Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Claude Monet (1840-1926)

La Seine et les côteaux de Chantemesle

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
La Seine et les côteaux de Chantemesle
stamped with the signature 'Claude Monet' (Lugt 1819b; lower right)
oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 31 5/8 in. (54 x 80.2 cm.)
Painted in 1880
Michel Monet, Giverny.
M. Wertheimer, Paris.
Private collection, France, by whom acquired circa 1969, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 6 February 2006, lot 77.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Paris, 1974, no. 600, p. 371 (illustrated).
A. Alphant, Claude Monet: Une vie dans le paysage, Paris, 1993, p. 584.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Lausanne, 1991, no. 600, p. 231 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Capturing the calm, reflective waters of the Seine as it meanders downstream, the sweeping curve of its banks dramatically cutting through the landscape, Le Seine et les côteaux de Chantemesle offers an early glimpse into the subtle but significant shifts which occurred in Claude Monet’s approach to landscape painting during the period 1878-1881, while the artist was living in the small village of Vétheuil. It was here, inspired by the untouched beauty of the surrounding landscape and the timeless tranquillity of the medieval village, that Monet reached a crucial turning point in his art, adopting a new direction in his painting that would shape his output for the rest of his career. Leaving behind the scenes of modern life that had defined his early work, Monet embraced the landscape in its purest form, devoting himself to the study of the ephemeral and fugitive effects of light and atmosphere in this picturesque corner of the Île de France.

The artist arrived in the small, sleepy village of Vétheuil in the late summer of 1878, accompanied by his ailing wife Camille, their two young children, and his friends and former patrons, the Hoschedé family, renting a petite maison in which the two families could live together. Situated roughly fifty-five kilometres from Paris, this small hamlet remained relatively untouched by the encroaching industrialisation and modernisation that had engulfed other towns along the Seine, including the artist’s previous home of Argenteuil, which had undergone a dramatic transformation from peaceful village to bustling suburb in the six years Monet had spent there. By contrast, Vétheuil remained uncluttered by the intrusions of modernity, its medieval buildings unaltered, its way of life quiet and unhurried. It also, crucially, offered a more affordable way of living for Monet and his family, as his ever-worsening financial situation repeatedly forced him to request monetary assistance from a number of his friends and patrons. The Hoschedés found themselves in an equally precarious position, having declared bankruptcy earlier in the year, and the two families' decision to share a home was no doubt motivated by a wish to reduce expenditure. In addition to his financial woes, Monet was increasingly concerned for his wife’s health, which declined rapidly in the months following their arrival at Vétheuil. Despite the dedicated nursing of Alice Hoschedé, Camille died in September 1879, plunging Monet into a deep depression as he grieved for his wife, muse and great love.

By the following spring, the artist had begun to slowly emerge from the depths of his despair, venturing out into the landscape to paint once again, searching for new motifs and subjects to explore, as he sought to reinvigorate his art. Prior to 1880, Monet’s painting had been confined to a small area of Vétheuil and its immediate surroundings, with the artist choosing locations that were within hailing distance of home, should Camille need him urgently. In the months immediately following her death, his extreme melancholy and the harsh winter weather confined the artist to painting indoors, reworking earlier canvases, or creating intimate still-lifes from the small collection of objects that he could find around the house. It was only as the seasons began to turn, ushering in the new growth and milder temperatures of spring, that Monet returned to painting en-plein-air. He travelled further and further from home, capturing Vétheuil from the deck of his specially designed studio boat, setting up his easel in the orchards and forests of the neighbouring village of Lavacourt, and rendering the sweeping panoramas of the landscape as seen from the hills that surrounded the town. Around this time, a journalist of the esteemed Parisian publication La vie moderne visited Vétheuil to interview the artist. When asked where his studio was, Monet emphatically answered: ‘My studio! I have never had a studio, and can’t understand how one can shut oneself up in a room. To draw, yes; to paint, no… There is my studio!,’ he exclaimed, gesturing to the landscape, the river, and the town that surrounded him (Monet, quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 1996, vol. I, p. 162). Although not entirely truthful, this statement is nevertheless a testament to Monet’s renewed passion for painting outdoors during the opening months of 1880, as he once again immersed himself in the verdant landscape that surrounded him, capturing the fleeting colours and moods of the natural world.

In the present work, Monet focuses his attention on the shimmering reflections of the Seine as it passes by the tiny hamlet of Chantemesle, capturing its distinctive treeline and the rolling hills that surround it from the shores of one of the many islands that punctuate this stretch of the river. Rendered in delicate blues and greys, with subtle accents of pink, these slopes act as a visual counterpoint to the curve of the richly green bank on which the artist has positioned himself, visible in the foreground of the composition. Overhead, a series of thickly painted clouds scud across the sky, their forms defined by an array of effervescent strokes of pigment that evoke their distinctive texture and layers of colour. As with the majority of Monet’s canvases from this period, the present work shows an edited, selective view of life on the Seine. The extreme tranquillity of the scene belies the busy traffic of barges and ferries that would have operated along this stretch of the river during this period, transporting goods and people to and from Paris. By ignoring the numerous boats that would have operated along the Seine and focusing on nature alone, Monet creates an idyllic, timeless scene, and emphasises the quiet beauty of the French countryside that he found in Vétheuil.

The compositional balance, subtle colours, and effects of light that characterise Le Seine et les côteaux de Chantemesle are echoed in a closely related painting by Monet from the same year, La Seine à Vétheuil, now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Indeed, the similarities between the two are so striking that they may suggest the pair were painted on the same day, from the same location. As such, they point to a new development in Monet’s technique which was to dominate his oeuvre for the rest of his life – painting the same motif from a fixed viewpoint, under a series of different lights, atmospheric conditions and times of day. Over the course of the following decade Monet would come to master this technique, charting the subtle shifts that occurred in the character of the landscapes that surrounded him, whether bathed in blazing sunshine, tossed by a blustery breeze, cloaked in a dense blanket of fog, suffused by the soft, cold light of dawn, or transformed by the glittering bright white of a recent snowfall.

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