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

Matinée sur la Seine, temps net

CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
Matinée sur la Seine, temps net
signed and dated 'Claude Monet 97' (lower left)
oil on canvas
32 1⁄8 x 36 3⁄8 in. (81.6 x 92.4 cm.)
Painted in Giverny in 1897
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist on 27 November 1901.
Galerie Durand-Ruel, New York, transferred by the above in December 1901.
Frederic Amory, Massachusetts, by whom acquired from the above on 28 March 1905.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 17 May 1978, lot 43.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owners.
W. Dewhurst, Impressionist Painting: Its Genesis and Development, London, 1904, p. xii (illustrated).
L. Werth, Claude Monet, Paris, 1928, pl. 49 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. III, 1887-1898, Peintures, Lausanne & Paris, 1979, no. 1480, p. 212 (illustrated p. 213).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. V, Supplément aux peintures, dessins et pastels, Lausanne, 1991, no. 1480, p. 51.
P. H. Tucker, Claude Monet, Life and Art, New Haven & London, 1995, pp. 158, 159, 163 & 164 (illustrated pl. 188, p. 163).
D. Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, Nos. 969-1595, Cologne, 1996, no. 1480, p. 618 (illustrated).
(Possibly) Paris, Galerie Georges-Petit, Exposition Claude Monet, June 1898, p. 6/7.
New York, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Exhibition of Paintings by Claude Monet, February 1902, no. 34.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by Claude Monet, August 1911, no. 5.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Impressionists and Barbizon Schools, 1919 - 1920, pp. 59 & 65.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Monet in the '90s: The Series Paintings, February - April 1990, no. 82, pl. 87, pp. 228 & 300 (illustrated p. 228); this exhibition later travelled to Chicago, Art Institute, May - August 1990 and London, Royal Academy of Arts, September - December 1990.

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Lot Essay

In his captivating, meditative series known as the Matinées sur la Seine, Claude Monet captures the enchanting tranquillity of early mornings on a quiet stretch of the river near his home at Giverny. Across twenty-one canvases, each focusing on the same view of the waterway and painted during the summer of 1896 and 1897, the artist trained his eye on the diaphanous light cast upon the river as the sun rose, recording the delicate, elusive effects of the changing sky on the surrounding landscape. Tracing the sun as it passes over the scene, from the first rays of light at dawn, to the full brilliance of the sun at mid-morning, and every nuanced moment in between, this extraordinary sequence of canvases would prove to be among the last scenes the artist created of his cherished Seine, which had been an enduring subject in his work for decades. Eschewing any sign of human presence, Monet focused his attention solely on nature, on the play of water, land and sky, on reflection and light, to evoke the poetry of daybreak. The emphatic contrast in the present view between the foliage in shadow and the brightening light of the new day, achieved by means of a contre-jour effect, carries this hushed, elegant composition to the very brink of abstraction.

During the previous two years, Monet had embarked on extended painting campaigns in Norway and along the Channel coast, battling difficult weather conditions to depict dramatic weather conditions on these rugged locales. It came as a welcome pleasure for him, then, to return to the sanctuary of Giverny, and during the summer of 1896 he took the opportunity to immerse himself once again in the lush, verdant landscape near his home and cherished gardens. He completed four canvases of the Matinée sur le Seine sequence during that year (Wildenstein, nos. 1435-1437, including 1436a), and probably began several others in the larger group as well. That was as far as Monet could take the series in 1896, however. Forty-one days of nearly incessant rainfall during September and October – ‘frightful weather,’ he lamented to Durand-Ruel – forced the artist to cease work on these pictures. He resorted instead to painting several scenes of flooded riverside meadows in Giverny (Wildenstein, nos. 1438, 1438a, and 1439), and only resumed his Matinée sur le Seine series the following summer, completing those canvases already underway as well as new ones, to all of which he applied a date of 1897 (nos. 1472-1488; no. 1499 is dated ‘1898’).

The present work, Matinée sur la Seine, temps net, belongs to this second group of canvases, executed at a time when Monet was fully immersed in the series, and well acquainted with the motif. Here, the sun has yet to fully rise. Deep purples blanket the foliage and the overhanging branches of the surrounding trees, which form sweeping arabesques that frame the pale sky and call attention to the flat surface of the picture plane. The gradually brightening light, a soft blue, glows in contrast to the still dark land, creating a crepuscular scene which appears to be slowly revealing itself to the viewer, pockets of shadow blurring the boundaries between the surface of the water and the edge of the riverbanks. To further emphasise his impressions, Monet rendered a dramatic contre-jour effect, backlighting the trees to create a powerful contrast between the different elements of the scene and guide the viewer’s eye towards the gradually shifting sky in the distance.

Rather than painting a wide-open expanse of the river, as he often had before, Monet chose for this series a quiet, protected backwater where the Epte tributary fed into the Seine, working from his famed bateau-atelier. Monet left this specially designed studio-boat anchored mid-river for the duration of the summer, rowing out to it each morning in a small skiff, ensuring that his viewpoint remained unchanged from one day to the next. As the artist looked upstream into the breaking dawn, on his left was the Giverny bank and on his right was the Île aux Orties, one of several wooded islets that then dotted this stretch of the Seine. He emphasized the meditative qualities of the site by selecting a spot where the trees on the Giverny shore were especially full, arching out over the narrow channel of water. These overhanging branches fill the upper left quadrant of the paintings in the series like a curtain being raised on the ethereal, early-morning landscape. ‘It seems difficult to conceive that this dreamy, otherworldly place Monet conjures up was just a brief journey from his home,’ Tanya Paul has written, ‘yet it took the artist just a few moments to arrive at it’ (Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River, exh. cat., Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, 2014, p. 41).

Continuing his recent practice of working in series, Monet conceived of the Matinée sur la Seine paintings as a connected, interrelated sequence of canvases, charting the nuanced shifts in the atmosphere and sweep of light across the landscape. Having already painted several such series, employing grain stacks, a row of poplars, and the façade of Rouen Cathedral as his now-celebrated motifs, Monet had by this time perfected his serial procedure. While working on the Matinée sur le Seine canvases, he kept to a rigorous and disciplined regimen. The journalist Maurice Guillemot, who visited and interviewed Monet during the summer of 1897, described the process that the artist undertook to paint this series: ‘The crack of dawn, in August, 3:30 a.m. His torso snug in a white woollen hand-knit, his feet in a pair of sturdy hunting boots with thick, dew-proof soles, his head covered by a picturesque, battered, brown felt hat, with the brim turned up to keep off the sun, a cigarette in his mouth... [Monet] pushes open the door, walks down the steps, follows the central path through his garden... and comes to the river. There he unties his rowboat moored in the reeds along the bank, and with a few strokes reaches the large punt at anchor which serves as his studio. The local man, a gardener’s helper, who accompanies him, unties the packages – as they called the stretched canvases joined in pairs and numbered – and the artist sets to work’ (‘Claude Monet,’ La Revue Illustrée, 15 March 1898; in C.F. Stuckey, ed., Monet: A Retrospective, New York, 1985, pp. 195-201).

During their outing, Guillemot observed Monet working on no less than fourteen, near-square canvases at the same, which he slotted into different grooves that lined the bateau-atelier. As the light changed during the course of the morning, he quickly switched from one canvas to the next. As Guillemot explained, each composition was ‘the translation of a single, identical motif whose effect is modified by the time of day, the sun, and the clouds... He shows me his fourteen studies in progress, retrieved from the boat and placed for the moment upon easels. It is a marvel of contagious emotion, of intense poetry, and unless one already knew... about the prolonged, patient labour, the anxiety about the results, the conscientious study, the feverish obsession with the work of two years, one would be astonished by his wish: “I’d like to keep anyone from knowing how it’s done”’ (‘Claude Monet,’ La Revue Illustrée, 15 March 1898; in C.F. Stuckey, ed., Monet: A Retrospective, New York, 1985, pp. 195-201).

In no other series in Monet’s oeuvre did the artist focus on such a limited portion of the day, recording the ephemeral changes in the light as dawn encroached upon this sheltered spot in the landscape. In the canvases painted earliest in the morning, light has not yet penetrated the scene, and mist still hangs heavily over the river, reducing the distant forms of trees to soft shapes in the background. As the sun began to rise, Monet – looking roughly south-east – rendered the sky bathed in a warm orange glow but the banks of the river still completely in shadow; he then described the way that light catches on the tops of the foliage on the Île aux Orties, and a few moments later when the entire opposite bank flashes luminously in the morning sun. Finally, in an ambitious coda to the series, Monet turned his angle of vision roughly ninety degrees clockwise to face the Île aux Orties head-on, depicting it shimmering in the full light of day (Wildenstein, nos. 1489-1492).

As a result, time was deeply embedded in the creation and presentation of the Matinée sur la Seine series. Each painting depicted a specific instant – what Monet referred to as ‘the fleeting light effect’ (op. cit., exh. cat., 1998, p. 9). Lilla Cabot Perry, the American artist who was Monet’s neighbour in Giverny, remembered how he sought to record an ephemerality, something that ‘lasted only seven minutes, or until the sunlight left a certain leaf,’ at which point, he would take out ‘the next canvas’ and begin to work on it (L.C. Perry, ‘Reminiscences of Claude Monet from 1889 to 1909,’ 1927; reproduced in op. cit., 1985, p. 184). ‘He always insisted on the great importance of a painter noticing when the effect changed,’ Perry explained, ‘so as to get a true impression of a certain aspect of nature and not a composite picture. He admitted that it was difficult to stop in time because one got carried away’ (ibid., p. 184). With regards to the Matinée sur la Seine paintings specifically, the critic Léon Roger-Milès contended that Monet was ‘not content looking at things within the expanse of the landscape; he look[ed] at them in time; he [saw] them living those very hours in which they unfold’ (quoted in A. Dombrowski, Monet’s Minutes: Impressionism and the Industrialisation of Time, New Haven, 2023, p. 177).

Indeed, the Matinée sur la Seine paintings were among the artist’s only canvases whose title privileged time over site. In the years immediately preceding their creation, Monet devoted much thought to the representation of evanescence and flux. He was judicious in his selection of site and was drawn to a location’s enveloppe, or unique light and atmosphere. If at first he learned through direct observation, as Monet sketched and painted a particular motif over and over again, he gained a deeper understanding of its essential nature. As he explained, ‘I am pursuing the impossible. Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat… I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house, and the boat are to be found – the beauty of the air around them, and that is nothing less than the impossible’ (quoted in J. House, ‘Monet: The Last Impressionist?’, in P. Tucker, Monet in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Art, London, 1998, p. 8). As such, Matinée sur la Seine, temps net and its corresponding paintings, are less about the specific scenery they represent, and rather the atmosphere of the place and the artist’s experience of being in the landscape at that particular moment.

To paint nature – to be in nature – was never, Monet understood, a purely optical experience. Instead, wrote the art critic and journalist, Gustave Geffroy, Monet ‘looked at that spectacle in the morning mist, at sunrise, during the bright hours and the grey ones, at the golden hour of sunset. He became enamoured of the nuances of that great passage of brightness, he followed them in the depths of the sky and the water, he expressed them by the bluish darkenings and greenish and golden awakenings of the foliage. It is these landscapes that are here assembled, these dark forms, these distant ghosts, these mysterious evocations, these transparent mirrors’ (quoted in R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 179).

Monet exhibited fifteen of his Matinée sur la Seine compositions alongside twenty-four of his Falaises paintings at the Galerie Georges Petit in June 1898, where the two series were met with almost unanimous acclaim. Maurice Guillemot’s article describing his adventures with Monet was printed in advance of the exhibition, stoking visitor’s excitement and expectations for the series. Shortly after the paintings went on view, the newspaper Le Gaulois published a special issue exclusively devoted to Monet and his work, which featured an appreciation by Geffroy, an anthology of critical praise from the previous decade, and a new photograph of the dashingly dressed artist. The next week, the conservative Moniteur des Arts came out with a similar supplement, in which the editor admitted that he had never been one of Monet’s supporters but that the Petit installation had won him over whole-heartedly.

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