Claude Monet painted La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers in 1875. He captured the view along the Seine from the other side of the river from Argenteuil, where he had made his home three years earlier and which was to become the great crucible of Impressionism. This picture is one of three showing similar views that Monet depicted during this period, revealing his continuing entrancement with his surroundings and their aptness for his pictures: they allowed him to depict greenery, skies and water effects, as well as providing a glimpse of modern life in a place frequented by the Parisian middle classes at the weekends. That idea of modern pleasure is encapsulated in the modish figures seen walking along the bank of the river, and also by the number of sailboats, a theme that would recur in Monet's paintings of this period.
To paint La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers, Monet used an incredibly free technique, filling the canvas with vitality through the darting flecks of colour with which he has conjured the scene. This painterly quality, with the gesturality of some of the criss-crossing brushstrokes in, for instance, the path area, was a quality that had increasingly come into play in Monet's pictures during the last couple of years and would be pushed to new extremes at the beginning of the Twentieth Century in his celebrated Nymphéas, many of which border on, and prefigure, abstraction. The development of this lively style of painting is made all the more explicit by the contrast between this view and another from Monet's first year in this area, Le bassin d'Argenteuil, of 1872, now in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris. In that work, which features a highly similar composition yet in fact shows the view facing upstream from the other side of the river from La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers, already reveals the Impressionistic brushwork, yet retaines too its rooting in Monet's earlier training. In La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers, he has introduced a vivacity that would remain crucial to him, for instance in his views of the interior of the Gare Saint-Lazare two years later.
The fact that Monet has employed such a distinctive treatment of the paint in La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers may reflect historical events surrounding the Impressionists during the course of that year. It was in 1874 that they had held the first Impressionist exhibition, though it had in fact been under the banner of the Société anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc.; it was during that exhibition that Monet's painting Impression, soleil levant of 1872, now in the Musée Marmottan, Paris, gave the group its name due to a critical article by Louis Leroy; a few years later they had proudly adopted it for themselves. In 1874, the Société anonyme was broke and was disbanded; a group of artists sought to sell works at the Hôtel Drouot, in part to compensate for the lack of an exhibition that year. Only a few rallied around Renoir, the instigator: Monet himself, Berthe Morisot and Alfred Sisley. The auction, which was organised in part through the aid of Durand-Ruel, who had acted as valuer, was such a sensation for the public, who felt that its taste had been outraged, that the police had to intervene.
The sale was far from the success hoped for or anticipated. Nonetheless, had the conversely beneficial effect of liberating the artists involved from the Salon circuit; more traditional amateurs who had occasionally strayed into Impressionism now veered away, but a new generation of collectors quickly filled the vacuum, including the painter Gustave Caillebotte, who was later to make Petit-Gennevilliers his home and who was so instrumental in the legacy of Impressionism. It is perhaps a mark of Monet's emancipation from the expectations of the Salon system, which his friend and fellow painter Edouard Manet still cherished so much, that La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers has such a vivid sense of freedom in its brushwork, allowing the colours to sing often in unmodulated form. The bruised nuances of the clouds, with the purples and greens, as well as the shadows, reveal Monet's incredible skills for observation as well as his increasing boldness.
It was in fact through the influence of Manet - whose dedication to the Salon and to being accepted within its system and eking change from the inside meant that he did not exhibit alongside the Impressionists, who many people thought were essentially his artistic heirs and pupils - that Monet had moved to Argenteuil in 1872. Manet's own family lived in Gennevilliers, and they were friendly with a family which owned a great deal of property in Argenteuil, where Louis-Eugène Aubry had been mayor. His widow leased Monet a house there at the end of December 1871, and he was able to have a housewarming in early January. Manet again came to the aid of Monet when, in 1874, he had financial trouble and was unable to pay his rent. At this point he moved to a new house that had been built next door, and which in fact was more expensive, possibly a reflection of his increasing confidence in the path he had chosen. Living in Argenteuil, Monet enjoyed a period of relative stability while he explored the views along the river by all seasons, capturing it in the summer and in the winter alike, often showing boats in the harbour and even the streets of the town itself. Monet concentrated on a greater variety of subjects in this single location, which allowed him to avoid the intensive painting campaigns and constant moving that had formerly formed his working practice and which would come to the fore again in the 1880s. This stability would have been all the more appreciated as he had a young family.
The proximity of Manet to Monet had great ramifications in their painting; Manet appears to have been struck by the pleinairisme of Monet's work and to have lightened his palette during the first half of the 1870s, while the presence of the older, celebrated figurehead of the new generation of painters was vital to Monet. The pair often worked together, sometimes also joined by Pierre-Auguste Renoir; this is testified to in the pictures by both Renoir and Manet showing Monet's family in 1873. Likewise, Manet painted Monet sitting in the studio boat that he had created, which allowed him to capture a wider range of views around Argenteuil. While La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers was clearly painted from the towpath that is seen stretching out before us, it nonetheless provides a fascinating insight into Monet's working techniques during this period.
Manet's picture of Monet in the studio boat also reveals the latter artist's increasing habit of editing out industry from his paintings. While La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers features only a couple of chimneys and no smoke rising from them, while other vertical elements are provided by the masts of the boats, Manet's picture from the previous year makes it clear that there were many such chimneys. Monet was increasingly fascinated with nature, with this domesticated idyll that he had sought, and as it disappeared, he began to express it in his paintings. Similarly, it has been pointed out that he did not paint the steamboats which so frequently travelled up and down the river, which served as a commercial route as well as an arena for pleasure boats. While Monet would, two years later, create some of his most eloquent views of the industrial, mechanical world in his pictures of the Gare Saint-Lazare, it was perhaps more on account of the billowing smoke that he went there; technological advances appear to have been less and less important to his depictions of modern life. Instead, in pictures such as La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers, he was depicting a more pleasurable view of modernity, of people strolling by the river, of a pleasant day with a good breeze and amateur sailors out on their jollies. This was modern life on a more human level, and all the more attractive for it.
La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers has a notably political provenance, having formed part of the collections of several significant figures. It was formerly in the collection of Denys Cochin, who held the position of Deputy in Paris for over two and a half decades and published several works concerning politics. Cochin's formidable collection included several pictures by Paul Cézanne, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Francisco Goya, and Manet; several of these pictures now grace the walls of some of the great museums of the world. The picture was also owned by Fernand Bouisson, who was President of the Chamber of Deputies for almost a decade between 1927 and 1936; while his longevity in this position was something of a record, it was contrasted with the one gap in his service when he was Prime Minister of France for a week in 1935. La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers was subsequently in the collection of the prominent American businessman Charles H. Price II, whose successful career has included his appointment as the United States Ambassador first to Belgium and then to the United Kingdom.
La berge du Petit-Gennevilliers
Oil on canvas
Signed 'Claude Monet' (lower right)
Claude Monet , Paintings, oil
Hiroshima, Prefectural Art Museum, Monet and Renoir, Two Great Impressionist Trends, November 2003 - January 2004, no. 6, p. 31 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art, February - May 2004.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
24 1/8 x 31 5/8 in. (61.4 x 80.5 cm.)
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. I, 1840-1881, Lausanne & Paris, 1974, no. 375, p. 274 (illustrated p. 275).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. V, Lausanne, 1991, no. 375, p. 30.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Cologne, 1996, no. 375, p. 154 (illustrated in colour).
Denys Cochin, Paris.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, by 1914.
M. Mancini, Paris, by 1917.
Président Fernand Bouisson, Neuilly-sur-Seine, by circa 1955.
Jacques Lindon, New York, by circa 1968.
Mr and Mrs Charles H. Price II, USA, by circa 1970.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, 13 May 1980, lot 22.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (no. 9389).
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 November 1989, lot 8.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.