La Seine près de Vétheuil, temps orageux is an historic painting dating from the beginning of Claude Monet's time at Vétheuil, where he would come to spend a significant part of the following few years, creating some of his most celebrated pictures. Monet's painting campaign in Véheuil would come to have a lasting influence on his own artistic practice in years to come. This picture, which comes from the beginning of that pivotal period, has a provenance that itself taps into this historic moment, as the dedication on the front is due to the fact that it was given by Monet to his friend and patron, Georges de Bellio, the generous doctor of Romanian origin who was one of the most significant sponsors of Impressionism during this time and who acquired during his lifetime masterpieces by a range of the artists associated with the movement from Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro to Monet himself. Indeed, de Bellio owned approximately 30 of Monet's paintings, mostly acquired before 1880 and including masterpieces such as his 1872 Impression, soleil levant, which had come in part to lend the movement its name. De Bellio's daughter, who married Ernest Donop de Monchy, bequeathed a number of these works to the Musée Marmottan in Paris.
In La Seine près de Vétheuil, temps orageux, Monet has suppressed most references to humanity in the landscape, which focuses instead on this solitary view of a bend in the Seine, the sky overcast, feeling heavy with the storm mentioned in the title. Monet's focus on the changing, fleeting weather conditions is made all the more evident by comparison between this work and another similar view of the same spot that is now in the collection of the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, yet which shows the landscape in brighter light (fig. 1). In La Seine près de Vétheuil, temps orageux, by contrast, the brooding sky is made all the more dramatic by its reflection in the water, which is articulated by the Monet's rendering of the various ripples and eddies as well as the silvery splash of diffused sunlight shimmering towards the bank on the right.
The view in La Seine près de Vétheuil, temps orageux and in its related painting in the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen both show a stretch of the Seine some way south of Vétheuil, facing upstream (see D. Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Cologne, 1996, p. 191). Monet had moved recently to the town with a large and unusual group that comprised both his own family and that of one of his friends, Ernest Hoschedé. Monet, his wife Camille and their two children stayed in Vétheuil with Hoschedé, his wife Alice (who some years later would marry Monet), their six children and some staff members. Hoschedé's move was in part due to a dramatic, indeed catastrophic, change in his financial situation. He had lost a great deal of the fortune that had allowed him to buy and to commission works from many of the Impressionists, not least Monet himself, and indeed his own collection of paintings had been auctioned early in June during the same year. There, a group of pictures by Monet had achieved respectable prices, especially in comparison to some of his fellow artists. However, the loss of Hoschedé's patronage was a significant factor in Monet's own finances during this time. The strain on the situation was only augmented by the illness of Camille, who would indeed die the following year.
It was doubtless in part because of the lower expenses of living in a place like Vétheuil that both families moved there. Situated around 60 kilometres from Paris, it was a small place of under seven hundred souls, relatively untouched either by industry or the leisure industries that had come to change the character of Argenteuil to such an extent. Here, Monet was far from the ladies of fashion, the boaters and the railway that had occupied him in Argenteuil; he was also far from some of his creditors. In Vétheuil, Monet was able to focus on the town itself, with the mediaeval church which was to become such an icon in his pictures from this short period. He was also able to explore the fleeting effects of nature itself, as is demonstrated in La Seine près de Vétheuil, temps orageux, where the town is absent and Monet has instead depicted only the banks of the river, the water and the sky, prefiguring the images of the floating ice that he would create in similar stretches of the Seine during the harsh winter that struck the following year.
Monet was active during his time in Vétheuil, and was clearly inspired by his surroundings, creating a string of impressive paintings. Despite this, he was, as always, prone to worry, especially in his letters. Writing to Georges de Bellio in particular, he lamented his financial situation and asked several times for support from his friend, candidly voicing a despair which he appeared able to vent in his letters but which was completely absent in the pictures he was creating at the time - this was a very Monet-ish stance, in which he would complain in writing while painting luminous visions at the same time, and this remained the case throughout his life. In his letters to de Bellio, who knew of the perilous situation with Camille and of her declining health, Monet was particularly candid. This is evident from one of his missives written the year after La Seine près de Vétheuil, temps orageux was painted:
'For a long time I have been hoping for better days ahead, but alas, I believe the time has come for me to abandon all hope. My poor wife is in increasing pain and I cannot imagine that she could be any weaker than she is now. Not only does she not have the strength to stand up or walk one step, but she cannot hold down the slightest bit of nourishment, although she has an appetite. One has to be at her bedside continually attending to her smallest wish, in the hope of relieving her suffering, and the saddest thing is that we cannot always satisfy these immediate needs for lack of money. For a month now I have not been able to paint because I lack the colours; but that is not important. Right now it is the sight of my wife's life in jeopardy that terrifies me, and it is unbearable to see her suffering so much and not be able to provide relief... But I would ask another favour of you, dear M. de Bellio, which is to help us from your own pocket. We have no resources whatsoever. I have a few canvases in the rue Ventimille; take them for whatever price you like: but please respond to my call for help and send us what you can. Two or three hundred francs now would save us from hardship and anxiety: with a hundred francs more I could procure the canvas and paints I need to work. Do what you can, in short; I told our landlady to let you in: so look at my paintings and buy them for whatever you like' (Monet, 1879, quoted in R. Kendall (ed.), Monet by himself: Paintings, drawings, pastels, letters, London, 1989, p. 31).
De Bellio helped several times and thus had a marked impact on Monet's career; he even acquired five of the early paintings from Vétheuil. It is a reflection of Monet's appreciation of this support that he gave de Bellio La Seine près de Vétheuil, temps orageux as a token of gratitude, inscribing it on the front in a gesture that clearly moved his benefactor. Indeed, de Bellio wrote to thank him in 1879:
'My dear friend, You are the most friendly of friends. Thank you, a thousand times thank you, for your gracious attention. I will admit to you that I initially hesitated in accepting your gracious gift, but there was at the bottom a dedication which for me doubled its value. Therefore thank you again...' (G. de Bellio, letter to Monet, 1879, PJ 33, in D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, p. 445).