The present painting is one of eight views that Monet executed on the Ile de la Grande Jatte ("big bowl island") in the spring of 1878. Having moved temporarily back to Paris after his departure from Argenteuil in January, he and his family rented a large third-floor apartment at 26 Rue d'Edimbourg in the eighth arrondissement. This elongated island in the Seine just beyond Paris's northwest border was close to Monet's residence and was easily accessible via a major suburban road that extended beyond the boulevard Bineau in Neuilly over the middle of this narrow strip of land and into the suburb of Courbevoie (fig. 1). The island was also a familiar sight for the painter as he took the train across the bridge at Asnières to Argenteuil. The island was a popular destination for middle-class Parisians seeking refreshing air along the river. Although it hosted animated crowds each weekend in its parks, restaurants, wine shop cafes, dance pavilion, and docks, Monet's canvases record only verdant greenery, water shimmering in the sunlight, and an isolated residence on a distant shore.
Monet painted scenes across the length of the crescent-shaped island, capturing the diverse views of Paris and its western suburbs that surrounded it: he produced canvases from the busy southeastern shore facing Neuilly, which Sisley had painted in 1873, showing the road that ran around the periphery of the island (fig. 2), from the western point facing the Neuilly bridge (Wildenstein no. 454), from the eastern end that pointed toward the chimneys of the Clichy gasworks (fig. 3; W., nos. 459-461), and, as in the present painting, from the quiet northwestern bank that afforded a view of Courbevoie (W., nos. 455-458). In this latter group, which includes the present painting (W., no. 458), Le Printemps, à travers les branches, 1978 (W., no. 455; Musée Marmottan, Paris); Les bords de la Seine, île de la Grande Jatte, (W., no. 456; private collection), and Les Bords de la Seine à Courbevoie, 1878 (W., no. 457; Private collection), Monet depicts the orange roofs of Courbevoie through a screen of blue-green foliage. Describing paintings such as the present canvas, Robert L. Herbert has written, "He gave the viewer an unstable perch high on the bank, so that the tree trunks do not reach the ground, adding a sense of the momentary to the fluttering foliage. The picture's illusion of depth derives from the dark tree trunks and foliage, which act as a repoussoir beyond which we perceive the opposite bank" (in Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte, Chicago, 2004, p. 66). With these truncated limbs, states Herbert, "Monet created flickering and restless screens whose tiny apertures foil any attempt to find solid forms and planes" (ibid., p. 98). Indeed, one of the paintings in this series was caricatured for this very quality after its debut at the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition in 1879 (fig. 3). In this cartoon, a fashionable couple stares up at a barren segment of a tree trunk with radically cropped branches. When the lady remarks that the canvas shows only the middle of the tree, her male companion replies that if she is fond of the subject, the artist could likely complete it by selling her two more paintings.
Monet had spent the late 1860s and early 1870s documenting the extension of urban culture into the suburbs, alternating scenes of bourgeois leisure activities on the Seine in western suburbs such as Chatou, Gennevilliers, Bougival, and Argenteuil with the expansion of industrial infrastructure and scenes of modern life in Paris. Although he produced his last Parisian scenes in 1878 and voided both work and leisure from his landscapes, he remained devoted to depicting the Seine. As Katherine Rothkopf has noted, "Monet is the Impressionist who is most closely identified with the Seine. He spent much of his childhood in Le Havre, where the Seine meets the Atlantic Ocean, and he seemed to gravitate toward the water for the rest of his life. Always interested in landscape painting, the Seine provided Monet with infinite possibilities, and he produced more paintings of the Seine than any of his fellow Impressionists" (in Impressionists on the Seine, Washington, DC, 1994, p.64). Herbert describes the painter's relationship to the famous river as his link to an art historical legacy, stating:
"Monet, like the Goncourts and other naturalists, was aware that the two banks of the Seine were partners in this locked embrace of work and leisure. Between 1872 and 1877, the year he completed his series of the Gare Saint-Lazare, Monet made several paintings of the industrial banks of the Seine. However, the tension between city and country was a strong force that Monet could not always accommodate. There was, it turns out, a good deal of La Bédollière in him--one might better say, a good deal of Daubigny or of Corot in him--and in those same years most of his paintings excluded industry and presented the suburbs as a realm of leisure seldom intruded upon by signs of labor. Then, after 1877, all paintings of industry ceased. By 1879, when he moved well downriver at Vétheuil, Paris also disappeared from his Ieuvre. In retrospect, we see that in the years immediately following the upheaval of the war and the Commune, Monet had been alert to the dialogue of the city and suburb, but that subsequently, like Cézanne or like van Gogh, he sought solace by creating landscapes that released him from the tensions of urban life" (in Impressionism: Art Leisure and Parisian Society, New Haven, 1988, p. 202).
The bold hues in works such as the present painting have elicited discussion of the role Japanese prints played in the Impressionists' sense of color as well as their pictorial composition. Many early writers commented on this important influence, citing the relevance of the rich color of Ando Hiroshige's prints in particular, of which Monet had started collecting during his years at Argenteuil. The critic Théodore Duret addressed the influence of Japanese prints on Impressionist sense of color in his pamphlet Les Peintres Impressionnistes from 1878, and he concluded in a statement that could easily apply to the present painting: "We needed the arrival of Japanese albums in our midst before anyone dared to sit down on a river bank, and juxtapose on a canvas a roof which was bright red, a wall which was white, a green poplar, a yellow road and blue water. Before the example given by the Japanese this was impossible, the painter always lied. Nature with its bold colors blinded him; all one ever saw on a canvas were subdued colors, drowning in a general half-tone. Japanese art rendered particular aspects of nature by means of bold and new methods of coloring: enquiring artists could not fail to be struck by it, and so it strongly influenced the Impressionists" (quoted in J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, New Haven, 1986, p.112). Two years later, Duret identified Monet as the pioneer of this new Japanese-inspired color, when the painter had assimilated its influence more thoroughly. By this time, Monet was well settled at Vétheuil, painting bucolic scenes as he floated along the Seine on his bateau atelier.
(fig. 1) Map of the location of La Grande Jatte. BARCODE 25010688
(fig. 2) Alfred Sisley, L'île de la Grande Jatte, 1873. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. BARCODE 25010664
(fig. 3) Claude Monet, L'île de la Grande Jatte, 1878. Private collection. BARCODE 25010657
(fig. 4) cartoon from Le Charivari, April 23, 1879. BARCODE 25010640