CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
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CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)

Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne

CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
Peupliers au bord de lEpte, automne
signed and dated ‘Claude Monet 91’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
39 3⁄4 x 25 7⁄8 in. (101 x 65.7 cm.)
Painted in 1891
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, January 1892).
Henry Sayles, Boston (1892); sale, American Art Association, New York, 14 January 1920, lot 50.
Durand-Ruel Galleries and M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale).
Stephen C. Clark, New York (acquired from the above, January 1920); sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 30-31 March 1949, lot 85.
Mr. and Mrs. Kurt F. Pantzer, Indianapolis (1949); Estate sale, Christie’s, New York, 19 May 1982, lot 17.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 19 May 1982.
W. Dewhurst, Impressionist Painting: Its Genesis and Development, London, 1904, pp. 42-43 (illustrated).
C. Mauclair, L’Impressionnisme: Son histoire, son esthétique, ses maîtres, Paris, 1904, p. 88 (illustrated).
G. Grappe, Claude Monet, Paris, 1909, p. 59 (illustrated).
C. Léger, Claude Monet, Paris, 1930 (illustrated, pl. 27).
L. Venturi, Les archives de l’Impressionnisme, Paris, 1939, vol. I, pp. 341-342, letter 198.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1979, vol. III, p. 148, no. 1297 (illustrated, p. 149); pp. 263-264, letters 1128, 1131, 1133 and 1135.
G. Seiberling, Monet's Series, New York, 1981, p. 362, no. 6.
J. Herbert, Christie’s Review of the Season, New York, 1982, p. 119 (illustrated in color).
R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 292 (illustrated in color, p. 166).
C. Irvine, Remarkable Private New York Residences, New York, 1990, p. 11 (illustrated in situ in Mrs. Bass's home, p. 10).
P.H. Tucker, Monet in the '90s: The Series Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1990, pp. 132-133 and 277, note 35.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, supplément aux peintures, dessins, pastels, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, p. 48, no. 1297.
P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, London, 1995, p. 146, no. 164 (illustrated with incorrect image).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1996, vol. III, p. 519, no. 1297 (illustrated in color, p. 508).
D. Wildenstein, Monet, or the Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 1999, p. 280.
V. Russell, Monet's Landscapes, London, 2000, p. 109 (illustrated in color).
M. Conforti, The Clark Brothers Collect: Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings, exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2006, pp. 138 and 338, no. 301.
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Monet, March 1892, no. 13.
Boston, St. Botolph Club, Claude Monet, February 1899, no. 14.
Boston, Copley Hall, Monet, March 1905, no. 54.
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by Claude Monet, August 1911, no. 7.
St. Louis, Carroll-Knight Gallery, Inc., Exhibition of Paintings by American, French and English Artists, 1946, no. 6.
Wilmington, Society of Fine Arts, Exhibition of French Paintings, January-February 1948, no. 29.
South Bend, Notre Dame University Art Gallery, The Great Century: France, 1800-1900, November 1959 (illustrated).
Indianapolis, John Herron Museum of Art, Indiana Collects, October-November 1960, no. 63 (illustrated).
The Dayton Art Institute; Davenport Municipal Art Gallery; Ithaca, Cornell University, White Art Museum; West Virginia, Huntington Galleries; Seattle, Charles and Emma Frye Museum; Phoenix Art Museum; Reno, University of Nevada; The Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego and Atlanta Art Association, Monet and the Giverny Group, January 1961-January 1962, no. 26.
Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts, La peinture française: Collections américaines, May-September 1966, pp. 62-63, no. 69 (illustrated, p. LV, pl. 53).
New York, Wildenstein & Co. Inc., Tribute to Daniel Wildenstein and Katia Granoff, April-June 2007, p. 320, no. 43 (illustrated in color, p. 260).

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

During the spring of 1891, Claude Monet discovered an intriguing new subject in a stretch of elegant poplars lining the banks of the river Epte, just two kilometers south of his home at Giverny. Inspired by their towering forms and the regular rhythm of their placement along the water’s edge, he began a concentrated series of paintings which placed the poplar as the central protagonist within the composition. Building on the development of his experiments in the Meules series (Wildenstein, nos. 1266-1290), which had occupied him over the course of the previous winter and were likely completed around the same time as the poplar paintings were begun, Monet set out to capture the trees in a variety of light conditions, tracking the changes in their shape, form and color as they transitioned from early spring, through the height of their summer growth, and into early autumn. Executed in an array of rich, vigorous brushstrokes, their forms overlapping and intertwining across the canvas, Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne is among the most dynamic and richly worked paintings in the series, capturing the trees as the season shifts and their leaves turn a golden-red hue.
The Peupliers series emerged at an important moment in the artist’s personal life. Just a few months prior, the house Monet had been renting for almost a decade, Le Pressoir, had gone on the market and he had seized the opportunity to settle permanently in the idyllic hamlet of Giverny, purchasing the dwelling and its surrounding plot of land outright. “[I] would never find a parallel situation,” he told his dealer at the time, Paul Durand-Ruel, “nor so beautiful an area” (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Monet in the ‘90s: The Series Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989, pp. 81-84). Over the course of the following decade, Monet would dedicate himself almost exclusively to the depiction—and intentional celebration—of the pastoral surroundings of Giverny, as he reveled in the natural beauty of this corner of France. While the poplars had featured prominently in two canvases from 1887 (Wildenstein, nos. 1155-1156), and appear in the background of nearly half of the Meules paintings, the discovery of the stretch of trees along the Epte prompted a new creative outpouring for the artist. The natural location of the trees on the banks of the river as it wound its way through the landscape had captured Monet’s imagination, and inspired him to create extraordinary, dynamic compositions in which the poplars are depicted in staggered arcs as they disappear into the distance.
With their strict linearity and intrinsic decorative elegance, the poplar held an obvious aesthetic allure for Monet—indeed, the trees had long been a recurring feature within his paintings of the landscape, from his views of Argenteuil from the 1870s, to more rural pastures and open fields of Giverny through the 1880s and early 1890s. A common feature within the French countryside during the nineteenth century, poplars were typically found lining the entrance routes to grand châteaux, or used along rural roads as windshields for tilled fields, while land owners around the country planted them as a form of fencing to demarcate property boundaries. Svelte and elegant, they grew quickly—generally twenty-five to thirty feet in a little over a decade—making them a popular investment for speculators, while their ability to quickly absorb large amounts of water made them a perfect addition to river banks as protection against flooding. Moreover, following the French Revolution, the poplar had become a symbol of liberty, largely due to its name, and ceremonial plantings were common on important anniversaries. As such, the tree became an emblem of the stability, beauty and fecundity of rural France within the public imagination.
In June however, Monet's progress was threatened by news that the village of Limetz, which owned the trees along the Epte, intended to auction off the bank of poplars. They had been planted on communal land as a cash crop, and by June 1891 had reached an appropriate height for harvest. The artist’s request to delay the August sale was refused by the mayor, and in a letter of 28 July, Monet lamented that there remained “quantities of new canvases which I must finish” (quoted in J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 201). It was only on the day of the auction itself that he came up with a solution, striking an agreement with a local timber merchant: “I asked him how high a price he expected to pay,” Monet later told a biographer, “promising to make up the difference if the bid went over his amount, on the condition that he would buy the trees for me and leave them standing for a few more months” (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 146). The arrangement proved successful—when the gavel came down, Monet and the lumber merchant were co-owners of the poplars, with the artist proclaiming, “my wallet felt the damage” (quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet, or the Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 1996, p. 280).
This anecdote reveals not only the monetary investment Monet was willing to place in his motifs, a practice that would be seen most clearly in his later compositions of the gardens at Giverny, but also his continued commitment to painting en plein air, directly before the motif. Although he would finish all of the poplar paintings in his studio, direct observation of the trees in their natural setting and their shifting character under different weather conditions, seasons, and times of day remained central to Monet’s working methods. This is seen most clearly in works such as Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne—the successful delay in harvesting the poplars allowed Monet to observe the trees as fall began to slowly transform the countryside, causing the foliage to change to a rich, reddish-gold, as the warm rays of summer gave way to cooler, crisper tones in the soft autumnal sunlight. Indeed, the effects of the changing seasons appears to have been Monet’s primary focus in the Peupliers series, with the artist subtitling most of the paintings with an indication of what season they represented, as they charted the shifting character of the landscape from spring, to summer, to fall.
The twenty-four paintings in the Peupliers series (Wildenstein, nos. 1291-1313) were all created from almost the exact same vantage point, near a spot where the Epte bends back on itself twice to create a distinctive S-shape. Whereas the Meules series had focused on isolated grainstacks, an effect which endowed them with a greater sense of weight and monumentality, it is in their sheer numbers and their relationship to one another that the poplars achieve their greatest effect. Most of the series focuses on a screen of tall, slender poplars in the foreground, while behind, looping away along the river bank, the rest of the trees make up a beautiful arabesque pattern. In the present composition, the sweep begins behind the bushy tree in the background on the left, moving first to the right and then to the left to touch each side of the scene, before finally culminating in the upper right corner, with the poplars gradually growing in size as they approach the viewer. Rather than looking directly across the river at the poplars, Monet turned slightly to the left to accentuate the rise and fall of the trees as they followed the curving bank, generating a dynamic sense of movement and depth within the composition.
The low vantage point that Monet adopts throughout the series, just slightly above the level of the water, suggests that the artist worked from the bateau atelier that he had built during his years at Argenteuil, anchoring it in the center of the river Epte as he painted. The boat allowed the artist to bring a myriad of canvases, painting supplies, and even an easel with him to the site, and would have made the commute from the house at La Pressoir to the poplars much easier—rather than walking, Monet was able to row from his home directly to this section of the river, as a tributary ran through his property. Looking up at the trees from the deck of the boat in this way allowed Monet to stretch the poplars and their reflections from the bottom of the canvas almost to the top, silhouetting their straight, nearly leafless trunks dramatically against the sky to create a tension between the screen of trees in the foreground, which forcefully asserts the surface of the canvas, and the graceful line of poplars that recedes into the distance. Given the absence of any horizon line in Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne, depth is indicated primarily by this staggering of the trees, as well as by the differentiated shadows in the foliage, which consist of a myriad of small strokes in green, blue, yellow and orange tones.
Between 1 March and 10 March 1892, fifteen of the Peuplier series were exhibited at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris, including Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne. While the exhibition of the artist’s Meules series the previous year had included several compositions by the artist which dealt with other subjects, for this show Monet chose to limit the display to the Peupliers alone. Presenting the suite of paintings en-masse in this way would, he believed, create a greater visual impact, and encourage visitors to fully appreciate the subtle differences from composition to composition. The show was a resounding triumph, and the Peupliers were extraordinarily well-received by collectors and critics. In a review of the exhibition, George Lecomte affirmed Monet's attachment to nature, and wrote that the artist “seems more and more to abstract the durable character of single things from complex appearances and, by a more synthetic and pre-meditated rendering, to accentuate meaning and decorative beauty” (quoted in P.H. Tucker, op. cit., 1989, p. 143). In a letter to the artist, Octave Mirbeau was even more dramatic, describing the new paintings as “absolutely admirable, a series in which you [Monet] renew yourself… and… attain the absolute beauty of great decoration” (quoted in ibid., p. 142). Moreover, Mirbeau expressed the undeniable power of these images, which clearly overwhelmed him. As he explained, in front of these paintings, he felt “complete joy… an emotion that I cannot express, so profound [was it] that I wanted to hug you… Never did any artist ever render anything equal to it” (ibid., pp. 142-143).
For many contemporary commentators, the Peupliers paintings owed a great debt to Monet’s interest in Japanese art, which was at its height in the 1890s. The artist had begun to collect Japanese woodcut prints as early as 1871, and by the time that he painted the present series, the walls of his house at Giverny were covered with them. The Japanese were widely seen by French observers as masters at extracting decorative patterns from nature, and Théodore Duret went so far as to claim that the Peupliers had been inspired by the sweeping curves of trees in Utagawa Hiroshige’s Numazu: Twilight (Numazu, tasogare zu), from the series Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road (Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi) (circa 1833-1834). But as is true with all of Monet’s work, these paintings were not a direct response to any such singular source, nor Japanese prints in general—their surfaces are more manipulated, their colors more varied, as he artfully invoked Eastern sensibilities while remaining true to his native French roots and individual creative sensibilities. Indeed, in Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne, the entire canvas is filled with overlapping, darting brushstrokes, in a dynamic display of Monet’s skills with a paintbrush. Though at first glance they may suggest a certain spontaneity of execution, these richly worked surfaces were carefully constructed, underpinned by striking color harmonies that enhanced the decorative effect of the finished composition.
Although Monet’s paintings of Giverny are steeped in pride for La belle France, many of them did not remain in the country for long. In April 1886, eager to broaden his customer base, Durand-Ruel had mounted an exhibition of French Impressionist painting in New York, which marked the first large-scale introduction of the art of Monet and his colleagues to American audiences. The show was a great success—“one of the most important artistic events that has ever taken place in this country,” the reviewer for The Cosmopolitan proclaimed—and by the time it closed, Durand-Ruel was thoroughly committed to the American market (quoted in E.M. Zafran, “Monet in America” in Claude Monet: A Tribute to Daniel Wildenstein and Katia Granoff, exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York, 2007, p. 88).
Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne was among Monet’s most recent works to catch the attention of these new American collectors. Durand-Ruel purchased the painting directly from Monet in early 1892, after which it was swiftly acquired by the Boston-based collector Henry Sayles. A wealthy banker and broker, Sayles was an active member of the city’s art scene and an avid collector, with a deep enthusiasm for the art of Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet and pastoral scenes by the Barbizon school. Encouraged by his artist friends, he began to enhance his collection to include more avant-garde works by the French Impressionists, purchasing Monet’s Poste de douaniers à Dieppe (1882; Wildenstein, no. 735) in the summer of 1891, before adding Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne in 1892. The painting remained with Sayles for the rest of his life, at which point it joined the esteemed art collection of Stephen C. Clark, before being purchased in 1949 by Mr. and Mrs. Kurt F. Pantzer of Indianapolis, who also owned an impressive collection of watercolors by J.M.W. Turner. Peupliers au bord de l’Epte, automne was acquired by Mrs. Bass in 1982, and it quickly became a cherished center-piece of her collection.

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