*This lot may be exempt from sales tax as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice in the back of the catalogue.
For three decades beginning in the early 1880s, Monet was an indefatigable traveler, seeking out new pictorial motifs in Normandy, Rouen, London, Venice, Holland, and Norway. The present painting was executed during one of the earliest of these exploratory sojourns, a three-month voyage to the Riviera that Monet undertook in 1884. For most of this trip, he stayed at Bordighera, a small fishing village on the northwest coast of Italy. The exotic and sun-drenched landscape there proved a source of profound artistic inspiration for Monet. He executed thirty-five paintings between January 18th and April 6th, an average of one every two days. Joachim Pissarro has described the canvases from Bordighera, including Vallée de Sasso, as "some of the most powerful, resonant, and innovative painting Monet had ever produced--work that went well beyond Impressionism" (in exh. cat., op. cit., Fort Worth, 1997, p. 19). He has also observed:
"Monet's decision to paint by the Mediterranean in 1884 was bound to an inner strategy: his art was a constant search for shatteringly new pictorial motifs. From Bordighera to Venice, Monet sought visual contact with landscapes and views that possessed a sense of strangeness, unfamiliarity, and unpredictable multifariousness. As the artist himself explained, he was searching for a type of nature that would be 'even crazier than his art.' Before the beauty of the Mediterranean coast, Monet saw only new visual elements that he had to dominate. To him, the Mediterranean was anything but a vacation. It was a major challenge, even an obsession, and one fraught with considerable difficulties. In the end, it introduced deep and significant changes into his art" (ibid., p. 15).
The 1884 sojourn marked the second time that Monet had traveled to the Mediterranean. He first went there on a two-week excursion with Renoir in December 1883 (see lot 34). Although this brief journey afforded Monet ample artistic inspiration, he had little time to paint; as Renoir wrote to his dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, "We are enchanted by our trip. We judged that it was preferable to study the countryside carefully so that when we come back we will know where to stop" (quoted in B.E. White, Impressionists Side by Side, New York, 1996, p. 103). Less than three weeks after he and Renoir had returned from their travels, Monet set off again on his own for an extended campaign in the South. He chose to lodge at Bordighera because he remembered it as "one of the most beautiful places" that he and Renoir had seen (letter to Durand-Ruel; quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., Fort Worth, 1997, p. 29). Although he originally planned to stay for only a month, he remained at Bordighera for nearly three times that long, much to the dismay of his companion, Alice Hoschedé, who was ensconced at Giverny with Monet's two sons, Jean and Michel, as well as her own six children.
Monet wrote to Alice almost daily from Bordighera, and his letters attest to the feverish pace at which he worked there. Intent on exhausting the pictorial possibilities of the unfamiliar landscape, he painted from dawn until dusk with only a short break for lunch, working on more than a dozen canvases at once. "I am living the life of a dog and never spare my legs," he reported. "I climb up and down, and up again. When I want to rest between each study, I explore every little path, as I am always eager to see something new" (quoted in ibid., p. 31). He was smitten with the beauty of the region and the unique quality of the light, but also frustrated by the difficulty of capturing these effects. Shortly before his departure, he wrote to Durand-Ruel, "Shall we ever be able to feel contented before nature, above all in this place? When surrounded with such dazzling light, one finds one's palette rather poor. Here art would need tones of gold and diamonds. In the end, I did all I could. Maybe, once all this hangs at home, it will recall for me what I saw" (quoted in ibid., p. 38).
Monet's work from Bordighera is noteworthy for several small series of paintings that depict the same site, painted from a very similar vantage point but under slightly different conditions of weather and light. These sequences anticipate the full-fledged serial practice that would become Monet's hallmark, beginning with the Wheatstacks of 1890. The present canvas, for instance, is part of a group of five views that Monet painted in the lush, overgrown Sasso valley on the outskirts of Bordighera (Wildenstein, nos. 859-863). Each canvas depicts a small, rustic stone shed nearly engulfed by a dense tangle of exotic vegetation, including bushy palm trees, the emblem of Bordighera. In two of the paintings, Monet has moved his easel back slightly, revealing a terrace topped by a slatted structure in the bottom right corner of the scene (fig. 1). Monet had visited the Sasso Valley earlier in his stay at Bordighera, during a day-long walking tour that he undertook with two English painters. As he recounted to Alice, "We visited three little Italian villages lost in the mountains: Borgetto, Sasso, and Valbona; so many landscapes, so many marvels, but far too remote to go and paint them" (quoted in ibid., p. 34). Ultimately, however, the lure of this wild and inaccessible spot was too strong for Monet to resist, and he soon returned with brushes in hand.
Joachim Pissarro describes as nothing short of "extraordinary" the paintings that Monet made on this second excursion to the Sasso Valley (ibid., p. 31). He explains, "This group of five works offers a clear demonstration of Monet's Mediterranean as an utterly unfamiliar environment, fraught with a sense of the bizarre and packed with a profligacy of interwoven exotic plants-citrus trees, lianas, palm trees, and so forth. These trees and vines are formed by a dense web of nervous lines of color, an abundance of brushmarks of all shapes and in all directions. Despite (or perhaps because of) their provocative lack of well-known or visually arresting details, these paintings foreground Monet's unique debauchery of paint. It is most likely with such paintings in mind that he told his wife that he found nature even crazier than his art: the pictorial effect of his empathy with this wild segment of landscape was that Monet could let go of all inhibitions. Monet would not find himself so liberated pictorially again until he started his Water Lilies series, in which he would immerse himself in a wholly natural environment and would allow the pictorial patterns of the paint surface to be dictated by the forms of the all-encompassing pond surface" (ibid., p. 84).
The emphasis on the luxuriant vegetation in the Sasso Valley sequence is paralleled in numerous other landscapes that Monet made at Bordighera. In a distant view of the town, for instance, the entire foreground is subsumed in a dense tangle of shrubs and trees, blocking all apparent access to the village (fig. 2). Three views of a villa belonging to the celebrated Parisian architect, Charles Garnier, show it surrounded by palm trees and agave (fig. 3), and in a pair of paintings depicting the Moreno Garden, the abundant palms dwarf even the turret of the town church (fig. 4). Although the tropical foliage of the Côte d'Azur offered Monet a myriad of visual stimuli, it also brought him untold frustration. As he wrote to Alice, painting in Bordighera "is extremely difficult to do and it is very time-consuming, mostly because the large self-contained motifs are rare. It is too thick with dense foliage, and all you can find are motifs with lots of detail, jumbles terribly difficult to paint, and I, in contrast, am the man of isolated trees and large spaces" (quoted in ibid., p. 36).
Notwithstanding such struggles, the paintings that Monet brought back from Bordighera proved immensely successful. Durand-Ruel immediately bought twenty-one of them for the impressive sum of 18,200 francs. As Paul Tucker has noted, "Despite Monet's initial fears, these paintings became reaffirming proof of his ability to capture effects that were radically different from what existed in Normandy and the Ile de France. While attesting to his dexterity and the sensitivity of his eye, these pictures also underscored his ability to reinvent himself and demonstrated the flexibility of his Impressionist style. Finally, they proved that daring continued to be rewarded as they sold extremely well" (in Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 120).
(fig. 1) Claude Monet, Vallée de Sasso, effet de soleil, 1884. Musée Marmottan, Paris. BARCODE 25249750
(fig. 2) Claude Monet, Bordighera, 1884. Art Institute of Chicago. BARCODE 25249743
(fig. 3) Claude Monet, Villas à Bordighera, 1884. Santa Barbara Museum of Art. BARCODE 25249736
(fig. 4) Claude Monet, Jardin à Bordighera, effet du matin, 1884. State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. BARCODE 25249729