(possibly) Michel Lévy, Paris (acquired from the artist, 1873).
B. Mancini, Paris.
Boussod, Valadon et Cie., Paris (1888).
Gustave Goupy, Paris (1888); sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 30 March 1898, lot 27.
Private collection, France.
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 21 August 1978.
EN ROUTE TO IMPRESSIONISM: MONET AND PISSARRO IN LOUVECIENNES
“Nothing could be more interesting than these causeries with their perpetual clash of opinions. They kept our wits sharpened, they encouraged us with stores of enthusiasm that for weeks and weeks kept us up, until the final shaping of the idea was accomplished. From them we emerged with a firmer will, with our thoughts clearer and more distinct.”
So recalled Monet, late in life, of the lively Thursday evening gatherings at the Café Guerbois in Paris during the late 1860s, which attracted every young artist determined to defy Salon norms and forge a revolutionary modern mode of painting. Manet–the enfant terrible of the art world at this moment of sea-change–was their intellectual leader. Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, and Fantin-Latour were regulars; Monet, Pissarro, and Cézanne came whenever they were in Paris. “They found there kindred spirits...and the assurance that ridicule or rejection were powerless against the determination to carry on,” John Rewald has written about this loose collective, known as the Batignolles group after the address of the café. “Together the friends constituted a movement; and in the end success could not be denied them” (The History of Impressionism, New York, 1961, p. 202).
One of the most hotly debated topics at the Café Guerbois was plein-air painting. Manet, Degas, and Fantin staunchly opposed it, arguing for traditional studio work; Monet, Pissarro, and Sisley, the landscapists in the group, were strongly in favor, and Renoir vacillated. In the summer of 1869, the latter contingent descended on the towns of Louveciennes and Bougival in the Seine valley west of Paris. For the next year–in one of the greatest collaborative experiments in the history of modern art, on par with Picasso and Braque’s joint invention of Cubism–they worked together, side-by-side, to hone their shared plein-air language. “If Impressionism was an urban art form, born around the tables of the Café Guerbois in Paris,” Richard Brettell has written, “it was in the suburban countryside west of the capital that the notions of modern painting discussed in Paris were first tested” (A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984, p. 79).
The extraordinary pair of landscapes offered here, by Monet and Pissarro, bear witness to this transformative period in painting. Both canvases were produced at Louveciennes, within a stone’s throw of Pissarro’s house, during an extended visit that Monet made to work alongside his friend in early 1870. Monet, ten years Pissarro’s junior and always a bit more brash, opted to paint the unassuming suburban landscape on a snowy day under a fiery sunset sky; Pissarro, more understated if no less progressive, rendered instead the exquisitely subtle effects of an overcast afternoon on the threshold of spring. Brimming with brio and conviction, both artists laid down pigment in loose, gestural strokes that seem to capture a new spontaneity of vision in front of nature.
By this time, the Batignolles landscapists had fully consolidated the formal means and expressive ends of Impressionism, as it would come to be known. All they needed now were the confidence and capital to reject the Salon system and head out on their own, an idea that had already gained traction at the Café Guerbois. “Each year we will rent a large studio where we will exhibit our works in as large a number as we wish,” wrote Bazille in 1869. “With these people, and Monet, the best of all of them, we are certain of success” (quoted in The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986, p. 93).
Before these plans could reach fruition, however, disaster struck. Goaded on by rumors of Prussian expansionist ambitions, the French Parliament declared war against Prussia on 19 July 1870. The response was swift, decisive, and utterly disastrous for France. The well-oiled Prussian military machine invaded France three days later and went on to overwhelm one opposing army after another, culminating in the capture of Napoleon III in early September. Prussian troops then marched on Paris, which they held under siege until late January, when the provisional government–faced with the prospect of rampant starvation in the capital–capitulated. Under the terms of the peace, the German states were unified under the Prussian king and the coveted territory of Alsace-Lorraine went to the victors.
When the war broke out, Monet was on holiday with his wife and son at the seaside resort of Trouville; they scrambled to acquire passports and joined the boatloads of refugees fleeing for England via Le Havre as the conflict intensified. Pissarro and his family remained at Louveciennes through early September, when Prussian troops overran the town and requisitioned their house. Leaving behind everything they owned, they took refuge at a friend’s farm in Montfoucault, before following Monet to London in early December. Renoir was mobilized into a cavalry division, and Manet and Degas joined the National Guard to defend Paris during the siege; all of them emerged shell-shocked but physically unharmed. Bazille, who enlisted in a regiment of Zouaves, was less fortunate; he died on the battlefield on November 28th, at the age of twenty-eight.
The année terrible, as Victor Hugo called it, did not end with the humiliating Armistice of January 1871. Shortly after it was signed, angry revolutionaries and members of the National Guard declared themselves the legitimate rulers of France, setting the stage for a civil war. The Commune, as it was called, held power for two months before the French army quelled the insurrection in an unimaginably bloody week of fratricide and destruction that ended in late May.
This sequence of catastrophic events left an indelible mark on the national consciousness. It also provided the catalyst that Monet and his colleagues needed to take the final leap to a wholly modern mode of painting, independent of the entrenched Salon system. By late 1871, all the members of the Batignolles group were back in Paris or nearby. Their homes and studios had been devastated, and loved ones had died; all around them they could see buildings and bridges reduced to rubble, and acres of farmland ruined. No longer could they delay; the time had come for action. A collective spirit of resurgence seized the nation, and the young artists felt it as keenly as anyone. “What makes these bad memories more fleeting for me is that I haven’t stopped working for an instant,” Zola wrote to Cézanne. “Never have I had more hope or a greater desire to work, for Paris is born again” (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Monet: Life and Art, New York, 1995, p. 54).
The rest of the story has been told time and again. Renoir made two more efforts, in 1872 and 1873, to show his work at the Salon, both of which met with failure. Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, and Degas, in contrast, submitted nothing to the jury after the war, focusing instead on organizing an independent association of artists who would exhibit publicly without the sanction of the state. The “Société Anonyme Cooperative des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc.” was officially constituted in December of 1873. When the group held their first show the following April, a hostile critic–one of many–mocked them as the Impressionists, taking his cue from the title of Monet’s Impression, soleil levant. The name stuck, and history was made.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
J.A., "Beaux-Arts: Exposition à la galerie Georges Petit" in Art et critique, 29 June 1889, p. 76.
D. Wildenstein, Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, p. 184, no. 148 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, p. 24, no. 148.
R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 291, no. 128 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, p. 71, no. 148 (illustrated, p. 70).
J. Pissarro and C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, Pissarro: Catalogue critique des peintures, Paris, 2005, vol. II, p. 180 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Claude Monet, A. Rodin, 1889, p. 28, no. 8 (titled Route de Louveciennes).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, September 1985-March 1986 (on extended loan).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Monet to Matisse: French Art in Southern California Collections, June-August 1991, p. 50 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, January 1993-December 1994 (on extended loan).
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Impressionists in Winter: Effets de neige, September 1998-May 1999, p. 91 (illustrated in color).
Torino, Palazzina della Promotrice delle Belle Arti, Gli impressionisti e la neve, November 2004-April 2005.
Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, May 1999-May 2008 (on extended loan).