Monet's panoramic view of the Mediterranean coast and the fort of Antibes counts among his most spectacular series pictures from the 1880s. In January 1888, he had set off from Paris for the south, travelling aboard a luxury train and stopping briefly in several seaside towns along the Mediterranean coast. After visiting Cassis, the artist went to Cap d'Antibes where he would stay until the end of April. On the advice of his friend Guy de Maupassant, he took a room at the Château de la Pinède in Cap d'Antibes. In choosing to paint the Mediterranean landscape, Monet followed the tradition of several nineteenth century artists, including Cézanne, Renoir, Bazille and most importantly Manet. Monet's teacher Eugène Boudin was compelled to travel to Antibes and paint its surroundings after seeing Monet's depictions of the region. In spite of the occasional strong seasonal wind that often compelled him to chain his easel to the ground, Monet managed to complete thirty-nine paintings over the course of three and a half months. Antibes, le fort is among the first of those triumphant compositions.
As is often the case with his travels, Monet's progress throughout his stay in Antibes can be followed through the letters he regularly wrote to Alice Hoschedé. His mood and the efficiency with which he worked largely depended on the weather conditions. Some days he would be painting ceaselessly, and expressed satisfaction with his own work. In more severe weather conditions, however, his frantic activity was disrupted by rain and wind; by the time he could go back to work, he would be frustrated by the changed position of the sun that affected everything in his compositions. As Joachim Pissarro observed: "The status of Monet's painting in Antibes changed as fast as the weather. One day he would work 'admirably,' thanks to the 'eternal and resplendent sun,' and the next a terrible wind would make work impossible. Nevertheless, Monet worked relentlessly. On February 1, Monet reported that he had 'worked all day without a break: it is definitely so beautiful, but so difficult as well!'" (J. Pissarro, Monet and the Mediterranean (ex. cat.), op. cit., p. 42).
Monet's production during his stay in Antibes can be divided into several groups: views of town seen across the sea; landscapes filled with pine trees along the shore; and his famous amalgamation of rock, sea and sky, occasionally with the addition of the trees, as in the present composition. The rocks, the sea and the vegetation surrounding Antibes proved to be a great source of inspiration, and Monet was largely able to produce his paintings at a steady pace. He expressed confidence in his work in a letter to Alice Hoschedé written in early February: "What I will bring back from here will be pure, gentle sweetness: some white, some pink, and some blue, and all this surrounded by the fairylike air" (quoted in ibid., p. 44). Due to several disruptions in his work, however, Monet decided to prolong his journey, eager to finish his canvases before returning to his studio in Paris. The result was a number of vibrant, shimmering canvases reflecting the artist's fascination with the unique quality of the Mediterranean light.
The first owners of this spectacular canvas were the Brooks family, descendants of the wealthy New England merchant Peter Chardon Brooks, Sr. This picture was purchased from Durand-Ruel by Brooks' son, Peter Chardon Jr., in 1890 and featured in the exhibition of Monet's paintings at Saint Botolph's Club in Boston, which would be the event that effectively established Monet's reputation in the United States. Brooks' daughter Eleanor inherited this painting from her father and kept it until her death in 1961. Eleanor Brooks (Mrs. Richard Middlecott Santonstall) was the founder of the charitable organization called the Community Fund and devoted her life to humanitarian causes. That Eleanor would have appreciated the technique and innovation of the present work is unsurprising, given her very personal involvement in the art world: the same year that her father bought Antibes, le fort, she sat for a portrait by John Singer Sargent, whose own American Impressionist style was much-indebted to Monet.
Oil on canvas
(possibly) Paris, Galerie George Petit, Monet-Rodin, 1889, no. 100
25 5/8 by 32 1/8 in. 65 by 81.5 cm
(possibly) J. Le Fustec, "L'exposition Monet-Rodin," La République française, June 28, 1889, p. 3
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, vie et oeuvre, vol. V, Paris & Lausanne, 1991, no. 2024, illustrated p. 15
Christiane Eluère, Monet et la Riviera, Paris, 2006, no. 92, illustrated pp. 123-125
Joseph Baillio, Claude Monet: A Tribute to Daniel Wildenstein and Katia Granoff (exhibition catalogue), Wildenstein Gallery, New York, 2007, discussed p. 97
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, catalogue raisonné, vol. 3, Cologne, 1996, no. 1161a, illustrated in color p. 439 (catalogued with the measurements 60 x 81cm)
Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist on June 6, 1890)
Joseph Foxcroft Cole (acquired as agent from the above on September 25, 1890)
Peter Chardon Brooks, Jr., Boston (acquired from the above)
Eleanor Brooks (Mrs. Richard M.) Saltonstall, Boston (by descent from the above)
Private Collection (by descent from the above in 1962)
Acquired from the above on January 10, 1978