Monet painted this lively view of the Epte River during the second summer of his residence in Giverny. At the end of April 1883 the artist and his family moved to this small village of only 279 inhabitants, located about forty miles (64 km.) northwest of Paris, close to where the twin streams of the Epte and Ru flow into the Seine at Vernon. He rented a two-acre property, on which there was a large, long house with a barn at each end, one of which he turned into his new studio. The light in Giverny was more to Monet's liking than at Poissy, where he had been living previously, and the local landscape held a greater variety of motifs. There were rolling hills and valleys, meadows of lush grass bounded by rows of tall poplars, and along the waterways lined with willows there were inlets, marshes and islands which Monet could navigate in his rowing skiffs and floating studio; he built a boathouse on the Seine soon after he arrived. He planted a garden in the yard of his new home, to provide vegetables for the family kitchen and because he needed "flowers to pick for rainy days," when it was impossible to work outdoors on site. "Once settled," Monet wrote to his dealer Durand-Ruel, "I hope to produce masterpieces, because I like the countryside very much... It takes a while to get to know a new landscape" (quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet's Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978, pp. 15-16, 18 and 19).
The first canvases that Monet painted in the vicinity of Giverny during the summer of 1883 depict islands in the Seine near the neighboring communes of Port-Villez, Vernon and Granval. At the end of the year Monet joined Renoir for a quick jaunt along the Mediterranean, ranging from Marseilles to Genoa, with a stopover in L'Estaque to visit Cézanne. In January 1884 Monet returned to Italy and painted in the seaside Ligurian town of Bordighera and its environs. The express purpose of this trip was to work among the villas and palm gardens for which this locale was celebrated in guidebooks; this "fairytale-like country," as Monet described it, probably inspired the eventual creation of the artist's elaborate gardens in Giverny. In many of the Bordighera canvases Monet painted his motifs very close-up, as if to immerse himself in the landscape and revel in the profusion of foliage.
Monet returned to Giverny in early April, and after visiting Paris and Rouen during the spring and early summer, he took time to paint two versions of a local river motif, some rapids in the course of the Epte near Giverny. In these canvases--the present painting and a companion work (Wildenstein, no. 898)--Monet returned to the close-in approach he had employed in some of the Bordighera landscapes and garden scenes. "The luxuriant vegetation in the painting [Wildenstein, no. 898] stills grows today close to the place where the Epte flows into the Seine" (D. Wildenstein, 1996, op. cit.). Here Monet exalted in nature's primal elements: the powerful and unceasing flood of water appears to spring from the very depths of the densely wooded landscape. More than any of the other Impressionists, Monet possessed Courbet's ability to suggest in a most palpable way the organic and weighty substance of the landscape, and to render the motion and force of flowing water; he could conjure the sheer vitality and variety of nature in the material and handling of his paints. In his concentrated focus on the motif, which he probably viewed in close proximity from one of his boats, Monet has eliminated the presence of the sky and all other conventional aspects of a broader landscape context. In this respect the present view of the Epte, one of Monet's earliest Giverny canvases, presages the nymphéas, allée de rosier, pont japonais and saule pleureur canvases of some three decades later (fig. 1), in which a relatively small corner of the visual world evokes the expanse and grandeur of no less than the cosmos itself.
(fig. 1) Claude Monet, Vue du basin aux nympheas avec saule, 1917-1919. Sold, Christie's New York, 18 November 1998, lot 17.
Barcode: Sale 8992 Lot 17