Although it is Monet's paintings of his own flower gardens and lily pond that are most readily associated today with the town of Giverny, the artist also took seemingly limitless inspiration from the countryside surrounding this picturesque farming community, where he lived from 1883 until his death more than four decades later. Between 1884 and 1886 alone, Monet painted a great many canvases that explore the terrain around his new home, and the landscape near Giverny provided the motifs for the majority of his pioneering serial endeavors of the 1890s, including Les Meules, Les Peupliers, and Les matinées sur la Seine. Within days of arriving at Giverny, Monet wrote to Durand-Ruel, "Once settled, I hope to produce masterpieces, because I like the countryside very much" (quoted in Monet's Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978, pp. 15-16), and nearly a decade later, he remained, as he told the dealer, "certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside" (quoted in P. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 175). "This was the landscape he came to know most intimately, in every season and under every weather condition," James Wood has written, "and its accessibility made possible the extended serial treatment that is the underlying structure for the work of the entire Giverny period" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1978, p. 11).
When Monet, his future wife Alice Hoschedé, and their combined brood of eight children moved to Giverny in April 1883, it was a tiny village of just three hundred inhabitants, situated at the confluence of the Seine and the Epte about forty miles northwest of Paris. Upon their arrival there, the family rented a large, pink stucco house on two acres of land, sandwiched between the main village road (now known as the rue Claude Monet) and the regional thoroughfare connecting Vernon and Gasny (the Chemin du Roy). The house boasted a kitchen garden and orchard in front and a barn to the west that Monet converted into a studio; it was only after he bought the property in 1890 that he initiated its ambitious and expensive transformation into the floral and aquatic wonderland that was so admired in his later years.
During the first few months that he spent at Giverny, Monet focused his attention on the familiar motif of the Seine, which had been the subject of so many of his paintings during the previous ten years. "It always takes a while to get to know a new landscape," he explained, with some trepidation, to Durand-Ruel (quoted in ibid., p. 19). Yet after returning to Giverny in April 1884 following a three-month trip to the Italian Riviera, Monet embraced the landscape near his new home whole-heartedly. Over the course of the next two years, he produced a remarkably diverse corpus of landscapes in every season, painting on the hill overlooking his house, in the village, on the roads leading to nearby towns, in the fields, and along the riverbanks. The journalist Georges Jeanniot, who accompanied Monet on an excursion into the countryside near Giverny in 1888, recalled, "He would stop before the most dissimilar scenes, admiring each and making me aware of how splendid and unexpected nature is... He is always working on two or three canvases at once: he brings them all along and puts them on the easel as the light changes. This is his method" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1978, p. 21).
In January 1885, the average temperature at Giverny was minus 6 degrees Celsius, and heavy snow blanketed the region, recasting the familiar landscape in shades of white, silver, and blue. Inspired by this wintry spectacle and undeterred by the harsh conditions, Monet rushed outdoors to paint, producing nine views of Giverny and its environs before the snow and ice had time to melt (Wildenstein, nos. 961-968). In a letter to Durand-Ruel, he exclaimed, "I am in the snow up to my neck; I have a whole series of paintings in progress. I have only one fear, that the weather may change" (quoted in Impressionists in Winter: Effets de Neige, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 34).
The present painting is one of four closely related snowscapes from this month, all of which depict the main road entering Giverny from the east, with the first houses in town visible in the middle distance. The first canvas in the group shows the landscape swathed in pale gray, suggesting that snow may still be falling (Wildenstein, no. 965; fig. 1). In the next two paintings, including the present one, the snow has stopped, and the sun has begun to set (see also Wildenstein, no. 967). Vibrant hues of yellow, orange, and pink streak the sky and reflect on the snowy path below, contrasting with the cool blues and whites of the winter landscape and lending visual drama to the still, quiet scene. The final painting in the sequence depicts the site in bright sunshine, under a high blue sky. Monet apparently left this canvas unfinished in January 1885 and returned to it the following winter when snow fell once again, writing to Alice Hoschedé on December 10th, "I shall try to finish my roads to Giverny" (quoted in D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1996, p. 359).
Although almost all the Impressionist painters experimented periodically with the depiction of snowscapes, none treated the subject with as much persistence or creativity as Monet. From the mid-1860s through the mid-1890s, Monet painted more than a hundred canvases that explore the ephemeral aspects of winter weather in all its myriad aspects, from light hoar-frost glistening on the frozen earth to surging ice-floes on the surface of the Seine. The passion with which Monet pursued plein air painting in winter was legendary even during his own lifetime. In 1867, a journalist reported seeing Monet hard at work in Honfleur in the dead of winter: "It was cold enough to split rocks. We perceived a foot warmer, then an easel, then a gentleman bundled up, in three overcoats, gloves on his hands, his face half frozen; it was Monet studying an effect of snow" (quoted in Origins of Impressionism, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, pp. 249-250). The artist himself wrote to Gustave Geffroy from Norway in 1896, "Dear friend, a brief note just to assure you of my fate, so that you don't suppose that I have died from the cold. I have never suffered, to the great amazement of the Norwegians! I painted today in the snow, which falls endlessly. You would have laughed if you could have seen me completely white, with icicles hanging from my beard like stalactites" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1998, p. 35).
One of Monet's favorite compositional devices in his winter scenes was a snowy road or path leading into the distance, drawing the viewer into the frosty landscape. He experimented with this motif whenever there was substantial snowfall: at Honfleur in 1865 and 1867, Louveciennes in 1869, Argenteuil in 1874-1875, Vétheuil in 1879, and Giverny and its environs in 1885 and 1886. Often, he painted the road receding directly toward a single vanishing point on the horizon, its two sides functioning as a pair of perspective axes (fig. 2). In other cases, including Entrée de Giverny en hiver, he opted for a more unusual and dynamic composition in which the road curves into depth, creating a kind of centrifugal force (figs. 3-4). In the present canvas, the gnarled tree in the left foreground acts as a repoussoir device, accentuating the rapid recession of the road and the contrast between near and far, while houses in the middle distance counter this swift movement into depth, providing a fixed compositional anchor at the very spot that the well-trodden path disappears from view.
This innovative pictorial structure recalls the work of Japanese printmakers such as Hiroshige and Hokusai, who frequently employed the sweeping arc of a path or riverbank to draw the viewer's eye into the scene. Monet began collecting Japanese woodcut prints as early as 1856 and owned more than two hundred examples by the end of his life, including at least a dozen snow scenes. In 1893, Monet, Pissarro, and Rodin visited an exhibition of Japanese art together, after which Pissarro wrote to his son Lucien, "Hiroshige is a wonderful Impressionist. Myself, Monet, and Rodin are in rapture over him. I am glad to have made my effects of snow and flood; the Japanese artists give me confirmation of our visual choice" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1994, p. 252).
With its emphasis on fleeting effects of light and weather, Entrée de Giverny en hiver also confirms Monet's continued commitment to Impressionism, at a time when many of the movement's pioneering members were abandoning the cause. Renoir, for example, had come to feel by 1885 that he "had reached the end of Impressionism" and was working in a strongly classicizing vein (quoted in Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 241), while Pissarro had recently met Seurat and quite vocally embraced Neo-Impressionism as "a new phase in the logical march of Impressionism" (quoted in J. Pissarro, Pissarro, New York, 1993, p. 212). Monet, in contrast, resolutely declared, "I am still an Impressionist and will always remain one" (quoted in Monet in the 90s: The Series Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1990, p. 20). During the artist's early years at Giverny, Paul Tucker has concluded, "Monet was out to prove his worth as the foremost exponent of modernism and...to prove Impressionism's superior capacity to exploit color, describe particular climatic conditions, use paint in novel ways, and reveal fundamental truths about art and the world" (ibid., pp. 23 and 25).
(fig. 1) Claude Monet, L'entrée de Giverny sous la neige, 1885. Sold, Christie's, Paris, 1 December 2006, lot 324. BARCODE: 5496_324
(fig. 2) Claude Monet, Effet de neige à Limetz, 1886. Sold, Christie's, New York, 4 May 2012, lot 61. BARCODE: 27852798
(fig. 3) Claude Monet, Effet de neige, rue à Argenteuil, 1875. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. BARCODE: 28859611
(fig. 4) Claude Monet, Entrée du village de Vétheuil, l'hiver, 1879. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. BARCODE: 28859604
Entrée de Giverny en hiver, soleil couchant
Oil on canvas
Signed 'Claude Monet' (lower left)
Claude Monet , 19th Century, Paintings, oil, France, Impressionist, landscape
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
25¾ x 32 in. (65.5 x 81.2 cm.)
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1979, vol. II, p. 152, no. 153 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, p. 359, no. 966 (illustrated).
Mme Gouin, Paris (circa 1952).
Galerie de l'Elysée (Alex Maguy), Paris.
Jean-François Gobbi, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1975.