river of the same name shown in this landscape), and it was there that Gustave Caillebotte, one of the most important though discreet members of the Impressionist movement, was staying. Monet and Caillebotte may have already known each other by this time, as the latter already had several friends and acquaintances among the group. However, it is likely that whether or not they met in Yerres, their friendship became stronger during this period. This was to prove vital in the development of Monet's career. Falling on increasingly hard times, not least after the hasty departure of Hoschedé and the mounting pressure of his own domestic situation, Monet found himself a friend, a fellow artist and a patron in Caillebotte, who began buying his works that year. For the rest of his life, Caillebotte was to prove a vital source of moral and financial support for Monet, lending him money, buying his pictures (many of which would come to form part of the Caillebotte Bequest, the cornerstone of the celebrated Impressionist collection in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris) and even renting a studio for him. Caillebotte was wealthy and selfless, and became dedicated to Impressionism, taking on the organisation of several of the group's exhibitions and working as a diplomat trying to heal the various rifts that would gradually pull the movement apart.
One of Monet's other great supporters, Georges de Bellio, was the first owner of L'Yerres près de Montgeron. De Bellio was a Romanian-born doctor who had moved to Paris; in 1874, he had attended the first auction of pictures from Hoschedé's collection (there were several, staving off bankruptcy to various extents) and had bought several paintings by Monet by 1876-- he was also the owner of Impression, soleil levant. He became a friend and frequent correspondent of the artist, who wrote to him a great deal. By the third Impressionist exhibition the following year, de Bellio was a significant lender. De Bellio was a generous believer in the movement: Renoir would later recall that each time an Impressionist was in dire financial straits, they could head to the Café Riche with whatever pictures they had, and that he would buy them, often without even looking. De Bellio's support of Impressionism was evident in his phenomenal collection, which included works by Manet, Sisley, Degas, Morisot, Pissarro and Renoir. Many of these are now in the Musée Marmottan, having been gifted by his daughter Victorine Donop de Monchy, in whose husband's collection L'Yerres près de Montgeron descended.