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


CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926)
signed and dated ‘Claude Monet 1907’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
37 x 35 1⁄4 in. (93.8 x 89.3 cm.)
Painted in 1907
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie. and Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, June 1909).
James W. Viles, Chicago (acquired from the above, October 1909).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 1910).
Arthur B. Emmons, Newport (acquired from the above, 1911); sale, American Art Association, New York, 14 January 1920, lot 38.
Scott and Fowles, New York (acquired at the above sale).
Helen Swift Neilson, Chicago (acquired from the above, 1920).
The Art Institute of Chicago (by bequest from the above, February 1946).
E. and A. Silberman Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, December 1947).
Gabriel Fodor, Geneva (acquired from the above, 1947).
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above, February 1984).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 31 May 1984.
"Revue des ventes” in Le journal des arts, 21 February 1920, p. 3.
“Mouvement des arts: Collections Emmons, Flanagan Sayles et autres à New York" in La chronique des arts et de la curiosité, 29 February 1920, no. 4, p. 32.
L. Venturi, Les archives de l’Impressionnisme, Paris, 1939, vol. I, pp. 421-425, letters 327-332.
D. Rouart, J.-D. Rey and R. Maillard, Monet: Nymphéas, ou les miroirs du temps, Paris, 1972, p. 160 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, peintures, Lausanne, 1985, vol. IV, p. 218, no. 1698 (illustrated, p. 219); pp. 376-377, letters 1885, 1887, 1888, 1890, 1891 and 1897; p. 429, doc. 213 and 217.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, supplément aux peintures, dessins, pastels, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, p. 53, no. 1698.
P. Georgel, Claude Monet nymphéas, Paris, 1999, p. 45 (illustrated in color).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. IV, p. 775, no. 1698 (illustrated in color, p. 774).
J.-D. Rey and D. Rouart, Monet Water Lilies: The Complete Series, Paris, 2008, p. 125 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Les Nymphéas: Séries de paysages d’eau par Claude Monet, May-June 1909, no. 28.
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Monet: The Late Works, May-June 2010, p. 112 (illustrated in color, p. 53).

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Lot Essay

During the final two decades of his long career, Monet devoted himself with single-minded focus to painting the hauntingly beautiful water garden that he had designed and cultivated at his home in rural Giverny. In some two hundred canvases, he captured the shifting relationships among water, reflections, and light that continually transformed the surface of his lily pond, the infinity of nature matched only by the prodigious breadth of his own creativity. “His repeated treatment of the reflective surfaces of his pond,” Benedict Leca has written, “and the kaleidoscopic color variations of its flora visible above and beneath mirrored water served as an interminable canvas, where both motif and metaphor of reflection combined directly in the service of self-definition” (Monet in Giverny: Landscapes of Reflection, exh. cat., Cincinnati Art Museum, 2012, p. 41). While these valedictory paintings affirm Monet’s life-long belief in the primacy of vision and experience, they are at once more abstract and more profound than anything he had previously painted—a prescient and visionary art for the new, modern century.
Monet had moved to Giverny with his future wife Alice Hoschedé and their combined eight children during the last days of April 1883. Situated at the confluence of the Seine and the Epte, about forty miles northwest of Paris, Giverny at the time was a tranquil farming community of just three hundred residents. Monet found a sprawling, pink stucco house to rent on two acres of land, just a few hundred meters from the Seine. When the property came up for sale in 1890, he bought it at the asking price, “certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside,” as he wrote to his dealer Durand-Ruel (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 175).
A dedicated gardener all his life, Monet’s first priority upon purchasing the estate was to replace the vegetable plots in front of the house with flower beds, sparing neither time nor expense to transform the acreage into a paradise of vivid color and heady fragrance. Three years later, he acquired an adjacent piece of land beside the river Ru and successfully applied to the local government for permission to divert the tributary and dig a pond for aquatic plants. By autumn, he had converted nearly a thousand square meters into an eastern-inspired water garden—hushed, mysterious, and contemplative—with a lily pond spanned by a wooden footbridge and encircled with an artful arrangement of flowers, bushes, and trees.
Although Monet created the water garden in part to fulfill his passion for horticulture, he also intended it as a source of artistic inspiration. In his petition to the authorities, Monet specified that the pond would serve “for the pleasure of the eyes and also for the purpose of having subjects to paint” (quoted in Claude Monet: The Late Work, exh. cat., op. cit., 2010, p. 23). That it did, ultimately surpassing the flower garden in his hierarchy of subjects. “That Monet would have preferred the water garden over the flower garden is understandable,” Paul H. Tucker has written. “It offered him the ultimate in variety: an infinite array of color; constantly changing reflections; continual tensions between surface and depth, near and far, stability and the unknown, with everything bathed in an endlessly shifting but ever-present light” (Monet in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1998, p. 41).
Monet did not begin work on his Nymphéas series immediately, though. “It took me some time to understand my water lilies,” he later recalled. “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 Claude Monet, exh. cat., Osterreichische Galerie, Vienna, 1996, p. 146).
Between 1893 and 1899, Monet made only ten images of the lily pond, possibly because he was waiting for the plantings to mature. He may also have wanted to cement his national stature by concentrating on subjects that were more distinctly French—Rouen Cathedral, the Norman coast, and the Seine—before embracing his own horticultural fantasia. After the searing and divisive events of the Dreyfus Affair, though, Monet turned away from the glories of France and sought sustenance, both aesthetic and moral, in the personal landscape of his gardens. “By tending to his own garden so meticulously and so diligently and by producing paintings of such startling beauty,” Tucker has explained, “Monet was affirming one of the most important principles of eighteenth-century thinkers, most specifically Voltaire—namely, that nature was the source of all goodness and wisdom and that each person should cultivate his own garden” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 26).
In 1899-1900, Monet painted eighteen views of the water garden, his first extended treatment of the theme (Wildenstein, nos. 1509-1520, 1628-1633). These focus on the motif of the Japanese bridge, lending the composition a stable geometric structure and traditional linear perspective. It was not until 1904, following the completion of his London series, that Monet shifted his gaze downward to the surface of the pond, yielding a radically destabilized vision of shifting, disintegrating forms. The plane of the water now tilts toward the vertical, and the world beyond exists only in mirror-image. “The reflections of the sky and the surrounding landscape, the surface of the water and plants in the depth of the pond, the reflected and the real landscape,” Karin Sagner-Düchting has written, “are combined into a new, virtual, even simultaneously expanded, landscape space that refers far beyond reality and that is complex, ambivalent, and indefinable” (Monet and Modernism, exh. cat., Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Munich, 2001, p. 68).
Having established the essential compositional scheme for his water lily series, Monet began to work with unbroken intensity. Between 1905 and 1908, he painted more than sixty Nymphéas. Within the limitations he had set for himself, he devised a dazzling array of variations, altering the arrangement of the lily blossoms, increasing or reducing the amount of reflected material, and exploring a wide range of lighting effects. “I have painted these water lilies a great deal,” he later explained. “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 coloring and distort the planes of water” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 11).
Monet painted the present Nymphéas in 1907, in the middle of this intensely creative period. After spending the winter months re-touching the previous year’s output in his studio, he was eager to return to the water garden as soon as the weather allowed. Between April and September, he was so absorbed in his work that he wrote only six letters, an uncharacteristic silence. “Here all goes well,” he finally reported to Durand-Ruel in early autumn. “I have worked, and I am still working, with passion.” Pleased with his progress, he tendered an invitation to 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, op. cit., 1996, vol. 1, p. 379).
Monet created two different sub-series of Nymphéas during 1907. The first, which includes the present canvas, was painted in the morning or early afternoon (Wildenstein, nos. 1694-1702). The pictures in this group depict lilies with wide-open blossoms floating on the surface of the water, in which unified masses of reflected foliage surround a central expanse of light. The paintings in the second set, more pronouncedly vertical in format and produced closer to sundown, are characterized by a long stream of light that traverses the full height of the canvas, slicing its way through clusters of lily pads and swirling eddies of vegetation (Wildenstein, nos. 1703-1717).
The latter paintings are dramatic in their contrasts and brooding in their mood—so much so that Durand-Ruel worried when he eventually saw them about their marketability. In the present canvas and the related Nymphéas, by contrast, Monet mitigated the value differences between the horizontally striated islands of lilies and the vertical reflections, producing an effect of integration and harmony. Conventional spatial recession, indicated by the diminishing scale of the blossoms and lily pads, is played against the flat surface of the canvas, which Monet emphasizes through his vigorous, textural brushwork. The flowers themselves are rendered with the most impasto to give them a sculptural presence, affirming their position on the top of the pond, while in the watery areas, thin layers of color are laid on top of one another to suggest the refractions of light and the changing hues in the pond’s depths.
Monet and Durand-Ruel had originally agreed on a date of 1907 for the inaugural exhibition of the Nymphéas series. The artist, though, repeatedly postponed the show, “full of fire and confidence,” he told the dealer, and determined to keep working (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 47). When the exhibition finally opened in May 1909, it was stunning success—well worth the wait. Forty-eight views of the lily pond were featured, more than Monet had ever exhibited from a single series; the present painting was no. 28 in the group. Critics marveled at how transcendent and nearly abstract the pictures appeared, even by comparison with Picasso and Braque’s latest Cubist experiments. “His vision increasingly is simplifying itself,” wrote the critic Jean Morgan, “limiting itself to the minimum of tangible realities in order to amplify, to magnify the impression of the imponderable” (Le Gaulois, 5 May 1909; quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2010, p. 29).
Monet could not have hoped for a better response. After the close of the exhibition, though, there followed nearly five years in which the artist—exhausted from the intense work leading up to the show, and then suffering from a sequence of personal tragedies—barely picked up his brushes. It was not until spring 1914 that he returned to the water garden in earnest. “I have thrown myself back into work,” he wrote to Durand-Ruel in June, “and when I do that, I do it seriously, so much so that I am getting up at four a.m. and grinding away all day long” (quoted in P.H. Tucker, op. cit., 1995, p. 204).
Although Monet completed well over a hundred new paintings of the lily pond between 1914 and his death in 1926, he kept the vast majority of these late views in his studio, neither exhibiting them nor offering them for sale. The culmination of the series was the Grandes Décorations, twenty-two mural-sized canvases totaling more than ninety meters in length, which Monet completed just months before his passing and donated to the French State. The Musée de l’Orangerie, newly remodeled to house this magnificent bequest, opened to great fanfare the following year.

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