The present painting is part of a group of at least forty canvases that Monet executed in 1882-1885 to decorate the apartment of his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel at 35 rue de Rome in Paris. Paul Tucker has described the commission as "one of the artist's major preoccupations between 1882 and 1885" and the paintings as "charming, lusciously painted, and often quite novel" (Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 122). Thirty-six of the paintings, including twenty-nine flower still-lifes and seven images of fruit, were hung in 1885 on the six double doors in Durand-Ruel's large drawing-room (Wildenstein, nos. 919-954). The present example, which depicts four terracotta pots filled with red, blue, and white anemones, was installed at the bottom right of Door B (figs. 1-2). Four additional still-lifes were acquired by Durand-Ruel at the same time, but do not seem to have been used to decorate the doors (Wildenstein, nos. 955-958). Together, the panels constitute Monet's most sustained investigation of the still-life genre in his entire career. John House has written, "His explorations of this subject include some of the most lavish still-lifes produced by the Impressionist group, and some of the most radical challenges to a long-standing still-life tradition" (Monet: Nature into Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 43).
Monet received the ambitious commission from Durand-Ruel in May of 1882, a key moment for the artist professionally. The previous year, Durand-Ruel had collected a substantial cash advance from the Union Générale bank in Paris, which enabled him to resume buying from the Impressionists on a massive scale for the first time since 1873. Durand-Ruel's renewed support transformed Monet's finances. The first three years that the artist had spent at Vétheuil, from 1878 through 1880, had been marked by great financial hardship; in 1881, by contrast, his income from Durand-Ruel alone was nearly twenty thousand francs, roughly three times the yearly rent on his Vétheuil house. Durand-Ruel's regular payments, which continued through 1885, made possible Monet's extensive travels of this period, both on the Normandy Coast and the Mediterranean; they also enabled him to move first to Poissy in December 1881 and then to Giverny in April 1883, where he created his celebrated water garden.
Monet set to work on the panels for Durand-Ruel immediately upon receiving the commission in the spring of 1882, but the project proved slower and more difficult than he had foreseen, and he had completed only two small panels by December. The artist had worked extensively in still-life during his three years at Vétheuil, in part because his efforts in this genre, particularly the floral compositions, were readily salable and yielded higher prices in this period than his landscapes. However, the problem of thinking in terms of a large decorative ensemble was one that he had not previously faced, and Durand-Ruel's impatience for the panels placed an additional unfamiliar pressure on him. In the spring and summer of 1883, following his move to Giverny, Monet worked relentlessly on the project, urged on by Durand-Ruel, who sent him vases for the still-life bouquets; his other main preoccupation during this period was to get the gardens at Giverny in order, providing him with blossoms for painting. A substantial part of the decorative ensemble, including all of the large vertical panels for the upper part of the doors, was delivered by the end of 1883, before Monet departed for a three-month sojourn in Bordighera on the Italian Riviera. He resumed work on the commission for Durand-Ruel upon his return to Giverny in April 1884, and the entire ensemble was completed and installed by the end of the following year. The present panel was positioned alongside a painting of white azaleas with a closely comparable composition (the flowers receding rapidly into depth from right to left in two discrete diagonals), reflecting Monet's attention to the site-specific nature of the project. The thirty-six panels remained in place in Durand-Ruel's dining room until 1922, when they were transferred to the apartment of the dealer's son Georges on rue Jouffroy in Paris.
That Monet selected floral motifs for the majority of the panels in the ensemble is not surprising. The artist's passion for flowers is legendary, and they constituted a major theme of his work from his earliest days to the end of his career. Indeed, he once said, "I perhaps owe it to flowers for having become a painter" (quoted in P. Tucker, op. cit., p. 178), and on another occasion declared, "What I need most of all are flowers, always, always" (quoted in R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 199). In the present canvas (like many, though not all, of the Durand-Ruel panels), the blossoms are painted at exceptionally close range, creating a rich weave of color and texture that virtually fills the composition (see also fig. 3). Rather than being firmly anchored in space, the humble terracotta pots seem to float on a neutral ground, all but obscured by the boisterous blossoms in their profusion of greenery. Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge have written, "Monet comes at [the flowers] head on, without a compositional attitude: they are dumped in front of him, bushy or svelte, vivid, teeming with their specific energy, without atmosphere, an explosion. It is particularly in Monet's still-lifes that we recognize what it was that Van Gogh learned from him: not simply the powerful and expressive palette but also a quality of impassioned drawing that is much more apparent in the flower paintings --forms painted at the range of stereoscopic vision, therefore more tactile--than in most of his landscapes... His love for flowers is unmistakable. The character, the quality of growth, the specific rhythm of each bouquet is given its due" (ibid., pp. 214-215).
Following his completion of the Durand-Ruel panels in 1885, Monet's interest in still-life waned, though he continued to lavish attention on his gardens at Giverny and to draw wide-reaching inspiration from them for the remainder of his life. He was now spending more time in his studio retouching his outdoor paintings, and the rainy days that had previously suited flower painting instead became an opportune moment for the increasingly complex business of finishing his landscapes. His only major effort in still-life after the Durand-Ruel commission was a group of four large paintings of chrysanthemums dated 1896-1897 (Wildenstein, nos. 1495-1498; fig. 4). The bold, ebullient brushwork that suggests the pattern of petals and foliage in the present canvas anticipates the virtuoso painterly handling of the late chrysanthemum paintings, which were exhibited to resounding acclaim in 1898 at the Galerie Georges Petit. In the present painting, moreover, Monet reduced the spatial indicators to a minimum, rejecting the conventions of the then-dominant Chardin tradition, in which still-lifes were presented in lucid, orderly groupings and firmly grounded on the surface on which they stood. In the late chrysanthemum still-lifes, he brought this process to fruition, opting for an "all-over" composition that in turn anticipates the celebrated water-lily paintings of his last two decades. House has concluded, "The [chrysanthemums] fill the canvas, with no explicit spatial context. The blooms are arranged in clusters of varied color and texture, placed against more shadowy foliage, which allows their forms to float across the whole picture surface. This format gave Monet the chance to arrange the whole picture as a color harmony in a way he never had before" (op. cit., pp. 42-43).
(fig. 1) Paul Durand-Ruel's dining room with doors decorated by Monet (the present painting is visible at the far left).
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(fig. 2) Door B, with the present painting at the bottom right.
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(fig. 3) Claude Monet, Vase de chrysanthèmes, 1882-1885. Sold, Christie's, New York, 8 November 2006, lot 15.
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(fig. 4) Claude Monet, Chrysanthèmes, 1896-1897. Sold, Christie's, New York, 6 November 2007, lot 8.
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