In January 1883, Monet arrived in Etretat, a popular village on the English Channel near Le Havre (see fig. 1). The artist was immediately impressed by the spectacular landscape of this region, and in a letter to Alice Hoschedé written in 1883, he declared, “I am truly very happy to have come here, it’s really pleasant and I believe that I am going to do some good things…I have my motifs right outside the hotel” (quoted in Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Lausanne and Paris, 1979, letter 310, translated from the French). The artist remained in Etretat for approximately six weeks and would return several times between 1883 and 1886 to paint the famous rock formations and the weather-beaten fishing boats beached along the shore. Over the course of the nineteenth century, Etretat had transformed itself from a modest, seafaring village into a thriving tourist destination, with its increasing popularity due largely to its prominence in the works of many contemporary artists and writers. In the present work, the choppiness of the sea due to high winds indicates Monet’s familiarity with the weather conditions of this region. The finely chiseled, perforated cliffs along the coast had been famously depicted by Courbet during the 1860s (see fig. 2), and Monet was notably inspired by these very paintings when he executed similar versions of this view. The present work is most closely linked with his painting Trois bateaux de pêche, dated 1885 (Wildenstein no. 1029; see fig. 3). Depictions of fishing boats are evident throughout several of Monet’s compositions and Bateaux sur le galet stands out as an especially well resolved example of this recurring theme. The careful attention Monet gave to the depiction of the boats in the present work reflects his understanding of the fishing industry along the Normandy coast. At the same time, their prominence in the central foreground of the composition suggests their importance to the inhabitants of the region. Interestingly, the portrayal of working life in France also appealed strongly to Vincent van Gogh, who addressed similar themes throughout his career. Indeed, the vivid colors and assertive brushstrokes Monet employed also prompted admiration from van Gogh, who was exposed to Monet’s work through his brother, Theo. In reference to his painting Tarascon Diligence (see fig. 4), Vincent wrote to Theo, “The two carriages are very colourful: green, red, yellow, black, blue, orange….They are painted with heavy impasto, like a Monticelli. You used to have a very beautiful Claude Monet showing four coloured boats on a beach. Well, here they are carriages, but the composition is in the same manner” (letter 552, October 1888).
Etretat was a favorite subject for Monet, who was raised in nearby Le Havre and Sainte-Adresse, and, by many accounts, remained a Norman in spirit throughout his life. His early biographer Gustave Geffroy once wrote about the artist’s affinity for this location, noting how he would in later years come to think of these particular paintings of Etretat with great fondness: “Etretat! Monet always preserved the memory of the bold sailors, the fragile boats, the wild banks. And when the nostalgia for the sea would come upon him, while at peaceful Giverny, it was always Etretat he would call to mind, if not the landscape of the shore of the sailors that he so admired, then the great waters that did not change under the cloudy sky…” (Gustave Geffroy, Cl. Monet, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre, Paris, 1922, p. 269, translated from the French).
Fig. 1, Etretat, the beach and Porte d’Amont, 1888.
Fig. 2, Gustave Courbet, La Grève, Falaise d'Étretat, 1869, oil on canvas, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie.
Fig. 3, Claude Monet, Trois bateaux de pêche, 1885, oil on canvas, Szépmuvészeti, Budapest
Fig. 4, Vincent van Gogh, Tarascon Diligence, 1888, oil on canvas, The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, Inc.
Oil on canvas
Paris, Armand Drouant, Salon des peintres de la mer, 1926, no. 95
Geneva, Peinture française, 1926, either no. 5 or 8
Berlin, Galerien Thannhauser, Claude Monet, 1928, no. 35 (titled Fischerboote am Strand von Etretat)
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Claude Monet, 1931, no. 77
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1940-48 (on loan)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; San Francisco Museum of Art; The Art Gallery of Toronto, Les Fauves, 1952-53, no. 6 (exhibited only in New York)
London, The Tate Gallery, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1961, no. 38
Portland, Maine, Portland Museum of Art, Impressionism and Post Impressionism: The Collector’s Passion, 1991, no. 23
Roslyn Harbor, Nassau County Museum of Art, Normandy & Its Artists Remembered on the 50th Anniversary of the Invasion, 1994
28 3/4 by 36 1/4 in. 73 by 92 cm
Lionello Venturi, Les Archives de l’impressionnisme, vol. I, Paris and New York, 1939, pp. 462-463
Oscar Reuterswärd, Monet: en konstnärshistorik, Stockholm, 1948, p. 157, illustrated pl. 73
John Rewald, "French Paintings in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney," Connoisseur, London, March 1956, illustrated p. 137
John Rewald, The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, illustrated p. 517 (titled Boats at Etretat)
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Lausanne-Paris, 1979, no. 1030, p. 176, illustrated p. 177, discussed p. 295 (pièces justificatives 109, 110, 111); vol. IV, 1985, discussed pp. 417, 418 (letters 2543, 2559, 2560)
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, Cologne, 1996, no. 1030, illustrated p. 387
Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist on May 18, 1924)
Aline Barnsdall, Beverly Hills, (acquired from the above on February 28, 1938)
Aline Elizabeth Devine (by descent from the above by 1940)
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney (acquired from the above on May 1, 1952)