Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

La Cathédrale de Rouen, Effet d'Après-midi (Le Portail, plein Soleil)

signed and dated lower left Claude Monet 94, inscribed (probably by the artist) on an old label attached to the back of the stretcher Le Portail (plein soleil), oil on canvas
41¾ x 28¾in. (106 x 73cm.)

Painted 1892-94 (see note below)
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris
Wilhelm Hansen, Ordrupgaard, bought from the above circa 1914
Possibly Galerie Barbazanges, Paris
Prince Kojiro Matsukata, Tokyo, circa 1924
M. Irumano, 15th Bank of Japan, Tokyo, 1928, from whom acquired circa 1947, and thence by descent to the previous owner
K. Madsen, Wilhelm Hansen's Samling, Copenhagen, 1918, no. 101, p. 38
E. Dumonthier, "La Collection Wilhelm Hansen", in Revue de l'Art, Paris, 1922, no. 211, p. 338
H. Rostrup, Claude Monet et ses tableaux dans les collections danoises, Copenhagen, 1941, p. 13
O. Reuterswärd, Monet, Stockholm, 1948, pp. 219, 232, 287 (illustrated p. 219)
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue Raisonné, Lausanne and Paris, 1979, vol. III, no. 1361, p. 170 (illustrated p. 171)
H. Rostrup, trans. J. Ronje, History of the Ordrupgaard Museum, Stockholm, 1981, p. 72
R. Brettell & J. Pissarro, The Impressionist and the City - Pissarro's Series Paintings, London, 1992 (illustrated in colour fig. 26, p. xl)
J. Pissarro, Monet's Cathedral, New York, 1990, pl. 24, pp. 16, 17 (illustrated in colour p. 82)
G. Grandjean et al., Rouen, Les Cathédrales de Monet, exh. cat., Rouen, 1994, p. 96 (illustrated in colour p. 97)
Copenhagen, Musée Royal, Art Française du XIX siècle, 1914, no. 150 or no. 151
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Monet, 1924, no. 60

Lot Essay

The importance of the Rouen Cathedral series in Monet's oeuvre and in the development of modern art cannot be underestimated. Joachim Pissarro writes, "Monet's choice of the cathedral of Rouen as subject matter for his series constitutes a major break in the painter's career and, arguably a turning point in the history of modern painting." (J. Pissarro, Monet's Cathedral, Rouen, London, 1990, p. 6). The artist Kasimir Malevich, writing as modern art moved into the realm of pure abstraction, claimed, "The Cathedral of Rouen is of capital importance in the history of art and, by the strength of its action, forces whole generations to change their conceptions" (ibid., p. 33).

The thirty Rouen Cathedral pictures Monet painted between 1892 and 1894 were the epic culmination of nearly fifty years of research by Monet into the dynamics of light and its perception by artist and spectator. The very monolithic nature of the subject highlights the climactic achievement of the Cathedral series which, from the start, achieved an identity in Monet's oeuvre above and separate from all the earlier and later more loosely conceived series paintings. Finally, they provide the way forward for the development of 20th Century art.

As befits this status, the Cathedrals have attracted as much attention in recent years as when they were first exhibited on 10 May 1895, almost exactly 100 years ago. They were a focus of the 1990 exhibition commencing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Monet in the 90s, which was followed by Joachim Pissarro's monograph Monet's Cathedral. Finally, in 1994 eighteen of the pictures were reunited in the exhibition Rouen, Les Cathédrales de Monet held at the Musée des Beaux Arts, Rouen.

The twenty versions of the Rouen Cathedral pictures which Monet selected from the thirty that comprised the whole series were first shown to the public in the gallery of his dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, at 16 rue Lafitte. These twenty works were the fruit of three periods of intense activity in Rouen during 1892 and 1893. Monet's letter to Alice Hoschedé on 12 February 1892 denotes the inauguration of the campaign, "I was able to install myself in an empty apartment facing the Cathedral, but it is a tough job that I am undertaking here." The empty apartment in question was that belonging to Jean Louvet located at 31 Place de la Cathédrale. Two weeks into the project Monet had to return home to Giverny on account of ill-health, and upon his return towards the end of the month he was forced to find a different studio in which to begin work again. He located suitable accommodation above the shop belonging to Fernand Lévy, in the same part of La Place de la Cathédrale but a little further along at No. 23, on the corner of rue du Petit-Salut (now rue Ampère). He installed himself at one of the windows on the second floor. There he worked continuously for another three months before returning to Giverny. The following February he was to return for a third and final session, necessitating the rental of yet another studio. This was to be the shop of Edouard Mauquit at 81 rue du Grand-Pont, which provided a third, slightly different viewpoint for his sequence of paintings. He finally left Rouen on 13 April 1893 and was to "finish" the pictures in his Giverny atelier over the following two years.

Joachim Pissarro has identified the present version of La Cathédrale as being started during Monet's second sojourn in Rouen, between late February and mid-April 1892 when he was painting from Lévy's boutique. Pissarro writes, "On his return to Rouen on 25 February 1892, starting to use the new location at Lévy's boutique, Monet wrote as usual to Alice in the evening and was elated about the weather. The letter begins: 'I have arrived here with superb my window I am comfortably seated. The cathedral in the sun is admirable, I started two of them.' As the letter continued, the weather assumed even more importance: 'The beautiful weather goes on, I am happy, but damn, what a job, that cathedral. It is terrible, and I do hope not to have many changes of weather.'" (Monet's Cathedral, Rouen, London, 1990, p. 17). The weather was to become an all-consuming preoccupation of Monet's which was understandable given the nature of his project but it was also to dictate his routine. Wherever possible Monet adhered to a strict working schedule, commencing work at his easel as early as 7am. and painting with only the very briefest of breaks until the light gave in, usually around 6.30pm. Some eleven of the thirty paintings in the series were painted from the vantage point of Lévy's boutique.

As indicated in his letter of 25 February, Monet would often commence two canvases at the same time to render a particular effect or time in the day. Pissarro believes the present work was painted in tandem with Le Portail et la Tour Saint Roman, plein soleil (W. 1360) in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris (see illustration). Indeed the present work bears on the stretcher an old label (according to Joachim Pissarro Monet's own original label) giving the title of the picture as Le Portail (plein soleil). According to Pissarro these two pictures are "the two paintings from the same location that show excellent weather conditions and mid-afternoon light, from perhaps 2 to 3pm." (ibid., p. 17). From the coloration he deduced that they were executed in late February and notes how in both the Musée d'Orsay painting, and in this version: "The wintry light...seems to support the cathedral with a scaffolding of pale blue shadow lines, which heighten the structural details of the facade...the higher degree of realism in the cathedral paintings is achieved when the greater balance between light and shade exists." (ibid., p. 80). It is likely that Monet worked on these two paintings during the afternoons before he returned to his former viewpoint in Louvet's apartment to finish off the late afternoon and evening effects he had begun during his first campaign. By working on several canvases simultaneously Monet never lost the thread of his meditation. Maurice Louvrier noted how, when he was working at the Mauquit shop in 1893, "Monet avait fait amenager une sorte de menuiserie qui lui permettait d'avoir ses toiles autour de lui, et, selon l'effet, il mettait une toile sur le chevalet." (G. Grandjean, Rouen. Les Cathédrales de Monet, Rouen, 1994). Gilles Grandjean suggests that Monet worked on up to fourteen canvases simultaneously: "Le peintre est toujours en proie au doute sur la finalité de son entreprise, mais il maîtrise cette angoisse par un travail forcené et méthodiquement organisé; il entreprend simultanément différentes versions, jusqu'a quatorze à la fois." (ibid.). Finally, it was only once all the canvases were back in his studio in Giverny that Monet would actually 'finish' them. He wanted to have them all simultaneously under his eye until he felt that they were, as a series, complete. Monet had painted Les Meules in exactly the same way. The Rouen collector, François Depeaux asked the artist if he could reserve two of the cathedral canvases - one for himself and one for the Musée Rouen, Monet's reply underlined the importance of the serial conception of the pictures and Monet's insistence that they should be kept together until each and every one was finished: "Je lui ai dit que je ne pouvais disposer d'aucune toile avant de m'en être tiré d'abord, et de les avoir vues et revues à Giverny." (ibid.)

The intensity of Monet's study of the cathedral allowed him to know every detail on the building's facade. However it is his extraordinary sense of colour and the skill with which he manipulates the pigment on the surface of the canvas which brings the building to life in these pictures. Monet's cathedral shimmers before the spectator in the present version which captures the magnificent effects of the clear wintry sunlight as it falls across the jutting contours and deep recesses of the facade. The almost sculptural manner in which Monet has applied the paint adds to the illusion of plasticity. The impasto is here especially rich, with brushwork varying between sharp, thin dashes and heavily laden swatches whose corruscating nature almost physically recreate the rough weather-worn surface of the stone. The blue shadows contouring the facade provide an echo of the bright blue of the sky. The contrast between the pale ochre tones of the sunlit stone, the deep multicolored recess shadows and the radiant blue of the sky is carefully balanced. In this particular version the cathedral appears less ethereal and more tangible than in others of the series. The oscillation between the warm and cool tones is entirely harmonious and "natural" to the eye. The range of colours of the series as a whole demonstrates how Monet transformed the essentially colorless facade with the myriad effects and lights that he perceived in what he called the enveloppe of atmosphere that surrounded the building and lay between Monet's eye and the surface of the cathedral. This study of light and atmosphere was also the inspiration for his earlier series Les Meules and Les Peupliers which prepared the ground for the cathedral project. When Les Meules were first shown Monet had explained to visitors to the exhibition his desire to demonstrate, "that a landscape hardly exists at all as a landscape, because its appearance is constantly changing; it lives by virtue of its surroundings - the air and light - which vary continually." (P. Tucker, Aspects of Monet, Boston, 1990, p. 104). Monet's avowal that he painted directly from nature, seeking to capture "les effets les plus fugitifs" (J. Rewald, Aspects of Monet, New York, 1984, p. 148) seems particularly poignant with regard to the Cathedral series. Monet now chose to depict the transitory and intangible effects of light upon a solid, man-made structure. It was a far more ambitious project than he had ever planned before, and one which would illustrate more clearly the subjective, empirical nature of his art. As George Heard Hamilton stressed: "the twenty moments represented by the twenty views of Rouen are less views of the cathedral (one alone would have been sufficient for that), less even twenty moments in the going and coming of the light (which is an insignificant situation), than twenty episodes in Monet's private perceptual life. They are twenty episodes in the history of his consciousness, and in thus substituting 'the laws of subjective experience for those of objective experience' he revealed a new psychic rather than a new reality." (C. Moffet, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, p. 145). Thus, inevitably, Les Cathédrales can be interpreted as testimony to the uniqueness of Monet's own vision, as well as a record of the fleeting effects of light and weather upon a single monument. With Les Meules and Les Peupliers Monet observed and painted the varying effects of nature and passing seasons without focussing on single viewpoints in an overall sense. With Les Cathédrales Monet exhibits a newly disciplined approach, restricting himself to a virtually static viewpoint with the emphasis on a succcession of precise visual effects observable at an exact time of the day. Les Cathédrales thus becomes a temporal experience wherein we can watch in the successive pictures the daylight effect begin from early morning, rise through the glorious light of midday before closing in the rich, exaggerated tones of sunset. In this way Monet reached in Les Cathédrales a natural climax to his concept of series paintings. They form a self-contained unit in his oeuvre and he exhibited more of them together (twenty out of the thirty) than any other series.

Before he was able to select which of the thirty pictures he took back with him to Giverny in April 1893 he would exhibit, he was presented with the enormous problem of "finishing" the paintings. Even the year before, about the time he commenced work on the present version, he had written to Paul Durand-Ruel, "From now on, I refuse to sell my canvases in advance, I want to finish them first, and without rushing, and in the course of time I will choose which ones I will sell." The difficulty of "finishing" the pictures became particularly marked as his stay in Rouen came to an end. "The more I advance, the tougher it becomes for me to render what I feel; and I am thinking inside that anybody who says that he has finished a canvas is frightfully arrogant. Finishing means complete, perfect. I am working relentlessly without progressing." Monet had the pictures from his two earlier 1892 Rouen sojourns with him when he returned in 1893. He worked on them again by turns when the effects he saw matched those captured in a particular canvas. Returning to Giverny he continued to work on them as a group in his studio during the remainder of 1893 and 1894. He continually postponed their exhibition, the correspondence with Durand-Ruel during 1893 and 1894 being a testimony to his own vacillation and the difficulties of bringing the series to the degree of finish that would allow him to deem them ready for exhibition. During 1894 he was uncertain whether to hold the exhibition with Durand-Ruel or at another Parisian gallery.

It was in 1895, two years after he had left Rouen with his thirty canvases, that saw their first display in public. Berthe Morisot had seen the pictures in Monet's Giverny studio in October 1893 and had been astonished by their quality. She wrote, "Elles sont magnifiques, quelques unes toutes violettes, d'autres blanches, jaunes, avec un ciel bleu, roses avec un ciel un peu vert, puis une dans le brouillard, deux ou trois dans l'ombre au bas et éclairées des rayons de soleil sur les tours: ces cathédrales admirablement dessinées sont faites par masses, et cependant on y découvre chaque détail, elles sont tellement dans l'air." Although by 1895, having signed all the works and dated them 1894 (including those not finally selected for the exhibition), Monet finally considered them "finished for exhibition" it was the lack of definition in the pictures which critics seized on as evidence that they were "unfinished". Indeed their very painterly surface and hermetic compositional appearance was a challenge to the polished nature of the Salon art of the day.

The twenty pictures from the series (ten, including the present work being retained by Monet in his studio) were selected and exhibited broadly in colour related groupings rather than as a rigorous temporal progression from morning till sunset. Monet himself had certain preferred works which he may have retained rather than wished to sell; "Je crois avoir fait quelques meilleures toiles que des autres, ou au moins spéciales." In a letter of 21 May 1894 to Durand-Ruel, he wrote, "Mettre du côte un certain nombre de Cathédrales, de celles auxquelles j'attache le plus d'importance et qui ne seraient pas à vendre pour le moment à moins de gros prix. Ceci me permettre de vendre les autres moins cher." Despite his reluctance to sell them the twenty works exhibited at Durand-Ruel were offered at the then very high price of 15000 Ffr. each. Many of the twenty sold quickly. They caused a sensation when the exhibition opened. One of the most unreserved in his praise of the Cathedrals was George Clemenceau who titled his eulogistic article in La Justice "La Révolution des Cathédrales". He wrote, "Le merveille de la sensation de Monet c'est de voir vibrer la pierre et de nous la donner vibrante, et éclaboussures d'étincelles. C'en est fini la toile immuable de mort. Maintenant la pierre elle-même vit, on la sent muer de la vie qui précède en la vie qui va suivre. Elle n'est pas comme figés, pour la spectateur. Et ses cathédrales grises, qui sont de pourpre ou d'or, et ces cathédrales blanches, aux portiques de feu, ruisélantes de flammes vertes, rouges ou bleues, et ces cathédrales d'iris, qui semblant vues au travers d'un prisme tournant, et ces cathédrales bleues, qui sont roses, vous donneraient tout à coup la durable vision non plus de vingt, mais de cent, de milles, d'un milliard d'états de la cathédrale de toujours dans le cycle immense des soleils. Ce serait la vie même, telle que la sensation nous en peut-être donnée, dans sa réalité la plus vivante." (J. Rewald, Aspects of Monet, London, 1984, p. 170).

In addition to being impressed by the range of effects Monet had been able to capture and the virtuosity of his brushwork, most critics recognised the importance of the Cathedral series as a collective unity, whether they were read as representing different times of the day, different colour schemes, or the various weather effects. The overwhelming impression created by exhibiting all twenty of these works together led Clemenceau to declare that it would be a travesty if they were to be separated. Camille Pissarro was more pragmatic, he realised they would be scattered but emphasised the value of seeing all together, hence his enthusiasm for his son to come to Paris. Pissarro wrote to his son, Lucien, on 26 May: "Je suis très emballé par cette maîtrise extraordinaire. Cézanne est bien pondéré, poursuivant l'insaisissable nuance des effets que je ne vois réalisés par aucun autre trouve tout recherche légitime quand c'est senti à ce point..." and five days later he added, "les cathédrales sont forte discutées et aussi fort louées par Degas, moi, Renoir et autres. J'aurais tant voulu que tu voies cela dans son ensemble car j'y trouve une unités superbe que j'ai tante cherché..." (J. Rewald, Camille Pissarro: Lettres à son fils Lucien, Paris, 1950, p. 381-382). For Signac, Monet "a trouvé la teinte matériellement exacte, si grise et si trouble des vieilles murailles."

The present painting was purchased from Bernheim-Jeune by Wilhelm Hansen, who was probably the most distinguished Danish collector of the early years of this century. The core of his collection now resides at the Ordrupgaard Museum outside Copenhagen. A very successful insurance businessman, he bought his first painting in 1892. He began to take an interest in French painting around 1915 and built up a large and impressive collection of Impressionist and 19th Century pictures. On 22 September 1916, Hansen wrote to his wife about his first purchase of the great French artists: "By the way, I used my spare time to look at paintings, and I may as well admit now instead of later, that I have been impulsive and have made a sizeable purchase. I know though that I will be forgiven when you see what I have bought; it is all first class with star rating. I have bought Sisley (two wonderful landscapes), Pissarro (a lovely landscape), and a Claude Monet (La cathédrale de Rouen) - one of his most famous works - and Renoir (portrait of a lady)." (H. Rostrup, trans. J. Ronje, History of the Ordrupgaard Museum, Copenhagen, 1981, p. 72).

Hansen bought heavily in the next few years, amassing a large collection of French Impressionist paintings. He opened his house to the public on 14 September 1918. An article in Revue de l'Art in 1922 awarded him considerable praise: "Dans sa merveilleuse propriété d'Ordrupgaard aux environs de Copenhague, M. Wilhelm Hansen, amateur éclairé de l'art français autant qu'ami fervent de la France, a réuni, en effet, un collection d'oeuvres modernes pouvant rivaliser avec celles passionnément constituées chez nous par Caillebotte, Moreau, Nélaton et Thomy Thiéry." He owned a number of Monets, including this Cathedral painting which was singled out for especial praise: "De la non plus célèbre série des Cathédrales, la Cathédrale de Rouen, que ce poète de l'heure et de lumière a chantée aux diverses periodes du jour, et dont les vieilles pierres ont, sous la caresse du soleil, la mobilité d'un visage." (E. Dumonthier, op. cit.)

Owing to a banking crisis in Denmark in 1922, Hansen had to sell a number of his French paintings. The art dealer Barbazanges assisted him by offering paintings to celebrated collectors such as Barnes in America, Reinhardt in Switzerland and Baron Matsukata in Tokyo, and so this particular work found its way into the most celebrated Japanese collection of Western Art in the 1920s.

Born into a noble Japanese family and the son of a Prime Minister, Kojiro Matsukata won considerable renown as a collector in the early part of this century. Matsukata was sent to America in the 1880s to complete his education. He attended Rutger's college (1884-1888) and Yale Law School (1888-1889). He subsequently went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne (1889-1890) where he met the foremost Japanese artist, Seiki Kuroda. Returning to Japan in 1891 he became a highly successful businessman and was president of the Kawasaki Dockyard Company in Kobe 1896-1928. He was in London in the First World War. "It was during this period (1914-1918) that the middle-aged industrialist took on a hobby for which he is probably better remembered today than for any of his business enterprises; he became a collector of Western Art, eventually amassing an estimated ten thousand examples of paintings, drawings, sculpture, tapestries and antique French furniture valued at over $20,000,000. He is said, for example, to have owned seventy sculptures by Rodin, including the massive Gates of Hell, which he purchased from the artist in Paris (very concerned about authenticity, Matsukata preferred to buy directly from the artists in their studios)...After the war he left a large sum of money with Parisian art dealer, Durand-Ruel, giving the gallery carte-blanche to continue adding to his collection." (J. Meech, The Matsukata Collection of Ukiyo-e Prints: Masterpieces from the Tokyo National Museum, New York, pp. 14-15). Doubtless it was at this time that Matsukata saw his first Monets in George Petit's or Durand-Ruel's galleries, although he himself did meet Monet in France after the War: "The story of his visit to Monet's studio in Giverny in 1921 in well-known. He was led to Monet by his niece, Kuroki Tekebo, the daughter of his eldest brother, Iwai; she and her husband, a diplomat, were keenly interested in French painting and made several visits to Giverny, which are well-documented in photographs. Like Monet, the Kurokis were keen garden lovers and often sent the artist tree-peonies and bulbs of certain lilies which were uncommon even in Japan and quite unknown in France. Matsukata purchased sixteen paintings from Monet on the spot and returned five months later to buy another eighteen. The Japanese - then as now - have always had an immediate attraction to the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, perhaps because these artists had learned so much from the art of Japan: Monet had more than 200 Japanese prints hanging on the walls of his home in Giverny." (J. Meech, ibid.).

Matsukata had intended to build a national museum to house his grand collection but his plans were thwarted when enormous import duties in the 1920s meant the bulk of the works were returned to France and impounded by the French government until 1941. The works that had already been imported were ceded to the 15th Bank in 1928.

Clemenceau had wished to see all twenty Cathedrals exhibited at Durand-Ruel bought by one magnanimous collector for the French state. Today twenty are housed in museum collections across the world, only ten remaining in private hands. Seven are in French museum collections with the Musée d'Orsay having the largest concentration of four.

Monet retained the present picture in his collection until its sale, probably through Bernheim-Jeune to Wilhelm Hansen circa 1914. On the stretcher are some labels which may well be Ambroise Vollard stock numbers suggesting that he may have had the picture on consignment prior to 1914, or have been involved in its eventual sale to Hansen.

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