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

Au bord du fjord de Christiania

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Au bord du fjord de Christiania
signed and dated 'Claude Monet 95' (lower left)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 36 1/4 in. (64.8 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in Norway in 1895
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist, on 23 April 1900.
Durand-Ruel Gallery, New York, by whom acquired from the above, in autumn 1900.
John Parkinson, Boston, by whom acquired from the above, on 11 February 1901, until at least 1948.
Nathaniel Parkinson, Dover, Massachusetts, by descent from the above.
Knoedler Galleries, Inc., New York (no. 4638), on consignment from the above, on 9 September 1954.
R. Thomas McDermott, Houston, by whom acquired from the above, on 20 June 1955.
Mrs T.P. Hull, Jr., Houston.
Kashiwagi Gallery, Tokyo.
Private collection, Japan, by 1996.
Acquired from the above; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 5 November 2002, lot 7.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Museum of Fine Arts Boston, ed., Thirty-Sixth Annual Report for the Year 1911, vol. 36, Boston, 1912, p. 173.
M. de Fels, La vie de Claude Monet, Paris, 1929, p. 235.
L. Venturi, Les Archives de l'Impressionnisme, vol. I, Paris & New York, 1939, p. 376.
O. Reuterswärd, Monet, En konstnärshistorik, Stockholm, 1948, p. 287.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. II, 1882-1886, Lausanne & Paris, 1979, no. 97, p. 294.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. III, 1887-1898, Lausanne & Paris, 1979, no. 1402, p. 186 (illustrated p. 187).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, 1899-1926, Lausanne & Paris, 1985, no. 550, p. 347.
M. Alphant, Claude Monet, une vie dans le paysage, Paris, 1993, p. 552.
K. Hellandsjo, ed., Monet in Norway, exh. cat., Rogaland Kunstmuseum, Stavanger, 1995, p. 181 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, Cologne & Lausanne, 1996, no. 1402, pp. 581-582 (illustrated).
P. Esteban Leal, exh. cat., Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo, Madrid, 1986, p. 173 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Claude Monet, June 1898, nos. 13 or 14, p. 4.
Boston, Copley Hall, A Loan Collection of Pictures by Old Masters and Other Painters, 1903, no. A10, pp. 7 & 21 (titled 'Coast of Norway').
Boston, Copley Hall, Loan Collection of Paintings by Claude Monet and Eleven Sculptures by Auguste Rodin, March 1905, no. 44, p. 19.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by Claude Monet, August 1911, no. 21, n.p.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Claude Monet: Memorial Exhibition, January - February 1927, no. 28, n.p.
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Sale room notice
This work has been requested for the forthcoming Monet: The Wild and the Tamed exhibition to be held at the Munch Museum, Oslo, in the Summer of 2021.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

Since the beginning of his career, Monet had possessed an abiding passion for the transformative effects of winter, eagerly capturing the fleeting impressions of frost, ice, fog and snow on his surroundings as temperatures dropped. He was particularly fascinated by snow’s ability to transform a landscape almost overnight, softening forms, blurring the edges between landmarks and their surroundings, and creating strange effects as the sunlight bounced off its surface. However, during the early 1890s Monet was disappointed by how fleeting the winter weather at his home in Giverny could be, complaining about the speed with which the snow and ice suddenly appeared and then promptly disappeared again. As a result, he decided to journey north during the opening months of 1895 in search of more reliable winter motifs, travelling by train and boat through the snowy landscapes of Europe to reach the city of Christiania, now Oslo, in Norway. Monet’s decision to travel to this mythical country was partly motivated by a wish to check on his stepson, Jacques Hoschedé, who had moved there in June of the previous year in order to improve his mastery of the Norwegian language. But as always, it was the promise of striking new motifs, of extreme atmospheric effects and intriguing light conditions, which really drove Monet to undertake such a voyage, leaving his family, his home at Giverny, and the beautiful gardens he had cultivated there for a new adventure.

Monet arrived in Norway on the 1st of February 1895 in the midst of a terrible winter storm, exhausted after a seemingly endless journey which had been beset by numerous delays on account of the weather. The city was blanketed in a thick layer of snow and fog, hindering the artist’s search for the new subjects he had been dreaming of since his voyage had begun. Despite his initial disappointment, he was soon won over by the idyllic way of life he observed in the city, as well as the majestic beauty of Norway’s expansive vistas, frozen fjords and layers and layers of seemingly endless snow, which he discovered on a series of trips from Christiania in the company of Jacques. In a letter to his wife Alice, written on his return from a four-day sleigh ride through the mountains, Monet described the sheer wonder he felt in this stunning landscape: ‘What beautiful sights can be glimpsed from these steep mountain heights across immense lakes, which are completely frozen and covered with snow! Here the snow was over a metre high, and our sleigh glided over it, the sweating horses completely covered in frost and ice like ourselves. I have also seen enormous waterfalls one hundred metres high, but completely frozen, it was quite extraordinary … In short, the disappointment I felt on arrival has been succeeded by endless delight’ (Monet, letter to Alice Monet, 9 February 1895, in Monet in Norway, exh. cat., Stavanger & Paris, 1995, p. 156).

However, it took several weeks for the artist to settle down to paint, as he searched continuously for subjects that could capture an impression of the country’s alluring character. It soon became apparent that the bustling atmosphere of Christiania wasn’t conducive to such work, and Monet began to search for a new base. The extreme weather combined with the artist’s inability to ski meant that he was restricted to locations that were within easy reach of inns or railway stations, relying as he did on horses, sleighs and trains to venture through the snow-covered landscape. His perseverance was soon rewarded though with the discovery of of Sandviken, roughly fifteen kilometres west of Christiania and situated on a fjord of the same name, and the small village of Bjørnegaard. This tiny hamlet was little more than a cluster of houses, gathered in the shadow of the majestic Mont Kolsås. It was here that the artist discovered the untouched, serene winter landscape that he had been searching for since his arrival, all available within a short walk from his lodgings.

Monet stuck to a rigorous timetable during his stay in Sandviken, rising every day at 6.30 am, before starting work at 8. He took a brief break in the afternoon for lunch, then carried on painting until the sun set for the evening. Jacques was Monet’s constant companion during his painting excursions, travelling with the artist through the frozen countryside in search of suitable motifs, even building himself a small ice house in the snow in which he could shelter and study his Norwegian grammar while Monet painted directly before the landscape, en plein air. Equipped with a shovel, a sled, and a large parasol in addition to the traditional painting supplies, the pair would venture out into the snowy landscape, wrapped in layers of winter clothing and furs to protect themselves against the frigid temperatures, digging pathways through the deep snow to reach the most picturesque views. Monet took pride in reporting to Alice that the Norwegians were impressed by his stamina and endurance in the face of the extreme cold, even going so far as to claim that he was able to spend much longer outside than some of the locals. Writing to the journalist Gustave Geffroy at the end of February, the artist describes his devotion to painting en plein air, even in the most arduous conditions: ‘I have been painting today … in the snow which falls incessantly; you would have laughed to see me entirely white, my beard covered with little icicles like stalactites’ (Monet, quoted in ibid, p. 71).

The paintings that Monet created during his time at Sandviken capture the picturesque beauty of the artist’s surroundings, from the village itself with its snow-covered roofs, colourful houses, and the arching profile of the iron bridge that connected the banks of the nearby river. Monet was equally fascinated by the imposing peak of nearby Mont Kolsås, creating thirteen views of the mountain under a variety of weather conditions and lighting effects. The Danish writer Herman Bang, who was living at the same boarding house as Monet during this period, followed the artist’s daily ventures with a keen interest and was amazed at the nuance he achieved in this series of works. He would later recall that the peak ‘looked like a human being’ in Monet’s compositions: ‘He painted the mountain as though it were many different figures. In one picture it had like a coat of snow slung on top of it; it was like an ermine mantle aslant over it … It was magnificent! It was a wrathful queen standing there. Or Tragedy, risen to her feet with her head raised. And he painted more. The same mountain – an old, weather-beaten hag. The same mountain – a young, white-clad bride’ (Bang, quoted in O. Reutersward, ‘Monet,’ 1948, in C. Stucky, ed., Monet: A Retrospective, New York, 1985, p. 170).

Alongside these subjects, the first two weeks of March were occupied by paintings of the nearby fjord, executed at the very edge of the ice-floe. Monet had been deeply disappointed upon his arrival in Christiania to discover the iconic fjords frozen and covered in snow, proclaiming that their beauty ‘lies in the sea, the water, and this is no longer there; it is all ice, but covered in snow, so thoroughly that one is no longer aware of being beside the sea…’ (Monet, letter to Alice Monet, February 3rd, 1895, op. cit., p. 155). However, by the end of February, the changing weather conditions had begun to eat into the extensive ice shelf, affording the artist his first glimpse of the open water, as the true magnificence of the fjord revealed itself to him. ‘Yesterday I was finally able to see the sea; not the ocean itself but part of the fjord where there is no ice,’ he wrote to his step-daughter, Blanche Hoschedé on the first of March. ‘It is half an hour away from here; one reaches it by sleigh across the ice and arrives at the edge of the part where the fjord is no longer iced over. It was marvellous and gave me enormous pleasure, and from it I have a splendid view of small islands almost level with the water, completely covered in snow, and a mountain in the background’ (Monet, letter to Blanche Hoschedé, March 1st, 1895, ibid, p. 163).

Executed on one such trip, Au bord du fjord de Christiania captures the view almost exactly as it is described in Monet’s letter, the crystal blue waters of the fjord lapping against the small, isolated islands that dot this stretch of water, the mountains in the far distance standing tall and imposing, while the snow-laden banks of the peninsula reach out into the water in long, sinuous lines. Unlike many of the artist’s effets de neige captured in France, which emphasise the still, silent atmosphere of the snow-bound world, Au bord du fjord de Christiania appears alive with movement and drama. Indeed, viewers can almost imagine the thundering cracks of the ice as great fissures open up in its surface, the deep groaning of the water trapped beneath the ice-shelf on which the artist stood, and the sound of the rushing cool, clear water as it passes by his easel, slowly eroding the ice at the edge of this wintry world. A clear source of inspiration for many of Monet’s paintings from Norway were the Japanese ukiyo-e prints of Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai, of which he was an avid collector. Indeed, Monet compared Sandviken to a Japanese village in several letters to his family, and Mont Kolsås to ‘Fuji-yama,’ although his knowledge of Japan and its landscape lay solely in the prints that filled the walls of his home. In Au bord du fjord de Christiania, Monet echoes the decoupage layering of Hiroshige’s scenes in his depiction of the landscape, constructing the composition through a series of distinct planes, carefully layered atop one another in a manner that lends a dramatic sense of depth to the scene.

While the changing weather had enabled him to discover the flowing waters of the fjord, the approaching thaw was a growing concern for Monet. Having initially cursed the abundant snowfall, he soon became worried by the encroaching springtime weather, as temperatures began to rise, the sun began to blaze and the crisp winter landscape came under threat. Towards the end of his trip, his daily letters to Giverny were filled with despairing reports of the changing conditions, the remarkable stretch in the hours of daylight each evening, and the shocking speed of the advancing warm weather. As a result, it became a race against time to capture the picturesque snowbound scenes before they disappeared, causing the artist to abandon several motifs in order to concentrate his attention on the most interesting and dynamic views he had discovered at Sandviken. Indeed, shortly after his discovery of the free flowing waters of the fjord, the local authorities banned all vehicles from venturing onto the rapidly receding ice. As the journey by foot to their previous vantage point was simply too arduous a trek for the artist and Jacques, Monet’s days of painting at the edge of the fjord came to an end.

However, his most exhilarating experience of the Norwegian fjords was yet to come. Shortly before his return to France, a chance encounter with the local harbourmaster in Christiania led to an extraordinary adventure through the majestic landscape of the Bundefjorden on a small ice-breaker called Isbjørn. Writing a letter to Alice immediately upon his return to his hotel that evening, Monet described with great enthusiasm the excursion: ‘I have just spent an unforgettable day, without doubt the loveliest since I came to Norway: scenes of unimaginable beauty that no foreigner can ever have experienced, even on venturing far into the country – it has completely reconciled me to the Christiania fjord. As I wrote to you yesterday, the Harbourmaster put himself at my disposal and took me on this magnificent excursion on a boat of a new design that breaks up the ice in the fjord. We left this morning at half past seven and have only just returned, having spent the whole day surrounded by ice among landscapes of fantastic beauty. I am filled with amazement and also with despair because I was unable to see any of this earlier… I am also quite overwhelmed with excitement at all I have seen’ (Monet, letter to Alice Monet, March 27th, 1895, ibid, pp. 169-170). Capturing a sense of the mixed emotions the artist felt in the days leading up to his departure from Norway – his joy at discovering such beautiful motifs, combined with his despair at his lack of time to commit them all to canvas before he left – this letter illustrates the powerful effect the landscape, and in particular the fjords, had on Monet’s imagination.

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