Claude Monet (1840-1926)
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THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE SCOTTISH COLLECTOR MAJOR HERBERT DUNSMUIR: COLLECTING IMPRESSIONISM IN SCOTLAND Born in 1889 in a vast Scottish baronial mansion in the leafy Glasgow suburb of Pollockshields, Herbert Dunsmuir was the son of a brilliant sea captain and engineer, Hugh Dunsmuir, who had built up one of the most successful marine engine works on the Clyde. Educated at the fashionable Glenalmond School in Perthshire, Dunsmuir served in the machine gun corps in World War One, being posted to the Middle East where in fighting against the Ottoman forces he had his horse shot from under him. Returning to Scotland after the war, Dunsmuir with his brothers sold the shipping business at the height of the post-war boom and retired to the county of Ayrshire in south west Scotland, having married Aileen Boyd-Auld from an established county family with strong artistic interests, who lived in an arts and crafts house in the exclusive seaside resort of Troon. Dunsmuir’s collecting dates from 1920 when, aged 31, he succumbed to the fashion for buying etchings by the leading topographical artists of the day, many of them Scots. Not only did this demanding genre train his eye but it also introduced him to a group of Glasgow art dealers, who in terms of the avant-garde, were way ahead of their English counterparts. The leader of the pack was Alexander Reid, who as a young man in Paris in the 1880s had worked with Theo van Gogh, younger brother of Vincent, in the modern painting section at the Parisian dealer, Boussod & Valadon, showing work by the likes of Degas, Gauguin and the leading Impressionists. Reid’s friendship with Van Gogh led to his sharing an apartment with him and his brother Vincent, sparking a short but intense friendship with the unknown artist who painted two portraits of the young Scottish dealer, one of which now hangs in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Returning to Glasgow by 1889, Reid pioneered the sale of radical French painters at his newly established gallery, La Société des Beaux Arts, exhibiting work by Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Monet and their contemporaries, as well as the more established Barbizon and Hague schools. His market was a small group of intensely competitive and outward looking Scottish collectors who had made their fortunes in the boom years of the industrial revolution. The shipper, Sir William Burrell, was his most important client, whose eponymous collection, now owned by the City of Glasgow, represents the acme of Scottish connoisseurship and taste of this period. Although initially concentrating on etchings, Dunsmuir dipped his toe in the water with the acquisition of paintings by The Hague school and, closer to home, by the Glasgow Boys, who had made their name in the 1880s as cutting edge realist painters in the French manner. These purchases, which in the case of The Hague school were soon traded in, were made from leading Glasgow dealers in etchings, W.B Simpson and James Connell & Sons, but Dunsmuir soon found his way to the door of La Société des Beaux Arts where he swiftly fell under the spell of the Reids pére et fils. In 1926 and 1927, he bought works by the leaders of the Scottish Colourist movement, S. J. Peploe and J. D. Fergusson, two of the most radical painters in twentieth century British art, who had allied themselves with the Fauves in Paris before the first world war. Alexander Reid had been one of the first to recognize the importance of this revolutionary group of Franco-Scottish painters and his son went on to stage their first group show in 1924 in Paris. Thanks to the Reids, Dunsmuir became a lifelong enthusiast for Scottish post-impressionism, which explains the lack of French examples in his collection (apart from a work by Raoul Dufy, which had been bought on holiday in Cannes). The recession-hit 1930s saw the closure of the Reids’ gallery in Glasgow. However, their London branch, established in 1926 as Alexander Reid & Lefevre continued to flourish. The move south signalled the arrival of a dynamic young dealer on the Scottish scene called Ian MacNicol, whose acute eye for a stand-out painting had been informed and sharpened by the taste of Alexander Reid. Fortuitously for Dunsmuir, MacNicol first set up shop in the industrial Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock, where Dunsmuir bought his first Boudin in 1935 - and in the following year two equestrian works by A. J. Munnings – another artist who was to remain an enduring passion. Dunsmuir’s wider ambition as a collector of Impressionists first surfaced in the 1930s with his purchase from the Mayfair dealer Arthur Tooth & Sons of Camille Pissarro’s Maison du Père Gallien à Pontoise, 1866 (now in the Ipswich Art Gallery), which was one of a handful of early works to have survived the 1870 burning of the artist’s canvasses by Prussian occupying troops. This set the benchmark for his collecting which gathered pace through the 1940s reaching its peak in the 1950s. While confining most of his buying in Scotland to Ian MacNicol, he used a spread of London dealers to build up a collection along the lines promoted by Alexander Reid to the first generation of Glasgwegian collectors in the 1880s. His buying included a grounding of Barbizon paintings by Daubigny, Harpignies and Corot; a handful of petit maîtres in Lepine and Guillaumin; examples of French Realism in Courbet and Diaz; a representative range of Impressionists focussing on Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, Boudin and Fantin Latour, along with an outlier in Utrillo; and, as the pièce de resistance, Monet’s Prairie à Giverny. The latter was acquired in 1951 for £1850 from one of his most favoured dealers, Dudley Tooth, with Dunsmuir trading in a Jongkind in part payment. On the same spree, he acquired a still-life by Fantin-Latour. With this deal, Dunsmuir acquired the outstanding painting in his already rich collection of French art. A precursor to two of the most important series of Monet’s career, Prairie à Giverny occupied a seminal place within the artist’s oeuvre, a position cemented by the fact that the painting remained in Monet’s personal collection until 1900 when acquired by the Galerie Durand-Ruel, the artist’s long-term dealers, with whom it stayed for over half a century. Dunsmuir was the first private collector to own the work and it has remained in his family ever since, despite his wider collection having been dispersed, not least by Dunsmuir himself who could not resist refining his collection. As such, Dunsmuir’s Monet represents one of the last great testaments of Scottish taste from a golden age of Scottish collecting to have remained in private hands.
Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Prairie à Giverny

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Prairie à Giverny
signed 'Claude Monet' (lower left)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 32 in. (65.2 x 81.1 cm.)
Painted in 1885
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist on 23 April 1900.
Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., London (no. 2540), by whom acquired from the above on 15 February 1951.
Major H. J. Dunsmuir, Ayrshire, by whom acquired from the above on 8 March 1951, and thence by descent to the present owner.
L. Venturi, Les archives de l’impressionnisme, vol. I, New York & Paris, 1939, letter no. 250, p. 376 (as '1 toile prairie à Giverny').
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. II, 1882-1886, Lausanne & Paris, 1979, no. 992, p. 162 (illustrated p. 163).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. III, Cologne & Lausanne, 1996, no. 992, p. 372 (illustrated).
Lyon, Musée de Lyon, Salon du Sud-Est, June 1925, no. 1 (illustrated n.p.).
Paris, Galeries Durand-Ruel, Tableaux par Claude Monet, January 1928, no. 79, n.p. (dated '1883').
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, Claude Monet: an exhibition of paintings, August - September 1957, no. 75, p. 53 (illustrated pl. 21b; dated '1884' and titled 'A Field Near Giverny'); this exhibition later travelled to London, Tate Gallery, September - November 1957.
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery, on extended loan (April 1992 - October 2017).
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, American Impressionism: A New Vision, 1880-1900, July - October 2014, p. 72 (illustrated).

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

‘To perceive M. Monet’s paintings correctly and appreciate their exceptional qualities, one has to go beyond the first impression…; soon the eye grows accustomed and the intellect is awakened; the magic does its work.’ (Alfred de Lostalot, writing in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, April 1883; quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet and the Triumph of Impressionism, p. 188).

‘I am still an Impressionist and will always remain one.’ (Claude Monet, quoted in P. Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 127).

‘The further I go, the better I see that it takes a great deal of work to succeed in rendering what I want to render: instantaneity, above all the enveloppe, the same light diffused over everything.’ (Monet, quoted in J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 198).

Painted in the summer of 1885, Prairie à Giverny emerged during a pivotal moment in Claude Monet’s artistic career, as he sought to champion the aesthetic and artistic potentials of the Impressionist style, defining and consolidating its boundaries at a time when the movement was facing challenges on numerous fronts. Following his return from a three-month painting campaign on the Italian Riviera in the spring of 1884, Monet spent much of the following two years devoted to painting en plein air in the countryside around his new home at Giverny, producing an astonishingly rich and varied group of artworks which revel in the myriad of picturesque vistas that he discovered there. Celebrating the beauty and allure of the fleeting play of light and changing atmosphere on the verdant landscape during different seasons, weather conditions and times of day, each of these compositions clearly illustrates Monet’s unwavering confidence in the techniques and principles of Impressionism. Filled with a vivid sense of movement and energy, Prairie à Giverny demonstrates the artist’s exceptional painterly skills, as he plays with broken brushwork and compositional effects, juxtaposing delicate painting of the sky against the thick, colourful mass of brushstrokes that fill the green expanse of foliage in the foreground, to create a vibrant, dynamic vision of the Giverny landscape.

In search of a permanent base which he could finally call home after years of upheaval, Monet had moved his family to Giverny in the spring of 1883. Situated some forty miles from Paris, at the confluence of the Seine and the river Epte, Giverny at this time was a small farming community of just three hundred inhabitants, a countryside enclave which remained untouched by the encroaching modernisation which had dramatically altered scores of villages and hamlets along the Seine in recent years. Here, Monet found the tranquil retreat he had been searching for, renting a sprawling, pink stucco house called La Pressoir (The Cider Press) from a wealthy local landowner who had recently retired to nearby Vernon. Sandwiched between the main village road and the regional thoroughfare connecting Vernon and Gasny, the house boasted a kitchen garden and orchard in front and a barn to the west that Monet soon converted into a studio. Originally attracted by the blossoming fruit trees surrounding the house, the artist set about improving the garden almost immediately after he moved in, planting new additions so that ‘there would be flowers to paint on rainy days’ (Monet, quoted in Monet’s Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, exh. cat., New York & St. Louis, 1978, p. 18).

The artist was immediately captivated by the landscape around Giverny. ‘Once settled, I hope to produce masterpieces,’ he wrote to Durand-Ruel within days of his arrival, ‘because I like the countryside very much’ (Monet, quoted in ibid, pp. 15-16). Nearly a decade later, his enthusiasm remained unwavering, proclaiming that he was ‘certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside’ (Monet, quoted in P. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 175). Throughout his first years at Giverny, Monet tirelessly explored the idyllic vistas of the surrounding terrain, setting out each morning with his canvases, walking over hills and through valleys, in marshes and meadows, among streams and poplars, constantly searching for fresh subjects to inspire him. Compositions focusing on the meandering flow and verdant banks of the Seine and the river Epte were interspersed by views of the winding country roads, orchards and poppy fields surrounding the house. The journalist Georges Jeanniot, who accompanied Monet on a painting excursion in the countryside a few years later, recalled the artist’s ability to find novel vantage points and unusual perspectives during his jaunts through the landscape: ‘He would stop before the most dissimilar scenes, admiring each and making me aware of how splendid and unexpected nature is’ (Jeanniot, quoted in op. cit., p. 21).

Perhaps the most frequent motif that Monet explored during this period was the ever changing character of the verdant meadow known as La Prairie. Situated not far from the house at La Pressoir, this rich expanse of pasture was separated from the property by the small brook which would later feed the artist’s celebrated water-lily pond. Monet had first discovered this alluring spot during the summer of 1884, painting a trio of views of the fresh mounds of hay which had been gathered and built in the field, looking north towards a row of poplars that bordered the meadow, with the hills overlooking Giverny just visible in the distance. In each of these compositions, the iconic profiles of the haystacks dominate the landscape, the cut and dried grass piled into loose bundles, stray leaves tumbling free from the stack. Over the course of the following two years, Monet dedicated himself to depicting the site from multiple different viewpoints and in a myriad of atmospheric conditions, creating compositions which have been described by scholars as exemplifying the ‘broken brushwork, luminosity and prismatic colour that one associates with ’high’ impressionism…’ (F. Fowle, Van Gogh’s Twin: The Scottish Art Dealer Alexander Reid 1854-1928, Edinburgh, 2010, p. 131). As such, these early views of the Prairie can be seen as important and direct precursors to the artist’s seminal suite of works known as les meules (1890-1891), which depict the grainstacks that filled the landscape surrounding Giverny during the autumn and winter months, and stand amongst the very first examples of Monet’s practice of working in series, a technique that would dominate his oeuvre for the final four decades of his life.

The presence of the poplars in the middle ground of the painting, meanwhile, anticipates another of Monet’s suite of serial paintings during the early 1890s, Les peupliers. These compositions, begun in the spring of 1891, focus on the slender, towering profiles of a cluster of poplar trees planted along the banks of the River Epte, just a short distance from the scene depicted in the present composition. Although the poplars remain in the distance in Prairie à Giverny, they nevertheless dominate the horizon line, the regular rhythm of their forms granting them a distinctive presence within the scene. Poplars were a common feature of the French countryside during the nineteenth century, often placed alongside rural roads as windshields for tilled fields, used as a form of fencing to demarcate property boundaries, and planted along river banks as protection against flooding, as their trunks could quickly absorb large amounts of water. Spaced at regular intervals to maximise their growth, their trunks trimmed to eliminate branches, these trees became emblems within the countryside, symbols of the stability, beauty and fecundity of rural France. The poplars became a particularly important motif for the artist following his move to Giverny, and the present composition is amongst the first of Monet’s paintings in which the iconic trees occupy such a central position within the scene.

When Monet returned to La Prairie in 1885 to paint the present work, the lower branches of the poplars, closely pruned the year before, had grown full and leafy once again, while the rich field of grass had reached the height of its summer growth, their tall green stalks bobbing under the weight of pale summer blooms. Positioning himself in almost exactly the same spot as the previous year, Monet set about capturing the richness of the meadow in the weeks immediately preceding the annual harvest, using a palette of richly variegated greens, golds and white, to depict the thick fronds of grass that populated the field. The broad expanse of the meadow, which fills the lower half of the composition in Prairie à Giverny, is rendered in a mosaic of thickly impastoed, richly coloured strokes of paint, their forms woven together to capture the texture and movement of the tall, waving stalks of grass. The short, diagonal brushstrokes the artist uses in the foreground are echoed in the forms of the poplars that line the edge of the field, creating the impression that a gentle breeze has swept through the scene, causing the foliage to dance and the trees to bow before the painter. There is a distinct sense of rapidity and spontaneity in Monet’s technique, the staccato, comma-like brushstrokes granting an impression of the speed with which he sought to capture the ephemeral scene before it shifted and altered once again.

With its exquisitely nuanced description of the fleeting effects of light, Prairie à Giverny forcefully asserts Impressionism’s continued strength and vitality, at a time when many of the movement’s pioneering members were abandoning the cause. Alongside a series of internal conflicts and rifts, in 1884 Georges Seurat stunned the art world by exhibiting his monumental work Bathers at Asnières at the inaugural Salon des Artistes Indépendants. A veritable manifesto for the artist’s pioneering Neo-Impressionist technique known as Pointillism, this work championed structure and science over fleeting impressions and spontaneity, its surface of tiny, independent touches of paint heralding the arrival of a new avant-garde idiom that offered a direct challenge to the artistic vocabulary of the Impressionists. While Pissarro was soon swayed by Seurat’s radical new style, Monet remained strictly dedicated to the cause of Impressionism, declaring: ‘I am still an Impressionist and will always remain one’ (Claude Monet, quoted in Tucker, op. cit., p. 127). He resolutely focused his paintings on the description of natural phenomena, painting directly in front of the motif en plein air, and using the fragmented, gestural brushwork which had been such a defining feature of his early Impressionist canvases.

Monet’s paintings from Giverny during this period present a very particular vision of France, rooted in the long-standing belief that the country’s rich lands and temperate climate were a point of national pride. This connection between French patriotism and the landscape had gained a particular potency following the loss of the Alsace and Lorraine regions during the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. In Prairie à Giverny, the lush foliage of the meadow offers tangible evidence of the land’s fertility, standing as a reassuring testimony to the continuity of the agrarian traditions and the health of rural France, in the face of political, cultural and technological developments. To further emphasise this, Monet leaves the scene completely devoid of any human presence. Instead, the meadow remains untouched by human hands, driven by its own natural cycle of regrowth alone, the rich green leaves springing forth in response to the return of the sunlight and rain of springtime. As Paul Hayes Tucker has suggested, this aspect of Monet’s paintings ‘implied that the countryside was a place where one could find reassurances about the world, where contemporary problems seemed to vanish, and a deeper union with nature appeared possible’ (Tucker, in Monet in the 90s: The Series Paintings, exh. cat., Boston, 1989, p. 111). Pure landscape also offered Monet the opportunity for bold artistic experimentation, liberating his brushwork and colour to the point that they dissolve into an almost abstract mosaic of thick brushstrokes. As such, the landscapes from Giverny during the 1880s became a showcase for Monet’s bold painterly style, delicately balancing abstraction with representation to not only evoke the presence of intangible elements, such as light, the passage of time, and atmosphere, but also to champion the continued importance and dynamism of Impressionism itself.

Monet’s activities at la Prairie during the summer of 1885, when the present work was painted, were immortalised in a portrait by the American painter John Singer Sargent, an avid early follower and friend of Monet’s who most likely visited the artist at his home in Giverny during the warm summer months of that year. According to Monet, he had first met Sargent at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in Paris in 1876, and the pair began a regular correspondence which they maintained over the course of the ensuing years. Their blossoming friendship was aided by the frequent group exhibitions in which they both featured throughout the early 1880s, and while visiting Paris in 1885, Sargent seems to have decided to venture out to Giverny to visit Monet in person. Their cordial relationship ensured that the American was permitted to join Monet on his painting excursions into the countryside, and Sargent took the opportunity to record the artist working en plein air in the composition Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood. In the portrait, Monet appears to be working on the painting Pré à Giverny, also known as Meadow with Haystacks near Giverny, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, while a young woman, possibly the artist’s stepdaughter Suzanne Hoschedé, rests in the shade by the slender trees that line the boundary of the field. Rendered in loose strokes of fluid pigment, the painting evokes the rapidity with which Sargent has captured the scene, catching his subject unawares as he works on his canvas. Completely absorbed by the scene, Monet remains oblivious to Sargent’s penetrating gaze, his own eyes fixed on the meadow as he attempts to render the shifting light that dances across the haystacks.

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