Property from the family of Claude Monet
Property from the family of Claude Monet
In retrospect, Monet’s decision to exclude pastels from his exhibitions after 1874 appears tied to his career-long effort to encourage specific perceptions of his art and persona. Gradually lowering his visibility as a draftsman as he emerged onto the public stage, Monet sought to concentrate attention on the ambitious nature of his oil paintings alone.
From the 1880’s onward, Monet’s activities on the coast of Normandy moved further north, beyond Etretat to Fécamp, Les Petites-Dalles, Varengeville and Dieppe. Paul Hayes Tucker noted: “Without doubt his favorite site during the 1880s was the Normandy coast; it obviously was in his blood from his childhood in Le Havre and Sainte-Adresse and was easily accessible from Vétheuil and later from Giverny where he moved in 1883. Of all the places he visited on the coast, several became his most frequented - Pourville, Varengeville, Etretat, and Dieppe. Their appeal lay primarily in their dramatic cliffs and stretches of beach, their simplicity, starkness, and past history” (P. H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven and London, 1995, p. 107).
Normandy in North Western France was, in the 19th century, one of the most easily explored regions in France, a picturesque combination of dramatic vistas, beautiful coastal scenery and the temperamental actions of the sea. Small harbours like Honfleur and Les Petites-Dalles were becoming popular summer vacation spots among the well-to-do middle classes of Parisian society, and attracted large crowds during the summer months. Monet arrived in Les Petites-Dalles at the beginning of autumn, in an effort to avoid the throngs of seasonal holidaymakers. Working in solitude and facing trying weather conditions – his painting en plein air was often affected by the heavy rains and winds that buffeted the northern coast – Monet spent his days in the pursuit of the ephemeral conditions of light.
For Monet, the ocean was both a source of inspiration and a haven from everyday responsibilities. Leaving his partner Alice and their six children at home in their new residence at the Maison du Pressoir in Giverny, Monet was able to escape reality for weeks at a time and lose himself in the creative act of painting. These coastal expeditions were a milestone in Monet’s career and were responsible for a fundamental shift in his approach to the landscape, a development that would come to inspire generations of modern painters.
Falaises des Petites-Dalles, painted in 1884, seems to capture three kinds of temporality within a single image, from the brief swell of the waves to the fleeting life of the human beings on the shoreline, both contrasted against the eternal massive cliff face which dominates the right hand side of the composition.
Refreshingly spontaneous in its handling, this work captures the first, immediate impression of Claude Monet’s response in front of the motif, evoking the sense of urgency the artist must have felt as he fought to capture the fleeting effects of nature before they changed and disappeared before him.
Falaises des Petites- Dalles uses the expressive power of pigment to enhance the beauty of the seashore at low tide: multicolored shells appear in the wake of the receding tide, a profusion of stranded seaweed and algae line on the shore, and a myriad of tiny rosy rocks gather in small clusters, temporarily still as they await the return of the waves, and a new placement further along the beach. The visual power of the cliff and its extremely dramatic use of colors has been highlighted by the historian Robert L. Herbet: “In these pictures we are brought extremely close to the cliffs in unusual compositions intended to make us feel small and powerless in front of awesome nature (...) Monet’s rocks have an overpowering presence by virtue of their writhing mass, and by a stronger contrast of color: his dark blues and purples stand out (...) If we stare at this picture for a few moments, its rhythms force our eye upward, and then we sense the fragility of these delicately curved masses that seem almost to tremble against the evening sky, threatening us with their potential of collapse” (R.L. Herbert, Monet on the Normandy Coast: Tourism and Painting, 1867-1886, New Haven & London, 1994, pp. 108-110 and 127).
Monet painted the towering cliffs at Les Petites-Dalles from a number of different viewpoints and under varying weather conditions, a practice which may be seen to represent the artist’s first steps towards painting in “series”. Indeed, in a letter dated the 25 March 1882, Monet wrote to his dealer Durand-Ruel about his most recent experiments, referring to them as a series of interconnected views: “I would prefer to show you all the series of my studies at once, desirous to see them all together in my studio”.
The experience of painting along the scenic, tranquil coasts of Normandy came as a revelation for Monet. Indeed, he was so inspired by the dramatic landscapes he encountered that he chose to return to the area three times over the following three years. The present composition is a testament to the level of bold experimentation that Monet reached during these sojourns, as he began to push the boundaries of representation in his work. In the foreground of Falaises des Petites-Dalles, for example, the shoreline appears to dissolve into an array of independent brush strokes, each applied with a new, almost expressionist, sense of freedom. Using a palette of pure, luminous tones, the majestic cliff and ever-changing shoreline became a vehicle for the artist’s explorations of the interplay of color.
Falaises des Petites-Dalles
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Paris, Galerie H. Odermatt-Ph. Cazeau, Maîtres des XIXe et XXe siècles, May-July 1989, no. 6 (illustrated in color).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne and Paris, 1979, vol. II, p. 132, no. 904 (illustrated, p. 133).
D. Wildenstein, Monet, catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1991, vol. II, p. 338, no. 904 (illustrated).
Estate of the artist.
Michel Monet, Giverny (by descent from the above).
Rolande Verneiges, France (gift from the above).
By descent from the above to the present owner.