Painted in 1883, Le chemin de halage à Granval is one of the earliest pictures that Claude Monet made after moving to his now legendary home at Giverny. This picture has a distinguished history: it was owned by Jean d'Alayer, the husband of Marie-Louise Durand-Ruel. The daughter of Joseph Durand-Ruel, Marie-Louise and her husband owned a formidable range of Monet's works. The picture subsequently went to the United States. This picture featured in several exhibitions during Monet's own lifetime, and in 1904 it was shown in the Palace of Fine Arts which had been erected for the Saint Louis World Fair; that building is now the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Le chemin de halage à Granval is the only picture that Monet made showing this view, facing up-stream from the tow-path of the title towards the islands of Port-Villez. It has been pointed out that Monet would have had to cross the Seine to reach this spot (D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Vol. II, Cologne, 1996, p. 313; the catalogue raisonné also points out that what Monet referred to as 'Granval' is in fact Le Grand Val). This picture and the other works that Monet created during this period reveal Monet's great enthusiasm for the landscape surrounding his new home at Giverny, near Vernon.
It was shortly after Monet's trip to Etretat early in 1883 that he returned to his home at Poissy, where he had been based for two years since moving away from Vétheuil, and made the decision to move. Monet had been unhappy at Poissy, as had Alice Hoschedé. Now, determined again to find a home and motifs, he set out on a search. According to the memoirs of his stepson, Jean-Pierre Hoschedé, Monet set out both by train, looking for suitable villages by travelling along the route between Gisors and Vernon, and by foot by following the banks of the Seine (J.-P. Hoschedé, Claude Monet, ce mal connu, Vol. I, Geneva, 1960, pp. 20 & 24). Clearly, Monet was already attracted to the area where he would set up his home for the rest of his life and near where he would soon paint Le chemin de halage à Granval.
It appears to have been during his walks along the bank that Monet first discovered the lush, green area surrounding the house called at that time Le Pressoir which would come to be his home and which remains a monument to his endeavours there. Within a short time, Monet had moved, as is clear from his correspondence. In April 1883, he would write to Paul Durand-Ruel discussing the move, explaining that he was leaving for Giverny but that at that stage Alice would remain in Poissy. In June, he was still making arrangements to his new domain so that he could begin work, explaining:
'I had to have a shed made on the bank of the Seine to shelter my boats and store my easels and canvases. The work is done... As soon as I have something worthy I'll send it to you. Now at last I'll be able to concentrate on my painting, as I was very put out with organising my boats: as the Seine is not very close to the house they had to be made secure, then the garden took up some of my time as I want to have some flowers to paint when the weather's bad' (Monet, 5 June 1883, quoted in R. Kendall (ed.), Monet by himself: Paintings, drawings, pastels, letters, London, 1989, pp. 106-07).
It was doubtless one of these boats that Monet used to gain his vantage point on the other side of the river to paint Le chemin de halage à Granval.
Having discussed his shed and his garden, Monet then went on to promise: 'Now all this is done, I won't lay aside my glasses any more and I'll provide you with some things to please you' (Monet, quoted in ibid., p. 107). Initially plagued with bad weather, the first pictures upon which Monet worked appear to have been earlier works such as those from Etretat which still required some finishing touches. Soon, though, he was able to explore and paint the area surrounding his new home, showing in particular views of the stretches of the Seine in his vicinity, as in Le chemin de halage à Granval. In many of these, he introduced a vivid sense of the fleeting moment that was made all the more potent by the exclusion of almost all man-made features or signs of modernity. In Le chemin de halage à Granval, the incredible atmosphere of stillness and timelessness is deliberately punctuated by the presence of the boat in the background, which in fact reinforces the idea that this picture shows a fleeting moment, giving a vivid sense of time passing while also leading the eye into the composition and lending a sense of scale to this sweeping vista.
Monet was clearly pleased with the works that he completed in his new environs in the latter part of 1883. It appears that, as was the case with the works he had painted at Etretat at the beginning of 1883, Monet put the finishing touches to these pictures in his studio, having begun them en plein air. This was a system that would set the way for Monet's artistic process when he would later begin his celebrated Nymphéas at Giverny, once he had purchased the property rather than leasing it, as was the case for almost a decade there, from Louis-Joseph Singeot, a local property owner (see D. Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 1996, p. 191). At the beginning of the following year that Monet wrote to his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, whose eldest son was Marie-Louise d'Alayer's father, saying that he had hardly had time to work due to repeat journeys to Paris, and referred to an outstanding payment on a number of pictures that included Le chemin de halage à Granval, implying that the picture had already been sent, alongside several showing Pourville, Varengeville and Etretat, before then; doubtless he hoped to have the funds ready in advance of the journey that he would shortly make to Bordighera (see L. Venturi, Les archives de l'Impressionisme, Vol. I, Paris & New York, 1939, pp. 268-69 for the correspondence).