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

La Seine à Lavacourt

Details
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
La Seine à Lavacourt
signed ‘Claude Monet’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 32 1/8 in. (60.2 x 81.5 cm.)
Painted in 1879
Provenance
The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), London (acquired from the artist, October 1879).
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, October 1894).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 1894).
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1916).
Carnegie Institute, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (acquired from the above, March 1916).
Sam Salz, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1953).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, December 1953.
Literature
Carnegie Institute, Department of Fine Arts, Permanent Collection of Paintings: Checklist, September 1936, p. 17.
Carnegie Institute, Department of Fine Arts, Permanent Collection of Paintings: Checklist, February 1945, no. 196.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, 1840-1881, Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, p. 100, no. 541 (illustrated).
M. Potter, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 10 and 140-141, no. 41 (illustrated in color, p. 140).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, supplément aux peintures, dessins, pastels, index, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, p. 34, no. 541.
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, pp. 211-212, no. 541 (illustrated, p. 211).
A. Dixon, C. McNamara and C. Stuckey, Monet at Vétheuil: The Turning Point, exh. cat., University of Michigan, Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, 1998, pp. 58-59.
M. Clarke and R. Thomson, Monet: The Seine and the Sea, 1878-1883, exh. cat., National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2003, p. 87.
Exhibited
(possibly) Paris, 28 avenue de l'Opéra, Fourth Impressionist Exhibition, April-May 1879, no. 150.
Seattle, City Department of Fine Arts, World's Fair: Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition, 1909, p. 75, no. 272.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Paintings by Contemporary French Artists, January 1916, no. 57.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Impressionist Treasures from Private Collections in New York for the Benefit of St. Luke's Hospital Center Building Fund, January 1966, p. 27, no. 19 (illustrated; dated 1878).
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Lot Essay

It was high summer in 1879 when Monet painted this seductive panorama of the Seine near his home at Vétheuil, the bright sky filled with cottony banks of cumulus, the tranquil landscape gently stirred by a passing breeze. To find this alluring motif, Monet had only to walk out the front door of his house and cross the road to his garden, which extended down to the river’s edge several hundred yards away; he set up his easel at the garden gate, close to the spot where he moored his studio boat. From there, he looked west across the Seine—nearly three hundred meters wide at this point and studded with tree-covered islets—to the village of Lavacourt on the opposite bank. “The view was an appealing one,” Richard Thomson has written, “with the foreground plane of water allowing a play of reflections and the low horizon an amplitude of sky, while along the horizon clustered the more solid forms of Lavacourt” (Monet: The Seine and the Sea, 1878-1883, exh. cat., National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2003, p. 87).
The artist had moved to Vétheuil, a rural enclave about sixty kilometers northwest of Paris, in August of the previous year, at the age of 37. He had several good reasons for re-locating from bustling suburban Argenteuil, where he had lived and worked since the Franco-Prussian War. Cost of living was paramount. His income in 1879 was just half of what it had been earlier in the decade, yet his commitments were far greater—his wife Camille and two sons of his own to support, plus Alice Hoschedé and her six children, who moved in with them at Vétheuil while her husband, an erstwhile Impressionist collector, tended to his bankrupt textile business in Paris. Monet was also seeking a more peaceful environment for Camille, who had fallen seriously ill after the birth of Michel in March 1878. Finally, the appeal of Argenteuil had begun to wither for the artist, as the encroachments of modernity—new factories, increased rail service, a burgeoning tourist industry—disrupted its country calm.
Compared to Argenteuil, Vétheuil was a sleepy agrarian hamlet, far from the Parisian sprawl— “a ravishing spot from which I should be able to extract some things that aren’t bad,” Monet wrote shortly after his arrival. The population numbered only six hundred inhabitants, less than one-tenth that of Argenteuil; there was minimal industry and neither a train station nor a bridge across the Seine. The village was even shielded from the commercial barge traffic that plied the river, which stayed to the Lavacourt side of the narrow islands that here divide the waterway in two. “If Argenteuil represented suburban colonization,” Michael Clarke has written, “then Vétheuil indisputably offered an older, more timeless view of the French countryside” (ibid., pp. 17 and 37).
The three years that Monet spent in these idyllic environs would prove to be a decisive moment of artistic reassessment for him. At Vétheuil, he entirely abandoned the scenes of modern life and leisure that had dominated his work at Argenteuil and began to focus instead on capturing fugitive aspects of nature, employing a nascent serial technique that laid the groundwork for his most important later production. “The acknowledged painter of contemporary life who settled in Vétheuil in 1878 departed from that town in 1881, as from a chrysalis, renewed and redirected,” Carole McNamara has written (Monet at Vétheuil: The Turning Point, exh. cat., University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, 1998, p. 86).
The view across the Seine toward Lavacourt, as seen in the present painting, was one of the first landscape subjects to capture Monet’s attention upon his arrival at Vétheuil in August 1878. He painted this splendid vista twice during the late summer or early fall of that year, before the trees began to turn (Wildenstein, nos. 475-476). He returned to the same spot—reassuringly close to home and hence to Camille, whose condition had turned increasingly dire—repeatedly the next summer, completing five variations on the same motif (nos. 538-541, including 538a). “The ease and delight of these views, no less than their sheer number, suggest that Monet had finally found true contentment,” Tucker has written, “at least when he was engaged with what he knew best—painting out of doors” (Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 102).
In each of these canvases, Monet varied his position slightly and tackled different effects of light and weather. The present painting shows the widest view of Lavacourt in the group, with jostling, red-roofed houses extending almost the entire length of the horizon. In the remaining compositions, Monet shifted his angle of vision slightly to the south, looking upstream. The Seine now bends into depth beyond a stand of poplar trees near the center of the scene, and the gently sloping ridge of Saint-Martin-la-Garenne is visible at the left. Monet explored this vista in dense fog (Wildenstein, no. 476), under overcast skies (no. 538), and in the rosy glow of sunset (no. 540). In the present painting, morning light streams into the scene from behind the artist, dancing across the gently rippling river and illuminating the façades of the houses; the brilliant blue of the sky and the slight rustle of the breeze promise a perfect summer day. The waters of the river fill the entire foreground of the canvas, with only few patches of reeds to suggest the marshy spot on the bank where Monet stood.
The natural beauties of this scene must have been a balm for the artist during an exceptionally painful period in his life. By the time he painted the present canvas, he was barely one step ahead of his many creditors; in a desperate letter to Georges de Bellio in August 1879, he pleaded with the collector to select some paintings from his studio in Paris (on which Caillebotte paid the rent). Camille, meanwhile, suffered terribly throughout the summer and died on 5 September at the age of 32. Monet’s grief was intense, and made more complicated by the presence of Alice Hoschedé, who would become his second wife. Landscape painting provided him with his principal solace. “Monet portrayed Vétheuil and Lavacourt as agrarian hamlets removed from the force majeure of modern life,” McNamara has written. “The views, although so precisely observed as to time of day and weather, take on a timeless, elegiac aspect” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 76).
The views of Lavacourt from the garden gate also proved readily salable, much to Monet’s profound relief. In October 1879, he sold one painting from the group to the Parisian banker Ernest May for 100 francs (Wildenstein, no. 539) and another—the present canvas—to a collector named Lefèvre for three times that amount. A third Seine à Lavacourt had been acquired the previous year by Charles Deudon, heir to a mining fortune and a friend of Renoir (no. 475).
These sales staved off eviction for the time being, but Monet was still living hand-to-mouth. A thorough-going re-evaluation of his professional tactics was needed, he decided in early 1880. Although he remained fully committed to Impressionist methods and aims, he opted out of the Fifth Impressionist Exhibition, frustrated with group politics, sparse sales, and hostile press at past shows. Instead, he braved the contempt of his avant-garde colleagues and made his first attempt in a decade to enter the annual state-sponsored Salon. He submitted two large canvases: a more experimental scene of ice-floes on the Seine and a carefully finished view of Lavacourt from the garden gate, worked up in his studio at Vétheuil—really a corner of the attic—on the basis of the earlier, plein air versions (Wildenstein, nos. 568 and 578; Shelburne Museum and Dallas Museum of Art). The jury rejected the former and accepted the latter.
Despite poor placement in the gallery, La Seine à Lavacourt was a critical success at the Salon. Emile Zola, writing for Le Voltaire, praised Monet as “an incomparable landscapist,” while the conservative Marquis de Chennevières, formerly the Minister of Fine Arts, wrote in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts that the “luminous and clear atmosphere makes all the nearby landscapes in the same gallery seem black” (quoted in, ibid., p. 97). Although the painting did not find a buyer at the Salon, Durand-Ruel hastened to purchase it when he resumed business with Monet in February 1881 after a hiatus of more than seven years.
The present canvas was the first work by Monet that the Rockefellers purchased. “I think we were very fortunate to get it when we did,” David Rockefeller wrote, “since we later learned that Perry Rathbone, then at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, had been anxious to acquire it for the museum” (M. Potter et al., op. cit., 1984, p. 141).

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