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

Prairie fleurie à Giverny

CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
Prairie fleurie à Giverny
signed and dated ‘Claude Monet 90’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 ½ x 36 ¼ in. (65 x 92 cm.)
Painted in Giverny in 1890
The American Art Association, New York; their sale, The American Art Association, New York, 10 April 1900, lot 67.
Galerie Durand-Ruel, New York, by whom acquired at the above sale, until at least 1949.
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York.
Edward J. Hudson, Houston, by 1967 and probably until 1987.
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1990.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. III, 1887-1898, Peintures, Lausanne & Paris, 1979, no. 1248, p. 130 (illustrated p. 131).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, vol. V, Supplément aux peintures, dessins et pastels, Lausanne, 1991, no. 1248, p. 47.
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, Nos. 969-1595, Cologne, 1996, no. 1248, p. 476 (illustrated p. 475).
Brooklyn, Pratt Institute, Claude Monet, February - March 1903.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

Filled with a vivid play of gestural brushwork, Claude Monet’s Prairie fleurie à Giverny celebrates the inherent beauty of the idyllic rural town the artist called home for the final four decades of his life. Painted during the opening months of 1890, the composition focuses on a familiar site for Monet, a broad meadow adjacent to his property in Giverny, seen beneath a vast sky, as the wind jostles through the scene and sets the violet-tinged trees, the vibrant green grass and soft white flowers dancing. Though he must have encountered this view on an almost daily basis, the simple field remained a fascinating source of inspiration for the artist for almost a decade, reappearing in his paintings under a variety of different atmospheric conditions and times of day. ‘A landscape hardly exists at all as a landscape,’ Monet explained, just a year after the present canvas was completed, ‘because its appearance is constantly changing; it lives by virtue of its surroundings – the air, the light – which vary continually’ (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Monet in the ‘90s: The Series Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989, p. 104).

Monet had first settled in Giverny in the spring of 1883, ending his search for a permanent base after years of living a peripatetic lifestyle. Situated some forty miles from Paris, at the confluence of the Seine and the river Epte, Giverny at this time was a small farming community of just three hundred inhabitants, a countryside enclave which remained untouched by the encroaching modernisation which had dramatically altered scores of villages and hamlets along the Seine. Here, Monet found the tranquil retreat he had been searching for, renting a sprawling pink stucco house called La Pressoir (The Cider Press) from a wealthy local landowner who had recently retired and moved away. Sandwiched between the main village road and the regional thoroughfare connecting Vernon and Gasny, the house boasted a kitchen garden and orchard in front and a barn to the west that Monet later converted into a studio.

While the artist had initially been drawn to the fruit trees and gardens surrounding the property, he was immediately captivated by the wider setting and landscape he discovered in Giverny. ‘Once settled, I hope to produce masterpieces,’ he wrote to Durand-Ruel within days of his arrival, ‘because I like the countryside very much’ (quoted in ibid., pp. 15-16). Throughout his first years at Giverny, Monet explored the surrounding terrain with a keen eye, setting out each morning with his canvases, walking over hills and through valleys, across marshes and meadows, among streams and poplars, constantly searching for fresh subjects. Compositions focusing on the meandering flow of the Seine and the banks of the river Epte were interspersed by views of the winding country roads, houses nestled into the rolling hills, orchards and groves of poppies, and vast fields that stretched towards the horizon.

Among the most frequent motifs that Monet explored during this period was the verdant meadow known as La Prairie, situated a short walk from La Pressoir and separated from the property by the small brook which would later feed the artist’s celebrated water-lily pond. Monet had first tackled this alluring spot shortly after his arrival, painting a trio of views north across the field and haystacks, towards a row of poplars that bordered the meadow, with the hills overlooking the town just visible in the distance (Wildenstein, nos. 900-902). Over the course of the following two years, Monet returned to the site on several occasions, depicting it from multiple different viewpoints, often posing members of his extended family wandering through the pasture.

In Les meules à Giverny (Wildenstein, no. 993; Private collection) from 1885, Alice Hoschedé, her daughter Germaine and son Jean-Pierre, as well as the artist’s son Michel, traverse the meadow, sheltered from the bright mid-day sun in the shadows cast by the trees along the boundary of the field. The grass is shorn short, and the cuttings gathered in loose piles to dry out, creating tall mounds that tower over the figures. While in some paintings these soft haystacks stood in the distance, blending into the surrounding foliage of the meadow, in others Monet allowed them to occupy centre stage in his compositions – in La meule de foin (Wildenstein, no. 994; Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki), for example, the haystack is positioned in the immediate foreground, its tumbling, multi-coloured surface catching slivers of sunlight through the trees as Alice and Michel rest at its base.

Though Monet spent a large portion of the next seven years travelling around the country, as well as venturing abroad, in the pursuit of his art, he remained intensely captivated by Giverny, proclaiming he was ‘certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside’ (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 175). It was to this familiar countryside, its timeless, idyllic views and the richness and fecundity of its landscape, that Monet returned time and again, whenever he found himself in need of creative refreshment. This was particularly true in the opening months of 1890 – for much of the previous year, the artist had been distracted by preparations for a major retrospective at the Galerie Georges Petit alongside Rodin, as well as the time-consuming project he had initiated to secure Edouard Manet’s Olympia and donate it to the French State. As a result, Monet found himself with little time for painting, and he completed only a few compositions through the latter half of 1889. As the new year dawned, he began to immerse himself in the landscape around Giverny once more, revelling in the beauty and serenity of this bucolic setting.

In early spring, Monet painted a quartet of closely related compositions, focusing on the familiar terrain of La Prairie (Wildenstein, nos. 1245-1248), including the present Prairie fleurie à Giverny. From his vantage point, the landscape resolved before Monet’s eyes into a strongly geometric composition, which he rendered as parallel bands of field, trees, and sky that extend across the entire width of the canvas. In the present work, the poplars demarcating the edge of the field had grown full and leafy, while the verdant meadow is thick with waves of grass, interspersed with delicate white blossoms. Using a palette of richly variegated greens, golds and white, Monet depicts the undulating mass of foliage in thickly impastoed layers of paint, his brushstrokes woven together in a dense pattern that shimmers and shifts before the eye.

In the middle distance, a pair of haystacks appear along the edge of the field, the piles of dried prairie grass appearing much less monumental and imposing than Monet’s earlier depictions. Similarly, unlike his later Meules series, where the grainstacks were carefully bound and packed closely together to create a highly structured canonical shape, here, the mounds of grass appear once again as more of a haphazard bundle, as if they have been quickly gathered by a local farmer and allowed to settle naturally into their current shapes. As a result, there is a relaxed, organic feel to the scene, as if the field’s beauty has been conjured by nature alone.

Prairie fleurie à Giverny first appeared at auction in 1900, where it was offered by the American Art Association to fund a programme of building works on their headquarters in Manhattan. In the catalogue for the sale, Monet was not only hailed as the undisputed leader of Impressionism, but a visionary artistic voice: ‘His contribution to artistic knowledge has been unique. Viewing nature with the independent eye of genius, he has discovered that in sunlight there is height of light and shadow never dreamed of by painters before. It is a discovery which has revolutionized painting and influenced a number of men consciously and unconsciously. By temperament a realist, he is not concerned with making pictures, but with recording facts as they present themselves, not as he might select them. Yes, unless one is blind to the charm of sunshine and its mystery of play on the colours of nature, it is impossible not to appreciate and, at time, to rejoice in his rendering of light and air’ (Private Collection of Mr. Frederic Bonner, with additions by The American Art Association, New York, 1900, n.p.).

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