CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
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CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
4 More
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)

Nymphéas, temps gris

Details
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
Nymphéas, temps gris
signed and dated ‘Claude Monet 1907’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (100.2 x 73.2 cm.)
Painted in Giverny in 1907
Provenance
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist in July 1923.
Henri Canonne, Paris, by whom acquired from the above on 21 January 1924.
Anonymous sale, Palais Galliéra, Paris, 8 December 1961, lot 68.
Fritz & Peter Nathan, Zurich, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Acquavella Galleries, New York, by whom acquired from the above, circa 1962-1963.
Private Collection, New York & Paris, by whom acquired from the above, circa 1968.
Private Collection, New York & Paris, by 1971.
Onassis Family, Paris, circa 1974, and thence by descent; sale, Christie’s, New York, 2 May 2006, lot 11.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
Letter from Claude Monet to Durand-Ruel, 22 April 1909.
Letter from Claude Monet to Durand-Ruel, 29 April 1909.
Letter from Claude Monet to Durand-Ruel, 30 April 1909.
Letter from Claude Monet to Durand-Ruel, 6 May 1923.
L. Venturi, Les archives de l'Impressionnisme, vol. I, Paris, 1939, pp. 421-422.
D. Rouart, J.-D. Rey & R. Maillard, Monet Nymphéas, ou les miroirs du temps, Paris, 1972, n.p. (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, 1899-1926, Peintures, Lausanne & Paris, 1985, no. 1708, pp. 222, 376 & 416 (illustrated p. 223).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. IV, Cologne, 1996, no. 1708, p. 782 (illustrated p. 783).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Les Nymphéas, Séries de Paysages d'eau par Claude Monet, May - June 1909, no. 31, n.p..
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Four Masters of Impressionism, October - November 1968, no. 66. n.p..
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Lot Essay

Claude Monet’s depictions of the horticultural oasis that he designed and cultivated in Giverny are among the greatest works of his career. Nymphéas, temps gris is one of a small series that Monet painted in a moment of intense creativity in 1907. Here, Monet has employed a rare vertical format to capture the spectacular effects of late afternoon light upon his beloved waterlily pond. Flanked by swirling eddies of vegetation and dramatic reflections, a long stream of light streaks through the height of the canvas, overlaid in places by clusters of lily pads. Using a variety of painterly techniques – gestural brushstrokes, rich impasto for the flowers, and myriad layers of colour in the watery areas – with this vertical canvas, Monet has masterfully captured both the reflections of light on the surface of the pond, and the changing hues in its depths. As a result, this canvas is filled with a majestic visual drama that sets this series apart from others of the same period.

Of this rare series of fifteen vertical Nymphéas of 1907, eight are now held in museum collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Artizon Museum, Tokyo (Wildenstein, nos. 1703-1717). Included in Monet’s celebrated Nymphéas exhibition held at the Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris in 1909 – the first time he showed solely the water lily paintings – this work has a distinguished provenance. It was initially acquired by the Parisian pharmaceutical magnate and devoted Monet collector, Henri Canonne, who amassed an extensive collection of the artist's work, particularly focused on his Nymphéas.

Monet and his family had moved to Giverny in April of 1883. Situated at the confluence of the Seine and the Epte about forty miles northwest of Paris, Giverny was at the time a quiet, picturesque farming community of just over two hundred residents. Upon his arrival there, Monet rented a large pink stucco house on two acres of land. When the property came up for sale in 1890, Monet quickly purchased it, ‘certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside,’ as he wrote to his dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel (quoted in P. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 175).

After acquiring the property, Monet immediately began tearing up the existing kitchen garden and planting extensive beds of flowers, together with wide arches over which grew tumbling clematis and roses. Three years later, Monet acquired an adjacent plot of land – a small meadow that lay beyond the railroad tracks that bordered the end of the garden. This was flanked on one side by a small tributary of the river Epte, known as the Ru. A small pond lay within this meadow, and Monet soon applied to the local government for permission ‘to refresh the pond that I am going to dig for the purpose of cultivating aquatic plants’ (quoted in ibid., p. 176).
 Over the years that followed, this seemingly modest request would enable Monet to create the elaborate aquatic garden that came to serve as the basis for his art for much of the rest of his life. By the autumn of 1893, Monet had converted nearly one thousand square metres into a lavish lily pond, spanned by a wooden footbridge and ornamented by an artful arrangement of flowers, trees and shrubs. Describing the water garden in its finished form, one visitor reported, ‘You enter the aquatic garden over an arched bridge covered with wisteria in June – the fragrance is so heavy that it is like going through a pipe of vanilla. The clusters of white and mauve fall like fanciful grapes in the water, and the passing breeze harvests the aroma’ (quoted in R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1988, p. 213).

Despite the time, passion, and funds that Monet had poured into his ambitious horticultural project, he did not immediately set about painting his water garden. Indeed it was not until the closing year of the century that he first depicted the verdant paradise he had fashioned in his painting. This delay was likely in part due to the fact that the garden needed to mature and develop. In addition, throughout the 1890s, Monet had been wholly immersed in his serial campaigns – the HaystacksPoplarsRouen and the London works – motifs that were filled with bold and universal nationalistic meaning, that pushed the fundamental tenets of his Impressionism to their extreme.

By contrast, the depictions of his home and gardens were in many ways far more personal and intimate subjects. The verdant, flowering world Monet had created around him was as much an art work as his canvases themselves. He later recalled, ‘It took me some time to understand my water lilies. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then all at once, I had the revelation – how wonderful my pond was – and reached for my palette. I've hardly had any other subject since that moment’ (quoted in S. Koja, Claude Monet, exh. cat., Österreichische Galerie, Vienna, 1996, p. 146).

 After returning from his final painting campaign in London in 1901, Monet decided the pond needed to be extended. This would allow him to attain a larger surface with greater and more varied visual effects. There was no more space in his land as it stood, so the artist set about purchasing part of a meadow on the other side of the Ru. Altering the course of this tributary, Monet was able to triple the size of his pond.

From this point on, the reflections of the surface of the water intersected by the tranquil floating blooms became the predominant focus of his water lily paintings. With this motif, Monet was able to revel in an abiding preoccupation of his art: water. Honing in solely on the effects of light and atmosphere on this aquatic element, Monet gradually dispensed with other compositional concerns – the banks of the pond, horizon line, and other stable pictorial elements – to focus solely on transient light effects, ephemeral reflections of constantly changing skies, and the shimmering depths of the water itself. Monet explained the endless world of inspiration he could derive from this subject. ‘I have painted these water lilies a great deal,’ he said. ‘The effect varies constantly, not only from one season to the next, but from one minute to the next, since the water-flowers themselves are far from being the whole scene; really, they are just the accompaniment. The essence of the motif is the mirror of water, whose appearance alters at every moment, thanks to the patches of sky that are reflected in it and give it its light and movement. So many factors, undetectable to the uninitiated eye, transform the colouring and distort the planes of water’ (quoted in P. Tucker, Monet in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1998, p. 11).

Monet had initially agreed on a date of 1907 for the first major exhibition of the Nymphéas series. Though the artist stalled on several occasions – it was not until May 1909 that the exhibition opened – from 1905 onwards, he worked with a furious passion, producing more than sixty views of the aquatic garden, or about one every three weeks, all of which concentrate exclusively on the surface of the pond, without the compositional aid of banks, bridges, or background foliage.

Monet painted the present Nymphéas in 1907, in the middle of this intensely creative period, a time during which he uncharacteristically proclaimed he was “full of fire and confidence” (quoted in ibid., p. 47). Between April and September, he was so absorbed in his work that he wrote only six letters – a rare occurrence in the usually prolific correspondence that the artist maintained. ‘Here all goes well,’ he finally reported to Durand-Ruel in the early autumn. ‘I have worked, and I am still working, with passion.’ Pleased with his progress, he invited the dealer to come and see the latest paintings at Giverny. ‘They are still a sort of groping research,’ he claimed, ‘but I think that they are among my best efforts’ (quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 1999, p. 379).

The works to which Monet was referring included Nymphéas, temps gris. With this series, Monet adopted a striking new format – the vertical-shaped canvases. Paul Tucker has astutely described these important works:

‘These are without doubt some of the most compelling paintings Monet had yet produced… The dark reflections of the foliage are surprisingly active in their gestures and depths. They also occupy most of the canvas, as if the unseen world and its unchartable rhythms have become more important than what is tangible and confirmable… The light of the reflected sky ripples through the foliage at the top of the scene as it descends down the canvas, passing under the pads that push out from the darker reflections on the other side. The light then spills out into a twisted bell-like pool in the middle of the picture, creating eddies and surface patterns across the lower half of the image that contrast with the direction, shape, and orientation of the surrounding lily pads and foliage. Monet’s touch in this area is startlingly free, his paint strikingly porous… By employing this strategy, Monet is perhaps suggesting the ultimate integration of his most trusted of aesthetic companions – light and water – and has embedded them here in the literal foundation of his image – his primed canvas – with unprecedented subtlety and zeal’ (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, pp. 47-48).

With these works, Monet reintroduced the vigorous, expressive brushwork and rich, depth of colour that had been absent in his more delicately coloured and executed Nymphéas of the same year. The vertical streak of light that runs through the work is now sole protagonist, creating a striking contrast with the luminous surface of the pond in the foreground and the dramatic dark greens and blues of the reflected foliage in the upper half of the canvas. This stream of light also distorts any sense of conventional pictorial perspective. The horizontal striations of lily pads in the upper half of the work, together with their more rounded, blue lined counterparts at the bottom, serve to further upend this sense of spatial recession. By pursuing to an even greater extent the effects of light upon the water, Monet had broken new ground in the conception of a landscape. Relieving himself from the bounds of mimesis, he had opened the pathway to pure abstraction with these symphonic renderings of splendidly contrasting colour and light. 

In contrast to the more decorative Nymphéas of the same year, especially the circular canvases that Monet also experimented with, the present work and accompanying series are, Tucker writes, ‘“painters” pictures, in which everything is contested – lights and darks, shapes and forms, surface and sky… These pictures would certainly energise his ensemble of Nymphéas and reestablish Monet’s boldness as an artist’ (ibid., pp. 47-48). Working amid the developments of Picasso and Matisse, among others, Monet’s 1907 series proved that the artist was still at the forefront of the avant-garde, still taking great leaps forward in his ability to render the world around him with an ever more experimental and innovative approach.

The long-awaited exhibition, Les Nymphéas: Séries de paysages deau – titled by Monet himself perhaps in homage to Gustave Courbet’s earlier, so-called Paysages de mer – opened in Paris in May 1909. Including Nymphéas, temps gris, the forty-eight canvases – the most works Monet had ever exhibited in any twentieth-century show – were met with rapturous acclaim. The greatest number of Nymphéas included were from 1907, a clear reflection of the standing with which Monet considered these works.
This was the first time the public had seen Monet’s art since his seminal 1904 exhibition of his London series. There was no doubt after this exhibition that Monet was the greatest living French artist. A critic for The Burlington Magazine wrote, ‘One has never seen anything like it. These studies of water lilies and still water in every possible effect of light and at every hour of the day are beautiful to a degree which one can hardly express without seeming to exaggerate… There is no other living artist who could have given us these marvellous effects of light and shadow, this glorious feast of colour’ (quoted in op. cit., 1995, p. 196).

 Many praised Monet’s ability to continually push the boundaries of his own art. And, as the present work attests, the artist had indeed taken his depiction of the landscape to new heights, attaining a level of abstraction that was entirely novel in his art thus far. Writing in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Roger Marx famously stated, ‘No more earth, no more sky, no limits now… Here the painter deliberately broke away from the teachings of Western tradition by not seeing pyramidal lines or a single point of focus. The nature of what is fixed, immutable, appears to him to contradict the very essence of fluidity… Through the incense of soft vapours, under a light veil or silvery mist, “the indecisive meets the precise.” Certainty becomes conjecture and the enigma of the mystery opens the mind to the world of illusion and the infinity of dreams’ (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 50).  

Nymphéas, temps gris remained in Monet’s collection until 1923 when it was acquired by the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. A year later, the pharmaceutical magnate, Henri Canonne bought this work, adding it to his large collection of Monets, which included three other closely related Nymphéas of this vertical series, two of which are now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Kuboso Memorial Museum of Art, Izumi (Wildenstein, nos. 1703, 1712-13). Just as Monet was by this time immersed in the mural-sized Grandes Décorations, so Canonne was similarly amassing for himself an ensemble of easel pictures on the same theme. He would acquire a total of fifteen Nymphéas, including the present work. Another of his Nymphéas is now housed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Wildenstein, no. 1891).
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