Claude Monet (1840-1926)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Camille assise sur la plage à Trouville

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Camille assise sur la plage à Trouville
indistinctly signed (lower right)
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 15 in. (46.2 x 38.3 cm.)
Painted in 1870-1871
Emile Petitdidier (Blémont), Paris (probably acquired from the artist, 1875).
Mme Petitdidier, Paris (by descent from the above, by 1920).
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1959).
Jacques Guerlain, Paris (acquired from the above, November 1959).
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 10 May 2000, lot 6.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, 1840-1881, Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, p. 190, no. 159 (illustrated, p. 191).
R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 46 (illustrated in color; dated 1870).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, supplément aux peintures, dessins, pastels, index, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, p. 24, no. 159.
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, p. 76, no. 159 (illustrated).
C. Vogel, "Despite Legal Troubles, Sotheby's Makes a Strong Showing at Art Auction" in The New York Times, 11 May 2000.
A. Peers, "Portrait of an Unexpected Victory: Market Savvy, CEO's Departure Helped Underdog Sotheby's Score in Big Spring Sales" in The Wall Street Journal, 16 May 2000 (illustrated).
D. Hansen and W. Herzogenrath, Monet und Camille: Frauenportraits im Impressionismus, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bremen, 2005, p. 28 (illustrated).
M.M. Gedo, Monet and His Muse: Camille Monet in the Artist's Life, Chicago, 2010, p. 102 (illustrated, p. 103, fig. 7.5).
G. Lowry, intro., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Supplement, New York, 2015, vol. V, pp. 14 and 26-28, no. 3 (illustrated in color, p. 26).
G.T.M. Shackelford, Monet: The Early Years, exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 2016, p. 155 (illustrated in color, fig. 114).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Claude Monet, January-February 1970, no. 4.
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Lot Essay

Among the young avant-garde painters who congregated in the late 1860s and early 1870s at the Café Guerbois in Paris, determined to defy Salon norms and forge a revolutionary modern mode of art, few topics were more fiercely debated than the merits of painting outdoors—en plein air. Manet, Degas, and Fantin-Latour staunchly opposed it, arguing for traditional studio work; the landscapists in the group—Pissarro, Sisley, and of course Monet—were strongly in favor. Of all the paintings that Monet created during these formative years in the history of Impressionism, as the movement would come to be known, the present seascape stands out as a veritable manifesto of his pioneering plein air approach, unsurpassed at that time in its astonishing freshness, spontaneity, and immediacy of vision.
Depicting Monet’s new bride Camille seated on the beach at the Channel coast resort of Trouville during the summer of 1870, the scene is rendered with unprecedented freedom that captures Monet’s direct response to the coastal conditions. Pigment is laid down in broad, almost entirely unmixed strokes to convey the effect of the gusting sea breeze, which propels the sails and smoke in the background of the scene and against which Camille clutches her parasol. Monet calls attention to this rapid handling by describing only the most summary details of Camille’s fashionable clothes and facial features, which are partially obscured by a veil to protect against sun and blowing sand. The pervasive blonde tonality creates an almost palpable atmosphere; the lightly primed canvas is left visible in places, and bits of sand are embedded in the pigment, preserving for posterity the very process of the painting’s making. “The resulting image,” George Shackelford has written, “conveys the light, the air, and even the smell of the seaside” (op. cit., 2016, p. 156).
Monet wed Camille, his long-time mistress and the mother of his young son Jean, in Paris on 28 June 1870, and they set out for Trouville the next month. Rumors of impending war with Prussia were thick in the air, and the artist no doubt hoped to avoid military service, as well as to create greater stability for his young family, by finally marrying. In formalizing his partnership with Camille, he may also have been attempting to curry favor—and garner desperately needed financial support—from his father, who disapproved of his unconventional liaison. If so, his plan was unsuccessful. His own family refused to attend the nuptials; Camille’s parents were present, but insisted on retaining the lion’s share of her dowry for the time being, offering the artist and his bride only a small percentage up-front. Before leaving the Seine valley for Trouville, Monet stored a cache of paintings with Pissarro at Louveciennes, fearing that they would be seized by creditors.
The summer sojourn in Normandy by this time was a well-established ritual for city-dwellers of some means. During the previous two decades, as rail lines from Paris had multiplied, the fishing villages and larger ports along the Channel had been transformed into seaside resorts that catered to crowds of tourists from the capital. With its pristine beach stretching nearly three-quarters of a mile, Trouville was the jewel of the coastline and, along with Deauville, the most fashionable vacation spot for the haute bourgeoisie—far grander and more cosmopolitan than Monet’s native Le Havre, on the opposite side of the Seine estuary. Monet found a room for himself and his young family at the modest Hôtel de Tivoli, on a back street away from the majestic beachfront establishments. “We can only guess at the life they led that summer,” Robert Herbert has written, “always short of money, yet rubbing elbows with Trouville’s dashing society” (Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society, New Haven, 1988, p. 294).
Although Monet had painted in Normandy throughout the 1860s, all but one of his coastal views from this decade—the exception is the great Terrasse à Sainte-Adresse of 1867 (Wildenstein no. 95; The Metropolitan Museum of Art)—were devoted to the traditional maritime life of the region, rather than to the society of contemporary vacationers. “Monet’s paintings were completely modern in their facture and bold composition,” Richard Brettell has noted, “but their subjects were nearly always the opposite” (Monet in Normandy, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2006, p. 44). At Trouville, by contrast, Monet relegated the sea to a minor role in his work, focusing instead on the beach and the boardwalk as a platform for vacationers’ self-display. His paintings from this summer are the coastal equivalent of the celebrated plein-air scenes of suburban leisure that he had created at La Grenouillère the previous year, the modernity of his eye now matched by that of his subjects.
Monet began his work at Trouville with a trio of compositions that depict vacationers strolling along the boardwalk before a phalanx of prestigious, seaside hotels (Wildenstein, nos. 155-157). Probably in mid-August, after Boudin and his wife had joined the Monet family on holiday, he embarked upon a sequence of four identically sized paintings—all freely and rapidly brushed, but none more so than the present one—that explore the image of Camille seated in a wooden chair on the wind-swept beach. Close variations on a single theme, these astonishingly lively canvases may represent a project for an ambitious exhibition picture that Monet never brought to fruition. “Through four paintings of identical format, and using essentially the same materials to approach the same subject, Monet creates four distinctly different works of art,” Shackelford has observed. “He used the beach as a kind of a laboratory and studio for experimentation” (op. cit., 2016, p. 156).
In one of the four canvases, Camille wears an informal striped dress and is joined by a second figure in similar attire who sits beside her on the sand—an adolescent girl, to judge from the scale, or possibly Camille herself seen a second time (Wildenstein, no. 162; Musée Marmottan, Paris). Everywhere else, as here, Camille is glamorously clad in a cream-colored gown, a matching parasol, and a flowered hat with a diaphanous veil. A modestly attired companion, likely the middle-aged Madame Boudin, sits with her on one occasion, absorbed in a newspaper; between them is an empty chair, perhaps Monet’s (no. 158; National Gallery, London). In the remaining pair of studies, Camille is isolated against the backdrop of the beach, her off-center placement heightening the impression of an ephemeral moment. One version is horizontal in format and predominantly neutral in tone (no. 160; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven). In the present canvas, by contrast, Monet opted for a high-keyed palette and a vertical format, creating a brighter, airier composition that places greater emphasis on the open sweep of the sky.
Camille is presented in these paintings as a well-dressed, contemporary bourgeoise on public display—facing the viewer, her back to the sea, her parasol raised grandly above her head. “In painting Camille on the beach,” Herbert has written, “Monet was celebrating her as a fashionable vacationer, the kind of offering an impecunious artist can make to his bride” (op. cit., 1988, p. 294). Yet there is an element of psychological depth in the present study that is absent from all of the related ones, where she exudes a sense of fashion-plate detachment. Here, she leans forward slightly and turns toward some point of attention, nearer to us than she is and to our left; her eyes, nothing but a few strokes of black, nevertheless give the impression of active engagement. The ghostly outline of the painted-out chair beside her, however, only emphasizes her solitude in the scene, leaving us to wonder what has caught her interest as she poses.
“Camille is colored by the sky and sand, metaphorically as well as visibly an image of freshness and naturalness,” John Elderfield has written. “If she is looking at her son playing—a reasonable assumption—she is doing so without altering the beauty of her pose. The wonder of this canvas is in the pleasure of this exquisite, painted image of an unexplained, stopped moment at the breezy seaside” (G. Lowry, intro., op. cit., 2015, p. 27).
Monet’s images of modern leisure at Trouville give no hint of the conflict that was about to devastate the nation. Yet by the time the artist painted the present canvas, the war was well underway—and going disastrously for France. The well-oiled Prussian military machine invaded France on 22 July, just three days after war was declared, and went on to overwhelm one opposing army after another, culminating in the capture of Napoleon III in early September. With no time to lose, Monet scrambled to acquire a passport and made a brief trip to Le Havre to beg funds from his father to settle his hotel bill at Trouville. On 6 October, he and Camille and Jean joined the boatloads of refugees escaping across the Channel to London, where they would remain for the duration of the catastrophic war.
Monet seems to have brought the Trouville canvases with him to London for safe-keeping; one was featured in an exhibition that Durand-Ruel, likewise in temporary exile, organized there. The present painting remained in Monet’s possession until 1875, when it was probably acquired from the artist by the poet and critic Emile Petitdidier (pen name Blémont), a thoughtful exponent of Impressionism in its early and controversial days.

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