In 1883, Claude Monet left his home in Poissy to settle in the town of Giverny with his wife, Alice Hoschedé, her six children, and his own two sons. Located in the Seine Valley of Upper Normandy, Giverny would become the setting for the entire second half of the artist's life. Throughout these next forty-three years, this home and its gardens would be immortalized as the setting for some of Monet's most famous canvases. But in his first two years of residence there, between 1883 and 1885, the artist spent the majority of his time traveling. As Jacqueline and Maurice Guillaud explain in Claude Monet at the Time of Giverny, "With a restless and demanding retina, Monet leaves Giverny rather often in order to discover other landscapes with different lighting--indeed, in order to be renewed" (exh. cat., Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris, 1983, p. 18).
The more wide-reaching of these travels included a month-long journey to the Mediterranean with Pierre-Auguste Renoir in December 1883, and an extended trip to Etretat, with its dramatic coastal cliffs, in 1885. But Monet's peregrinations during these two years also consisted of more local excursions. The village of Falaise, whose cliff is depicted in the present painting, lies just to the east of Giverny, toward the town of Gasny. According to Daniel Wildenstein, "In order to paint Falaise Monet set up his easel in the meadows below the road" (Monet, Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. III, p. 365). "The Val de Falaise," Wildenstein continues, "runs up the hills which overlook the Epte Valley and the hamlet of Falaise" (ibid., p. 366).
This painting depicts the western slope of the Val de Falaise, the purple meadow below lush with bright green highlights. Another depiction of this location, also from 1885, includes a pear tree at the center of the composition. In the present work, however, the artist is closer to the cliff, and the tree is no longer in view. The lack of a central subject allows the viewer's eye to wander in a zig-zag pattern up and down the canvas: starting at the upper right, one follows the bluish horizon leftward, trails the cliff's slope to arrive at the house, tracks the purple foliage leftward to the two trees, and finally rides the grassy line in the foreground to the bottom right corner. The large wedge-shaped cliff which dominates this painting's structure recalls the dramatic compositions of Monet's coastal paintings of the same period. As Karin Sagner-Düchting writes in Monet and Modernism, "He preferred geometrical structures diagonal to the picture plane which usually divide the canvas up clearly" (exh. cat., Munich and New York, 2001, p. 48).
This landscape at Falaise belongs neither to Monet's destination settings of Brittany and the Mediterranean, nor to the familiar realm of home and comfort at Giverny. Its representation therefore lacks both the touristic detachment characteristic of paintings of the former, and the everyday intimacy common to views of the latter. This painting conceives of landscape as somewhere between wild nature and tamed garden.