CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)

Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé

CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé
signed and dated ‘Claude Monet 1903’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
25 3/4 x 39 1/2 in. (65.4 x 100 cm.)
Painted in 1899-1903
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, June 1904).
Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above, 7 November 1904).
Anton Mayer, Berlin and Weimar (acquired from the above, 7 November 1904, until at least 1916). Paul and Gabrielle Oppenheim-Errera, Brussels and Princeton (1916); Estate sale, Christie’s, New York, 11 November 1997, lot 107.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
R. de Bettex, "Echos de partout: Claude Monet" in La République française, 10 May 1904, p. 1.
R.M. Ferry, "Notes d'art: La Tamise par M. Claude Monet" in La Liberté, 18 May 1904, p. 3.
G. Kahn, "L'exposition Claude Monet" in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1 July 1904, vol. 31, no. 565, pp. 82-88 (illustrated).
G. Denoinville, Sensations d'art, Paris, 1906, p. 135.
L. Venturi, Les archives de l'Impressionnisme, Paris, 1939, vol. I, pp. 393-394.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1979, vol. IV, p. 182, no. 1591 (illustrated, p. 183); p. 365, lettres 1723-1724 and p. 427, pièces justificatives 169-170.
P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 173.
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. III, p. 697, no. 1591 (illustrated in color).
H. von Bernard Echte and W. Feilchenfeldt, Kunstsalon Paul Cassirer: Die Ausstellungen 1901-1905, Zurich, 2011, p. 551 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Monet, May-June 1904, no. 23.
Berlin, Galerie Paul Cassirer, Monet, September 1904, no. 7.
Princeton University Art Museum, April 1989-September 1997 (on extended loan).
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Lot Essay

In 1899, Claude Monet began work on what would become the largest body of paintings he had yet produced. The artist had arrived in London on 15 September of this year, accompanied by his wife, Alice, and step-daughter, Germaine Hoschedé. The purpose of this trip was for the family to visit Michel Monet, the son of the artist, who was staying in the capital at the time to improve his English. Monet, however, had long been contemplating a painting campaign in the city, and, though this trip was purportedly a holiday, he had brought his paint supplies with him.
Staying on the sixth floor of the fashionable Savoy Hotel, which stood on the banks of the Thames, between Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge with views of the Houses of Parliament beyond, Monet was instantly inspired. What was initially supposed to be a month long holiday became a six week trip. Leaving his family to sightsee together by day, he converted one of the rooms of their suite into a studio and commenced the great series of works known as the Vues de Londres. From his hotel window, the heart of London stretched before him, the sky frequently filled with the capital’s notorious fog, or by contrast, bathed in the soft autumnal light.
Monet made two subsequent trips back to England’s capital, in the springs of 1900 and 1901. Over the course of this sustained project, he painted almost a hundred views of the city, the majority of which featured three principal motifs: Waterloo Bridge, Charing Cross Bridge, and the Houses of Parliament. For the first two subjects, the artist painted from his hotel room; for the third, he stood outside St. Thomas’s Hospital, on the opposite bank of the river, and captured the iconic British landmark with the sun setting behind.
Rendered with a richly worked, multi-layered and multi-hued haze of delicate lilac, blue and violet tones, Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé captures the river in the afternoon, as the westerly moving sun penetrated the dense atmosphere that had built up over the course of the day to gently light up the wide arches of the bridge. Sky, land and water are painted with the same palette, as Monet transformed the bustling urban cityscape into a delicate harmony of color and light. Specific anecdotal detail has been softened, immersed in the evanescent haze of smoke and fog that Monet loved so much. While a single boat moves silently across the still waters, the reflections of its red sails cascading down the river in bold strokes, a cavalcade of carriages and cars cross the bridge in a glittering procession, their lights gleaming amid the soft blue and lilac world that Monet has conjured.
It was to this scene—Waterloo Bridge with the smoke stacks and factory chimneys of the south bank rising magisterially beyond—that Monet returned most frequently. This series stands as the largest group within the Vues de Londres, numbering a total of forty-one works (Wildenstein, nos. 1555-1595). Over half of these canvases are now housed in major museums. Monet chose the present Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé to feature in his critically acclaimed 1904 exhibition, Claude Monet: Vues de la Tamise à Londres at the Galerie Durand-Ruel.
Monet captured his view of Waterloo Bridge in a remarkably varied number of ways. Some were painted in the morning, when the sun was rising to the east, behind the bridge, sometimes shining through its arches, while the canvases from later in the day, such as the present work, show the sun illuminating the columns that ornamented the bridge. While all have subtly shifting palettes, ranging from luminous blue and violet, to soft green, or more naturalistically-toned, the compositional structure also changes. In some works, the horizon line is very high, removing the far bank of the river entirely to make the expansive waters the primary focus; in others, more factories are present beyond as he played with the angle of the diagonal sweep of the bridge, depending on the overall atmospheric effect with which he was trying to engage.
Monet reveled in two central aspects: the rippling water and its reflections, and the multi-hued sky above, two of the most ephemeral, elusive elements of a landscape. “For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right,” he once stated, “since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life, the air and the light, which vary continually… For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere that gives subjects their true value” (quoted in J. House, Monet’s London: Artists’ Reflections on the Thames, Ghent, 2005, p. 33). This concept is embodied in Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé. Here, the scene takes on a mystical quality, the physical components—the bridge, factories, omnibuses and carriages—of this misty view dematerialized into a symphony of color, the industrial din and sense of movement muffled by the sense of all-encompassing silence and stillness that pervades.
Waterloo Bridge itself was a relatively new feature on London’s central waterway. Designed by John Rennie, it had opened in 1817, at first requiring tolls to cross from bank to bank, though these were scrapped not long after. The bridge formed—as it continues to do today—an important part of the infrastructure of the city, leading, in Monet’s time, to the wharfs and factories that stood on the south bank. Formed of nine arches flanked by Doric columns, topped by an entablature and cornice, the bridge became a beloved landmark. The sculptor Antonio Canova remarked upon visiting London that this was “the noblest bridge in the world,” “alone worth coming from Rome to London to see” (quoted in G. Seiberling, Monet in London, exh. cat., High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 1988, p. 49). The bridge as Monet painted it no longer exists today. In 1934, it was destroyed due to poor traffic flow and unstable foundations. As a result, Monet’s extensive visions of this architectural feature now stand as important records of a part of London that has long disappeared.
Much of Monet’s correspondence home spoke of London’s capricious weather. “I can’t tell you about this fantastic day,” he wrote to Alice. “What marvelous things, but only lasting five minutes, it’s enough to drive you crazy. No, there’s no land more extraordinary for a painter” (quoted in D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1985, vol. IV, letter 1593). As Monet quickly discovered, the sun could shine at one moment, transforming the Thames into a spectacle of sparkling gold reflections, before minutes later disappearing behind thick cloud or blocked out entirely as the infamous fogs descended. Monet even witnessed the city covered in snow.
It was however, to the fast metropolizing Victorian city’s notorious fog that he was most drawn. As he famously declared, “What I like most of all in London is the fog. Without the fog, London would not be a beautiful city. It’s the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth. Those massive, regular blocks become grandiose within that mysterious cloak” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 55). Monet was not the first artist to attempt to render that which Londoners regarded as a wholly troublesome, dirty and unpleasant meteorological effect. James McNeill Whistler’s depictions of the Thames in the early 1870s had transformed the sometimes impenetrable smoke and fog into symphonic arrangements of color. Oscar Wilde noted in The Decay of Lying, “To whom, if not to [Whistler], do we owe these lovely silver mists that brood over our river and turn to faint forms of fading grace… At present, people see fogs not because there are fogs but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects. There may have been fogs for centuries in London—I daresay there were—but no one saw them, and so we don’t know anything about them. They didn’t exist until art had invented them” (quoted in Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile, 1870-1904, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2017, p. 228).
Whistler himself, in his famous “Ten o’Clock” lecture of 1885 had described, “And when the evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry, as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky, and the tall chimneys become campanili…and the whole city hangs in the heavens and fairyland is before us…”(quoted in ibid., p. 228)—strangely prescient words that could just as easily be applied to Monet’s own depictions of the capital, including Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé.
Monet was keenly aware of Whistler’s contributions to the contemporary depiction of London. The pair were close acquaintances and Monet had described the artist successfully capturing “that mysterious cloak” of London fog, which made “those regular, massive blocks [of the city] grandiose” (quoted in P. Tucker, Monet in the '90s: The Series Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989, p. 266). It was, Paul Tucker has written, “his uncanny power to evoke the mystery of early evening light on the Thames in his numerous Nocturnes, which Monet surely thought of when he began his own London series” (ibid., p. 266).
Entering into this artistic lineage also meant confronting the art of British master, J.M.W. Turner. It would have been impossible for an artist—especially one so concerned with atmospheric effects of light and color—not to have masterpieces such as Rain, Steam, and Speed—The Great Western Railway (1844, National Gallery, London) or The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834 (1834-1835, Philadelphia Museum), in mind when beginning a series based in the city, and especially around the Thames. “Few landscape painters in the history of art had been as inventive or as passionate, or had captured nature’s elusive ways with as much power and poetry… Turner, therefore, was a soulmate, a guide, and a special challenge for Monet. If one were going to be a truly great landscape painter, this was necessary business to settle” (ibid., p. 267). Turning sixty in 1900, Monet was at this time keenly aware of his own legacy and was engaged in a nostalgic revisiting of some of his earlier motifs. His monumental London series now stands among the greatest depictions of the city, his name firmly integrated within the great canon of artists who have distilled the appearance and atmosphere of the British capital.
For Monet, an artist who had for years honed his ability to capture fleeting, ephemeral atmospheric effects, London’s distinctive and unpredictable climate presented the ultimate challenge, testing the limits of the Impressionist tenets he had founded some decades prior. Given the fast changing weather, Monet worked on multiple canvases at a time, each one capturing a different effet, as he moved from painting to painting to depict the spectacular cityscape that unfolded and altered before his eyes.
On 1 March 1900, he wrote that he was at work on forty-four canvases at once (D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1985, letter 1521); eighteen days later, “something like sixty-five paintings covered with colors” (ibid., letter 1532). At the end of the month, he said he would be returning to Giverny with a total of eighty paintings (ibid., letter 1543). This ambitious, complex working process was witnessed first-hand by John Singer Sargent who, upon visiting Monet at the Savoy, was surprised to find him desperately searching through a stack of more than eighty canvases as he sought to find the one that most closely aligned to the current conditions (P.H. Tucker, Monet in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2000, p. 27). “Today was a day of terrible struggle,” he wrote dejectedly to Alice in March 1900, “and it will be the same until the day I leave. Only I needed more canvases, for the only way of achieving something is to start new ones for all kinds of weather, all kinds of harmonies, it is the real way, and, at the beginning, one always expects to find the same effects again and finish them, hence these unfortunate alterations which are useless” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2017, p. 232).
After three great campaigns in London over a period of three years, Monet decided that he would finish many of his paintings in his Giverny studio. By this time he had decided to work on the canvases as a single unified whole, each painting existing in harmony with the others—a truly radical endeavor. “I'm not in London unless in thought, working steadily on my canvases,” he wrote to Durand-Ruel, who was eagerly awaiting the results of Monet’s project, “I cannot send you a single canvas… because, for the work I am doing, it is indispensable to have all of them before my eyes” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 80).
Monet chose the finest thirty-seven of the London canvases to show at Durand-Ruel's gallery in May 1904, eighteen of which were Waterloo Bridge canvases, including the present work. The exhibition was a resounding critical and financial success and firmly established Monet as among the greatest living artists, his renown spreading across Europe and beyond. Marc Joël of La Petite Loire called the show, “ of the most beautiful demonstrations of pure art,” while Georges Lecomte believed that Monet had never “attained such a vaporous subtlety, such power of abstraction and synthesis” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1989, p. 267).
Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé was acquired from Durand-Ruel by the German dealer, Paul Cassirer, who included it in his exhibition of the artist later that year. He sold the painting to Ulrich Boschwitz, a German writer. It has remained in the same collection for over two decades.

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