This work will be included in the supplement to the catalogue raisonné of Claude Monet's paintings and drawings being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute.
Monet's pastel drawings are independent and complete works on their own and not preparatory studies for a more complete or finished image in another medium. The majority of Monet's pastels, therefore, were conceived as extensions to his pictorial repertoire. While he traveled widely and painted many different themes, Monet the pastellist narrowed his focus considerably to a more personal locale. The majority of his pastels can be traced to a small corner of Normandy, within a fifty-mile radius of the Seine estuary, where Monet grew up and took his first steps as an artist, and an area to which he would return to throughout his life.
Close examination of Soleil levant reveals a richly worked surface, where layers of color were built up across the sheet. Beneath the layers of blue and peach, bursts of bright pink can be detected through the clouds, revealing the artist’s nuanced sense of color. Monet often favored the ‘Ingres’ type of laid paper, with distinctive “chain” marks that would catch pigments in a way that highlights the texture and colors of each layer.
The present work likely relates to a group of a dozen pastels executed between 1865 and 1870. Much like Soleil levant, they all feature relatively low horizon lines, giving the artist a wider surface area to explore the color gradations of a rapidly changing sky. While some uncertainty surrounds the precise placement of this extended suite within the artist’s oeuvre, James A. Ganz and Richard Kendall have suggested “that it represents Monet’s first sustained exploration of series imagery, undertaken at least a decade–and perhaps two–before he began the more celebrated canvases of grainstacks and poplars at Giverny…it seems pastel was not only separate from paint, but significantly in advance of the artist’s thinking in canvas” (The Unknown Monet, Pastels and Drawings, exh. cat., The Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, 2007, pp. 121-122).
The first recorded owner of this work was Aurélien Lugné, a French actor, theatre director and set designer, who called himself Lugné-Poe in homage to the American poet Edgar Allen Poe. Lugné-Poe shared a studio apartment with Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard on the rue Pigalle and was a vocal supporter of the Nabis movement, publishing numerous articles about their art. He would go on to found the Théâtre L’Œuvre in 1893 along with Vuillard and Camille Mauclair. Théâtre L’Œuvre was a laboratory of theatrical innovation and the first venue to provide a home for artists of the Symbolist movement. The pastel later passed to Lugné-Poe’s friend, Jules Lindauer, before he gifted it to the present owner’s grandmother.