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

Bord de mer à Sainte-Adresse

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Bord de mer à Sainte-Adresse
signed ‘Claude Monet’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
17 1/8 x 25 ¾ in. (43.5 x 65.4 cm.)
Painted in 1868
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (possibly acquired from the artist, February 1873).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 1884).
Erwin Davis, New York (possibly acquired from the above).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, May 1905).
Jean d’Alayer, Paris (acquired from the above, July 1949).
Sam Salz, Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, October 1958.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, 1840-1881, Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, pp. 40 and 170-171, no. 113 (illustrated).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 137-138, no. 39 (illustrated, p. 137; dated possibly 1868).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, supplément aux peintures, dessins, pastels, index, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, p. 23, no. 113.
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, p. 57, no. 113 (illustrated in color).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., A Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Claude Monet for the Benefit of the Children of Giverny, April-May 1945, p. 24, no. 9 (dated 1869).
Manchester, New Hampshire, The Currier Gallery of Art, Monet and the Beginnings of Impressionism: Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition, October-November 1949, p. 23, no. 37 (dated 1865 and with incorrect dimensions).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Claude Monet: Seasons and Moments, March-August 1960, no. 1 (titled The Beach at Sainte-Adresse and dated circa 1865).
Red Bank, New Jersey, Monmouth County Museum, The Spell of the Sea: An Exhibition Suggesting the Influence of the Sea on the Life and Civilization of the Western World, May 1965, no. 43 (illustrated; titled Seacoast at Ste. Adresse and dated circa 1865).
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Lot Essay

Painted in 1868, just three years after Monet made his official debut at the Salon, this freely and forcefully brushed view of the Cap de la Hève near Sainte-Adresse reveals just how radically modern the young painter could be, even as he continued to strive for recognition through conventional channels. Rather than a distant, panoramic view toward the rocky promontory, of the sort favored by Jongkind and recommended to tourists, Monet has here drawn so close to the Cap that only its seaward tip and a narrow sliver of beach are visible. Nearly the whole of the canvas is given over to the roiling ocean and gusty, cloud-filled sky, suggesting a squall rapidly blowing in from sea. Monet has laid down pigment in broad, exposed strokes, an early instance of the gestural liberty that would become one of the central tenets of Impressionism. This physicality of touch inscribes the artist’s own presence in the scene, capturing a new spontaneity of vision in front of nature that represents a revolutionary departure from Salon norms.
The Normandy coast near his native Le Havre offered Monet his most profound and enduring source of inspiration during these early years of his career, which were fraught with personal and professional struggles. The artist’s father, furious over his son’s choice of painting as a career, had largely withdrawn his financial support, leaving Monet heavily dependent on his friend Bazille. Monet’s mistress Camille Doncieux gave birth to their son Jean in August 1867 while the artist was staying with his wealthy aunt Marie-Jeanne Lecadre at Sainte-Adresse, attempting to assuage his family by keeping up bourgeois appearances. For the next year, he shuttled back and forth between his aunt’s coastal villa at Sainte-Adresse, three miles from Le Havre, and Camille’s tiny apartment in Paris, begging Bazille in his absence to aid the penniless mother.
Monet’s principal solace during this trying period was work, which garnered him some measure of success. The jury for the 1868 Salon refused one of his submissions but accepted the other, a now-lost canvas depicting ships leaving the port of Le Havre; two leading satirical journals deemed the painting worthy of ridicule, a sign of the artist’s growing stature (Wildenstein, no. 89). The canvas that the jury had rejected earned a silver medal when Monet exhibited it in July at a local exhibition in Le Havre (no. 109), and shortly thereafter the artist sold a Salon-sized portrait of Camille to the critic Arsène Houssaye for 800 francs (no. 65). This hard-won fortune enabled him to bring Camille and Jean for the first time to Normandy, where they set up house at Fécamp. “I am very happy, very enchanted,” Monet wrote to Bazille. “I pass the time in the open air and then, in the evening, I find in my little house a good fire and a good little family” (quoted in P. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 37).
To paint the present scene, Monet had only to walk a kilometer or so north from his aunt’s house at Sainte-Adresse toward the Cap de la Hève, a motif that by then he knew well. In 1865, when he first tried his luck at the Salon, one of the two paintings that he chose to submit—both of which were accepted—was a panoramic view of the coastline at Sainte-Adresse, with a carriage and two horses traversing the beach at low tide and the cape in the middle distance (Wildenstein, no. 52). Based on smaller studies painted sur le motif, this enormous canvas was a studio production, restrained in palette and touch—exactly the thing to please the jury and the Salon-going public. The painting earned Monet important notices in the press and fellow artists wrote him congratulatory letters, a most auspicious beginning for the 24-year-old artist. Encouraged by this reception, Monet painted the Cap de la Hève again in 1867, this time including a cluster of fisherfolk and beached boats on the sand (no. 93).
Both of these earlier paintings are decidedly social scenes, capturing the time-honored seafaring culture of the Norman coast. In Bord de mer à Sainte-Adresse, by contrast, the only evidence of human presence is the lighthouse atop the promontory. Artist and viewer are alone before nature, with only a narrow strip of dry land on which to stand as the waves crash onto the shingle—an effect that Courbet, whose reverence for the sea rivaled Monet’s own, also explored during the 1860s. The agitated surf functions as a vehicle for Monet’s intense emotions, as he sought to navigate the stormy seas of work and family. In its fierce, gestural technique and expressive charge, the present painting also seems to stake out opposing visual territory to the spare, elegant seascapes of Manet, a life-long Parisian rather than a coastal native. “The power of the sea, whose white, foaming surf seems to flood toward the edge of the canvas, finds its direct equivalent in Monet’s forceful brushwork,” John Leighton has written (Manet and the Sea, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 2003, p. 204).
The magisterial confrontation of sea, land, and sky that Monet began to explore in the present canvas would become his most important subject of the early 1880s, central to cementing his commercial success and establishing his mature artistic identity. Colorful accounts of his fortitude in the face of nature—clambering over wet rocks, lashing down his easel against the wind, on one occasion nearly drowning in the surf—became part of his creative persona. As an old man in 1917, long after he had retreated to the calm shores of his lily-pond, he took one final trip to his native Normandy, not to paint but simply to gaze at the sea. “I saw and dreamed about so many memories, so much toil,” he recounted. “It’s done me good, and I’ll get back to work with renewed zeal” (quoted in ibid., p. 201).

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