Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
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Claude Monet (1840-1926)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Cox Collection: The Story of Impressionism
CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)

Nymphéas (fragment)

CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
Nymphéas (fragment)
stamped with signature 'Claude Monet' (Lugt 1819b; lower left)
oil on canvas
24 x 10 in. (60.8 x 25.3 cm.)
Painted circa 1912
André Barbier, Paris (gift from the artist).
Daniel Wildenstein, Paris (1980).
Gift from the above to the late owner, May 1982.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Supplément aux peintures, dessins, pastels, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, p. 180 (illustrated).
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. Where Christie's has provided a Minimum Price Guarantee it is at risk of making a loss, which can be significant, if the lot fails to sell. Christie's therefore sometimes chooses to share that risk with a third party. In such cases the third party agrees prior to the auction to place an irrevocable written bid on the lot. The third party is therefore committed to bidding on the lot and, even if there are no other bids, buying the lot at the level of the written bid unless there are any higher bids. In doing so, the third party takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. The third party will be remunerated in exchange for accepting this risk based on a fixed fee if the third party is the successful bidder or on the final hammer price in the event that the third party is not the successful bidder. The third party may also bid for the lot above the written bid. Where it does so, and is the successful bidder, the fixed fee for taking on the guarantee risk may be netted against the final purchase price.

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Lot Essay

Claude Monet’s Nymphéas (fragment) encapsulates the artist’s endless pursuit to capture the ephemerality of nature with paint on canvas. Painted circa 1912, the present work shows the water lilies in bloom as they drift across the pond, a still glass that reflects the cloudy sky and the heavy, decorated branches of the artist’s beloved wisteria vines above. Monet first painted the Nymphéas in 1897 and the motif occupied the artist until his death in 1926; hundreds of canvases illustrate the pond and surrounding gardens. As the series progressed, Monet’s art underwent a shift from his earlier, more precise impressionistic landscapes to increasingly indulgent and vibrant waterscapes that border on abstraction. Monet wrote to the critic Gustave Geffroy in 1912, “I know only that I do what I can to render what I feel in the face of nature and that, more often than not, in order to arrive at what I sense, I completely forget the most elementary rules of painting—if they exist, that is” (quoted in G.T.M. Shackelford, Monet: the Late Years, exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, 2019, p. 123).
The genesis of the Nymphéas began in 1883 when Monet rented a house at Giverny. When presented with the opportunity in 1890, he enthusiastically purchased the house and grounds, writing to his dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel that 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). Over the ensuing decades, Monet dedicated himself to improving this Eden, building a greenhouse and a light-filled painting studio, replacing the vegetable gardens with flower beds, and gradually but significantly increasing the size of the famous pond. The purchase of the house and various improvements were made possible by a change in fortune for the artist, as Durand-Ruel increasingly found success in sales of the painter’s work. Yet Monet did not turn to his garden as a subject until the late 1890s, when he first dedicated a series to the iconic Japanese Bridge. From 1899 to 1901, the artist intermittently travelled to London, where he painted views of the Houses of Parliament, and the Waterloo and Charing Cross Bridges. Upon returning to France, the pond and gardens became the artist’s singular subject, aside from the views of Venice that Monet painted during his final trip abroad in 1908.
The Nymphéas provided a fitting foil for the painter. In 1889, Geffroy had prophetically written that “if Monet were forced to stay in one place, in front of one motif for the rest of his life, he would not waste a moment; he would find a different aspect to paint every minute of every hour of every day” (quoted in Monet in the 90s: the Series Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989, p. 25). Indeed, while Monet conceived of these works separately, and across decades, they uncover an extraordinary obsession. Early views of the pond preserve moments in the day, clouds passing overhead, and glorious, fresh, purple blooms; later works fully immerse the viewer in the setting and expand before them, while still containing the former elements. The present work is one that possibly served as a study for Monet’s most ambitious project, the Grandes Décorations, a series of panoramic, monumental canvases willed to the French State (Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris). Although it predated this final project, the title of Monet’s 1908 exhibition, Nymphéas: Series de paysages deau, acknowledged the overwhelming presence of the water. In his review of that exhibition, the critic Roger Marx wrote, “No more earth, no more sky, no limits now; the dormant and fertile waters completely cover the field of the canvas; light overflows” (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Monet in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, p. 50). The rare vertical format of the present work heightens this disarming and sublime effect—a slice of water, absent any orienting horizon, and yet one that manages to stretch from the blooming wisteria to the nymphéas pads, both juxtaposed against the glorious reflection of the sky above. The result is pure celebration of the immersive power of color and nature.
Despite their overwhelming popularity in the present day, the late Nymphéas fell into obscurity after Monet’s death. Although the Grandes Décorations were installed at the Musée de l'Orangerie the next year, smaller scale works remained unsold in Monet’s studio, staying within the artist’s family for decades. Budding interest in the late works emerged in 1949 when some were included in an Impressionist exhibition at the Kunsthalle, Basel; however, their popularity exploded in the 1950s. Perhaps the singular event most precipitating this onset of interest was Alfred Barr’s acquisition of a mural-sized work for The Museum of Modern Art in the spring of 1955. Thereafter, the late works proved especially desirable to American collectors, including David and Peggy Rockefeller who acquired three for their collection. Meanwhile, the waterscapes found a distinct resonance with American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s. The curator Thomas Hess’ characterization of Monet’s late works as “a web of hues… the handwriting loops and swirls, pushes down aggressive oblique hatchings” simultaneously could describe one of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings (quoted in ibid., p. 104). Whether Monet’s late work indeed influenced the Abstract Expressionists, or if instead those artists enabled art critics to finally find the language to contextualize Monet’s final masterpieces remains an enduring mystery.

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