The present picture represents Monet's house and garden at Vtheuil, where he moved in September 1878. The village of Vtheuil is situated on a hill to the north of the Seine overlooking a bend in the river; the beauty of the surrounding landscape was a primary inspiration for the painter at the end of the 1870s. Monet's house stood at one end of the village on the road that ran from Vtheuil to La Roche-Guyon (fig. 1), and his garden was across this road on the hill which sloped down to the banks of the Seine. He was immensely pleased with his new home, which he described to a friend as "on the banks of the Seine at Vtheuil, in a ravishing spot" (D. Wildenstein, op. cit., letter no. 136).
Although the rent was a modest 600 francs a year the artist still had severe financial difficulties. Beginning in December 1878, he shared the house with Alice and Ernest Hosched, who had been major patrons of Monet, Manet and other Impressionists, but were then bankrupt. The relations between the two families were extremely close; indeed, following the death of Camille Monet in September 1879, Claude Monet and Alice Hosched had an open affair (rumored to have begun in 1876), and they eventually married after Ernest Hosched's death in 1891.
The present picture is one of five views of the house and garden that Monet painted in 1881. The other four (fig. 2 and Wildenstein, nos. 683-685) are closely related in composition and were clearly conceived as a series. Although the present view includes some of the same elements -- the house's sloped roof and prominent chimney, the steep staircase leading down to the garden, the dainty red flowers alongside the garden path -- it does not form part of the same series. It is horizontal rather than vertical, and shows a much smaller portion of the house; additionally, the sunflowers have not yet started to bloom, suggesting that it may have been painted earlier in the summer season than the remaining four pictures. Two additional pictures from 1881 (Wildenstein, nos. 680-681) show Alice Hosched seated in the garden at Vtheuil, partially shaded by the same leafy tree that occupies the foreground of the present work. And a final two works from the same year depict the view of the Seine from the artist's garden, still ablaze with color (fig. 3; Wildenstein, no. 692). As a whole, the group of pictures represents an extraordinary example of the Impressionist interest in the garden and leisure as subjects for serious painting of contemporary life; and the vivid, high-key palette and lively brushwork of the works successfully evoke the splendor of a summer's day in the French countryside.
Monet's passion for flowers and gardens is legendary, and they constituted a major theme of his work from his earliest days to the end of his career. Indeed he once said, "I perhaps owe it to flowers for having become a painter." The artist was especially fond of painting his own gardens, first at Argenteuil, then at Vtheuil and finally at Giverny, where the garden became the pre-eminent subject for the artist.
Monet, however, abandoned the garden as a subject in the late 1870s. No doubt the death of his wife and the financial hardship which he suffered at that time engendered this change. It was only in the summer of 1881 at Vtheuil that he returned to this favorite theme and again painted his luxuriant, exuberant garden, sometimes peopled by members of his family. As such, these pictures record the renewed optimism the artist experienced in 1881.
Following a visit to Monet's house at Vtheuil in 1880, Emile Taboureux reported on a conversation he had near the site recorded in the present painting:
"'Now then,' I said without further ado, 'perhaps you would be so kind as to show me to your studio?' At the sound of that word, sparks flew from Monet's eyes."
"My studio! But I never have had one, and personally I don't understand why anybody would want to shut themselves up in some room. Maybe for drawing, sure; but not for painting."
And with a gesture as expansive as the horizon, encompassing the entire Seine, now flecked with the golds of the dying sun; the hills, bathed in cool shadows; and the whole of Vtheuil itself, which seemed to be dozing in the April sunlight that sires white lilacs, primaveras, and buttercups:
"That's my studio!" (quoted in C.F. Stuckey, Monet: A Retrospective, New York, 1985, p. 90).
For Monet, his villa and garden in the country were the site of the greatest happiness and productivity. In Le Jardin de Vtheuil, one can see both the profound delight Monet received from the domestic comforts of his house and garden, and the sheer joy he felt in painting the luxuriant flowers and foliage which he called his studio.
(fig. 1) Monet's house at Vtheuil
(fig. 2) Claude Monet, Le Jardin de l'artiste Vtheuil, 1881 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
(fig. 3) Claude Monet, Massifs de fleurs Vtheuil, 1881
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston