Monet lived in Vétheuil from April 1878 until November 1881. 'Vétheuil is at the apex of a vast curve in the Seine (halfway between Paris and Rouen). A large island lies midstream between the town and the hamlet of Lavacourt on the southern bank. In Monet's time the two were linked by ferry. Behind Vétheuil chalk hills rise steeply, cut in places into cliffs. Orchards and gardens line the riverbank under the shelter of the cliffs' (R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 91). Monet lived in a house by the riverbank below and to the right of the church. Views of Vétheuil from Lavacourt or vice-versa across the Seine became a favourite compositional motif during Monet's three year residence there.
John House remarked of a comparable Vétheuil picture in the National Gallery of Victoria: 'The church, seen from the west, dominates the village and the composition; the seemingly timeless juxtaposition of nature with the village is stressed by the way in which the church tower and the trees punctuate the horizon side by side. Monet's move to Vétheuil was a departure from a landscape that was being transformed by industry and marked the end of his preoccupation with specifically modern themes. Traditional though the subject is, its treatment would have seemed very novel in its original context. The village is viewed from across the river, with no intruding foreground; thus the spectator is denied any of the traditional means of visual access from foreground to background. Moreover, the forms in the scene are not individualised in their handling; all are treated in an equally soft, unfocussed touch which emphasizes the overall effect of the village in the warmth of the afternoon sun, rather than highlighting any one element in it. Pinks and reds, some soft, some quite bright, run throughout - in the buildings and the landscape, but also alongside the blues in the sky and in the reflections in the water. The blue accents set up a sharp contrast with the dominantly warm hues' (Claude Monet, Painter of light, Auckland, 1985, p. 50).
Monet broke with his fellow Impressionists in 1880 when he decided to submit two pictures to the official Salon. One was rejected and the other was hung badly. After this humiliation he resolved never to exhibit at the Salon again. Instead, another exhibition location was offered to Monet by Renoir's patron, Georges Charpentier. One year earlier, in 1879, Charpentier had issued a weekly arts review titled La Vie moderne. To supplement this he planned a series of one-man exhibitions which by the Spring of 1880 had already included shows by Manet and Renoir. Monet accepted the invitation to exhibit in June 1880 and showed eighteen paintings including the present picture in what was the first of his one-man exhibitions which were to dominate his career thenceforth. The critic Thédore Duret wrote the introduction to the catalogue and hailed Monet as 'the artist who, after Corot, has brought to landscape painting the greatest invention and originality'. Duret went on to describe Monet as 'a thoroughgoing pleinairist' but contradicted the idea that his paintings were mere sketches. In fact, he argued, the radical thing about Monet was that he committed himself unconditionally to a complete picture in front of nature. Monet worked from a first, broad statement through many adjustments and refinements to a finished state, but without loss of immediacy' (Gordon and Forge, op. cit., p. 93)
Wilhelm Hansen (1868-1936) was the most distinguisehd Danish art collector of the early years of this century. The core of his collection today resides at the Ordrupgaard Museum outside Copenhagen. A very successful insurance businessman, he bought his first painting in 1892. He began to take an interest in French Nineteenth Century and modern art around 1915 and intended to build up a large collection. On 22 September 1916 'Hansen wrote to his wife about his first purchase of the great French artists: 'By the way, I use my spare time to look at paintings, and I may as well admit now instead of later, that I have been impulsive and have made a sizeable purchase. I know though that I will be forgiven when you see what I have bought; it is all first class with star rating. I have bought Sisley (two wonderful landscapes), Pissarro (a lovely landscape), and Cl. Monet (la cathédrale de Rouen) - one of this most famous works - and Renoir (portrait of a lady)' H. Rostrup, trans. J. Ronje, History of the Ordrupgaard Museum, Copenhagen, 1981, p. 72). Hansen bought heavily during the next years, amassing a large and superb collection of French Impressionist art. He opened his house at Ordrupgaard to the public on 14 September 1918. Owing to a banking crisis in Denmark in 1922 Hansen was forced to sell some of his collection. 'In September of 1922 he went to Paris to negotiate the sale of his French paintings and as he expresses it 'become a free man again'. The art dealer Barbazanges helped by offering paintings to different large collectors like Barnes in Amercia, Reinhardt in Switzerland and Baron Matsukata in Tokyo' (Rostrup, op. cit., p. 75)
Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950) was the most celebrated Japanese collector of modern Western art during the first half of this century. Born into a noble Japanese family and son of a prime minister Matsukata was sent to America in the 1880s to complete his education. He attended Rutgers College (1884-1888) and Yale Law School (1888-1889). He subsequently, in 1889-1890, went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne where he met the foremost Japanese artist working in Paris, Seiki Kuroda. Returning to Japan in 1891 he became a highly successful businessman and was president of the Kawasaki Dockyard Co. in Kobe 1896-1928. During the first World War he was in London, selling ships to Britain and America. Matsukata always cut an elegant figure and was described at the time as being 'always impeccably dressed in London-made suits...In one hand he carried a cane to support the leg he injured as a little boy falling from a tree, and in the other hand he held a lighted cigar'
'It was during this period (1914-1918) that the middle-aged industrialist took on a hobby for which he is probably better remembered today than for any of his business enterprises: he became a collector of Western art, eventually amassing an estimated ten thousand examples of paintings, drawings, sculpture, tapestries and antique French furniture valued at over $20,000,000. He is said, for example, to have owned seventy sculptures by Rodin, including the massive Gates of Hell, which he purchased from the artist in Paris (very concerned about authenticity, Matsukata preferred to buy his art directly from artists in their studios). It has been suggested that he first began to invest in art around 1916 because he found himself unable to send the profits from his booming shipping business back to Japan. After the war he left a large sum of money with Parisian dealer Durand-Ruel, giving the gallery carte blanche to continue adding to his collection. 'Monsieur Matsukata' became famous in Paris in the 1920s as the rich Japanese who bought art in bulk, whether from galleries or at auction, pointing to an entire wall of painting with his cane and saying 'I'll take everything'. The story of his visit to Monet's studio in Giverny in 1921 is well known. He was led to Monet by his niece, Kuroki Takebo, the daughter of his eldest brother, Iwai; she and her husband, a diplomat, were keenly interested in French painting and made several visits to Giverny, which are well documented in photographs. Like Monet, the Kurokis were garden lovers and often sent the artist tree-peonies and bulbs of certain lilies which were uncommon even in Japan and quite unknown in France. Matsukata purchased sixteen paintings from Monet on the spot and returned five months later to buy another eighteen. The Japanese - then as now - have always had an immediate attraction to the work of the Impressionist and Post-impressionist, perhaps because these painters had learned so much from the art of Japan: Monet had more than two hundred Japanese prints hanging on the walls of his home at Giverny'. (J. Meech, The Matsukata Collection of Ukiyo-e Prints: Masterpieces from the Tokyo National Museum, New York, pp. 14-15)
Matsukata planned to build a museum in Japan to house his collection. Owing to tax problems and business crises in Japan it was never built, however a substantial part of the collection returned to Japan from France to form the basis of the National Museum of Western Art which opened in 1959 in Tokyo.