Pins, cap d'Antibes is part of a group of nearly forty landscapes that Monet painted during a trip to the French Riviera in the opening months of 1888. The voyage was the third that the artist had taken to the region. He first ventured there with Renoir for two weeks in December 1883, traveling along the coast around Monaco (see lot 34), and then returned on his own for the first three months of the following year, lodging at the Italian seaside town of Bordighera (see lot 80). In 1888, he chose to stay at Antibes, a walled city midway between Nice and Cannes, which he described in a letter to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, as "a small fortified town, baked to a golden crust in the sun, standing forth from beautiful blue and pink mountains, and the eternally snow-capped chain of the Alps" (quoted in exh. cat, op. cit., Fort Worth, 1997, p. 39). The scholar Paul Tucker has explained the appeal of this region for Monet:
"For an avowed painter of sunlight, these Mediterranean resorts were ideal. Well known for their wonderful weather, they allowed Monet another opportunity to demonstrate his range as an artist while revealing how responsive his style could be to the geographical offerings of the nation as a whole. Monet produced an astonishing number of paintings--again almost forty--in a relatively short period of time, from mid-January to the end of April  and captured all the brilliance of the sites while providing a keen sense of their seductive appeal" (in Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, pp. 131-133).
As it had at Bordighera, the Mediterranean landscape proved a source of both inspiration and frustration for the artist during his stay at Antibes. By January 19th, just a week after his arrival, he had already located "five or six superb motifs," and he reported to Alice, "The weather is so admirable that it would be a crime not to set to work right away" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., Fort Worth, 1997, p. 42). Shortly thereafter, he described the southern sun as "resplendent and eternal," predicting, "What I will bring back from here will be pure, gentle sweetness: some white, some pink, some blue, and all this surrounded by fairytale-like air" (quoted in ibid., p. 42). In a letter to Renoir, however, he compared the process of painting at Antibes to "fencing and wrestling with the sun" (quoted in R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 123), and to the critic Gustave Geffroy he wrote, "I am very worried about what I am doing. It is so beautiful here, so clear and luminous! You are bathed in blue air, it's frightening" (quoted in P.H. Tucker, Monet in the 90s: The Series Paintings, exh. cat., Boston, 1989, p. 32). Despite these concerns, Monet's stay at Antibes proved extremely fruitful. He worked at a feverish pace, even when the sun was so intense that it caused him eyestrain, and returned home to Giverny at the end of April with thirty-nine paintings of eighteen different sites.
The present painting is one of seven closely related works that depict pine trees on the seashore around Antibes (Wildenstein, nos. 1187-1193; figs. 1-2). Joachim Pissarro has identified these landscapes as "some of the most powerful and resonant that Monet painted by the Mediterranean" (in exh. cat., op. cit., Fort Worth, 1997, p. 140). The seven canvases were painted from three different spots on the coastline. Two of them (the present example and fig. 1) portray a grove of trees that extended in Monet's day from Cap d'Antibes to Golfe Juan. Three others (W., nos. 1187-1189) depict the beach at Juan-les-Pins, not far from Monet's hotel, the aptly named Chateau de la Pinède; the final two works in the sequence (W., nos. 1192-1193; fig. 2) were also painted near La Pinède, the location being recognizable from the distinctive crestline of the Alps in the background. Despite these varied settings, the series possesses a particularly systematic structure. There are two pairs of paintings, plus one on its own, that depict groups of trees, and a pair of paintings that feature only a single tree. The five canvases that portray several trees are all of the same size (73 x 92 cm.), while the canvases with a single tree are slightly smaller (65 x 92 cm.). Each pair of paintings consists of two canvases that depict nearly the identical arrangement of trees at different times of the day. Pins, cap d'Antibes, for instance, was probably painted in the late morning or early afternoon, judging from the strong highlights on the leaves and the lack of prominent shadows; its pendant (fig. 1), by contrast, shows the trees in the early evening, with strong shadows and dark blue-green foliage. Joachim Pissarro has written:
"This group demonstrates a uniquely cohesive plan; the works could not be separated from one another any more than the lines of a poem could be. With seven paintings distributed into three pairs of almost identical motifs plus one motif on its own, the structure of the group follows this rhythm: a-a b-b c d-d. This offers an interesting analogy with the basic structure of a quatrain and a tercet in a sonnet. Whether Monet had the sonnet structure in mind when he painted this series or not, his close relationship with Mallarmé sheds revealing light on this impressive group of works" (in ibid., p. 140).
With their systematic exploration of the effects of light on a given motif, the paintings of trees at Antibes anticipate Monet's celebrated series from the following two decades, including his views of Rouen Cathedral, Charing Cross Bridge, and the water-lily pond in his garden at Giverny. William Seitz has written, "At Antibes, in one of the first systematically cyclical portrayals of light...the enduring tones of the leaves, branches, and earth are wholly supplanted by the scintillating permeation of a Mediterranean morning, noon, and afternoon. With this group, the series method is fully postulated" (in Claude Monet: Seasons and Moments, exh. cat., New York, 1960, pp. 19-23). The Antibes pictures are especially related to the twenty-four views of poplars on the Epte River that Monet painted in 1891, which continue the artist's exploration of trees against water (fig. 3). The Poplars were the second of Monet's important late series, following immediately upon the Grainstacks of 1888-1891, and were so important to him, both professionally and personally, that he paid to prevent the trees from being felled for lumber so that he could continue his work. The interaction of trees, water, and sky also forms the pictorial focus of a second small series that Monet painted at Antibes in 1888: a group of four views of the town protruding into the Mediterranean on a small spit of land, framed by a group of trees in the foreground (W., nos. 1167-1170; fig. 4).
On June 4th, just over a month after his return from Antibes, Monet delivered ten of his canvases, including the present one, to Boussod & Valadon, the Parisian gallery where Theo van Gogh worked. The paintings were hung immediately at the gallery and remained on view through July. While Monet's work from Bordighera in 1884 had attracted little attention upon its initial exhibition, the Antibes pictures received an overwhelmingly positive response from critics, artists, and gallery-goers alike. The critic Gustave Geffroy, one of Monet's most ardent supporters, wrote a review of the exhibit for La Justice, in which he dubbed the artist "the poet and historian of the south of France" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., Fort Worth, 1997, p. 63). Even Vincent van Gogh took note of the Antibes pictures, writing to the Australian artist John Russell, "My brother has an exhibition of ten new paintings by Claude Monet, his latest works, for instance a landscape with red sunset and a group of fir trees by the seaside. The red sun casts an orange or blood red reflection on the blue trees and the ground. I wish you could see them" (quoted in J. Rewald, op. cit., p. 23).
(fig. 1) Claude Monet, Sous les pins, fin du jour, 1888. Philadelphia Museum of Art. BARCODE 26000589
(fig. 2) Claude Monet, Montagnes de l'Estérel, 1888. Courtauld Institute Galleries, London. BARCODE 24007146
(fig. 3) Claude Monet, Les peupliers, 1891. Sold, Christie's, New York, 8 November 2000, Lot 9. BARCODE 24007160
(fig. 4) Claude Monet, Antibes vue de la Salis, 1888. Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. BARCODE 24007153