Claude Monet (1840-1926)
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Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Bateaux devant les falaises de Pourville

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Bateaux devant les falaises de Pourville
signed and dated 'Claude Monet 82' (lower left)
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 31 7/8 in. (60 x 81 cm.)
Painted in 1882
Dr & Mrs Friedrich Salzburg.
M. Scapula, San Francisco.
F. & P. Nathan, Zurich.
J. Ferrer-Fort, Louisiana.
Royal Art Ltd., New Orleans, 1986.
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1990.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. II, 1882-1886, Lausanne, 1979, no. 783, p. 86 (illustrated p. 87).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. V, Supplément aux peintures, dessins, pastels, index, Lausanne, 1991, no. 783, p. 40.
D. Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, Cologne, 1996, no. 783, p. 292 (illustrated).
San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, on loan, 8 March 1941 - 2 February 1943.
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Adrienne Dumas
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Lot Essay

Beginning in the early 1880s, Claude Monet embarked upon a succession of painting excursions to the Normandy seaside villages of Fécamp, Pourville and Etretat, immortalising their cliff-bounded beaches and surrounding landscapes in an outstanding collection of canvases. Bateaux devant les falaises de Pourville dates to 1882 and was executed by Monet during the most productive painting campaign he ever undertook on the Normandy Coast. This view of the beach at Pourville with the majestic chalk cliffs of Varengeville--traditionally known as the cliffs of Pourville--receding into the distance was one of Monet's favourites. It appears in a number of paintings of 1882 and again in works from the 1890s when the artist returned here to this, his preferred vantage point.

Monet spent a total of almost five and a half months at Pourville in 1882; his first stay was from mid-February to mid-April of that year and, finding it to be a particularly enchanting place, he returned there in mid-June with his mistress, Alice Hoschedé, her six children and his own two from his marriage to Camille, who had passed away several years earlier. Daniel Wildenstein dates Bateaux devant les falaises de Pourville to this second stay at Pourville with the many sailing boats and the softly suffused pink light filtering through the clouds suggesting that this canvas probably represents a Summer's day.

Monet's first trip to Pourville followed short, but successful, painting campaigns on the Normandy coast in 1880 and 1881. Full of enthusiasm and perhaps keen to escape from his new home in Poissy which he did not much like, he set off in February 1882 with the intention of painting the landscapes in and around the town of Dieppe. Although he admitted that Dieppe offered its fair share of interesting motifs to paint, he found the town itself to be more developed than he had anticipated and decided shortly after arriving there to move on to the small, picturesque fishing village-cum-resort of Pourville located about five kilometres to the west. 'The countryside is very beautiful and I only regret not having come here sooner... one could not be closer to the sea than I am; the waves beat against the foundations of the house', Monet wrote to Alice back in Poissy (Monet, letter to A. Hoschedé, 15 February 1882, in D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Lausanne, 1979, no. 242, p. 214).

Unlike Dieppe and the well-established Normandy seaside resorts of Deauville and Trouville, Pourville's development had been much more gradual. Recommended 'to lovers of calm and solitude' in 1866, Guy de Maupassant described it as 'still only an embryonic bathing place' in a short story published a year after Monet executed Bateaux devant les falaises de Pourville (E. d'Auriac, quoted in J. House, Impressionists by the Sea, exh. cat., London, 2007, p. 137; G. de Maupassant, 'Enragee?', Gil Blas, 7 August 1883). It was the relative tranquillity of Pourville and its 'delicious nooks and crannies' that contributed to Monet working, as he exclaimed, 'like a fanatic' there (Monet, letter to P. Durand-Ruel, 6 April 1882, in Wildenstein, op. cit., 1979, no. 265, p. 218). What may also have contributed to a new vigour in his approach was the improving financial security that recent sales of his canvases brought. Importantly, too, the seventh Impressionist exhibition was held between Monet's two Pourville campaigns; the many marine paintings he exhibited there--numbering just over a third of his thirty-five entries--were very well received. This, along with Durand-Ruel's success in selling them, no doubt encouraged him to continue with this genre. Indeed, other than his Water Lilies painted after 1900, the impressive series of canvases depicting the adjacent sites of Pourville and Varengeville represents the most fruitful campaign of Monet's whole career.

Monet's paintings of Pourville and Varengeville fall largely into three main groups: sweeping views from Pourville beach looking westwards along its distinctive clefted-cliffs which continue on to those of Varengeville; views from neighbouring beaches looking eastwards towards Pourville, and dramatic views looking out over the sea from the cliff-tops. Of these views, the first perspective, showing the wedge-shaped indented mass of the cliffs to the left, as depicted in Bateaux devant les falaises de Pourville, was Monet's most favoured. Notwithstanding the often similar vantage point, the works in this first group exhibit notable variations not only in their size, of which the present painting is one of the larger examples, but also in their degree of finish and handling, the type of weather depicted, the light and atmosphere, the height of the tide and the inclusion of animating details such as sailing and fishing boats, and sometimes figures. While John House has pointed out that there is no evidence to suggest that Monet saw this particular group of works as comprising a distinctive series as he did his paintings of grain-stacks or water-lilies in the 1890s, they do show that he was becoming increasingly interested in capturing and creating varied effects from a single motif (see J. House, Monet: Nature in Art, New Haven & London, 1986, p. 195).

Bateaux devant les falaises de Pourville features a bold geometrically structured composition of diagonals and horizontals, reflective of the more simplified approach that Monet was then exploring. The horizon line bisects the canvas into two parts of roughly equal size; two tranches of nearly identical size and shape form the sand and sea, whilst the diagonal line of the cliff runs to the very centre of the composition. The slightly raised vantage point from which Monet has captured this view serves, in comparison with other views from this group, to considerably foreshorten the angle of the shoreline. This emphasises the two-dimensional surface of the canvas, lending the foreground a distinct sense of flatness further accentuated by both the thin strokes of red which demarcate the shoreline and the remarkably brushy and brusquely applied paint describing the sand. Here, Monet was clearly revelling in the textures of the paint, manipulating it quickly and spontaneously. This contrasts with the thinner taches of the glinting aquamarine sea, resplendent with its many bobbing sailing boats. Monet, true to the Impressionist aesthetic that he endorsed and indeed embodied at this time, painted en plein-air and the breezy coastline with its highly variable weather are captured in the full-blown sails of the boats and a sky that hints at change to come.

The harmoniously structured composition of Bateaux devant les falaises de Pourville is underpinned by Monet's sensitive use of colour. Warm soft pinks alternate with cooler blues, mauves and greens, but throughout the whole Monet has interwoven rhyming coloured touches, carrying the eye across the surface of the picture. This was a technique he began to explore more fully throughout the 1880s, where his canvases were increasingly devoted to the expression of harmonious, over-all effects. Monet loved the sea and, though he sometimes railed at its changeable weather, had a special affection for this particular spot on the Normandy coast.

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