La maison du douanier, effet rose is part of a series of more than fifty views that Monet painted in 1896-1897 of the towering cliffs and open, windswept sea at Pourville, Dieppe, and Varengeville. It was the first time in a full decade that the artist, a native of Le Havre, had worked on the Normandy coast, his favorite site during the first half of the 1880s. From February to April of both 1896 and 1897, he lodged at Pourville, a small, unpretentious port two miles west of Dieppe where he had spent nearly six months in 1882. Upon his arrival, he wrote to Durand-Ruel, "I set myself up here several days ago, I needed to see the sea again and am enchanted to see once more so many things that I did here fifteen years ago" (quoted in Monet: The Seine and the Sea, 1878-1883, exh. cat., National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2003, p. 35). The Normandy coast had been the site of some of Monet's earliest experiments with the serial technique that came to dominate his production in the 1890s, and his return to Pourville at this time may represent an effort to re-engage with motifs that he viewed as instrumental to his evolution as an artist. Paul Tucker has explained, "Going back to the Channel allowed Monet to return to his roots, assess his previous work, and test the Northern tradition of landscape painting on which his art had so long and firmly rested" (Monet in the 90s: The Series Paintings, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1990, pp. 205-208).
During his first stay at Pourville in 1882, Monet had roamed all over the high chalk cliffs, employing a local porter to carry his canvases, and had also set up his easel at numerous spots on the beach. In 1896 and 1897, by contrast, he limited himself to just three motifs, all of which he had already explored during his earlier sojourn. He concentrated for the first few weeks on relatively straightforward views of the coastline as it swept westward from Pourville. Having re-acquainted himself with the region, he then moved onto the top of the bluffs for a more dramatic and challenging vantage point, painting one group of canvases facing east toward Dieppe and another looking west toward the Petit Ailly gorge and the small stone customs house on the adjoining bluff. The customs house (fig. 1) had been built during the Napoleonic period as a lookout post to keep an eye on British naval activity and thereafter was used as a measure against smuggling. The cottage was later appropriated by local fishermen for storage and refuge; it no longer exists, the erosion of the cliffs having caused it to fall into the sea. It had been one of Monet's favorite motifs in 1882 (Wildenstein, nos. 730-743, 803-805; fig. 2), and he was eager to re-visit it fifteen years later. In the first letter that he wrote to Alice after settling into his hotel in 1897, he reported, "I arrived without problem and was greeted with beautiful weather. As soon as I had lunch, I went out to see all of my motifs. Nothing has changed... The little house is intact. I have a key to it" (quoted in ibid., pp. 219-222).
Monet's views of the customs house from 1896-1897 form three compositional clusters. In five paintings, he looked down steeply on the structure from a higher bluff (Wildenstein, nos. 1428-1429, 1445-1447). The cabin appears as a small, dark mass at the very bottom edge of the canvas, dwarfed by and almost indistinguishable against the towering cliff face. In another subset, Monet positioned his easel across the gorge from the customs house and depicted it tucked protectively into the folds of the undulating landscape (Wildenstein, nos. 1427, 1448-1454; fig. 3). A final group of paintings, including the present example, portrays the customs house at close range, looking out over the Channel waters (Wildenstein, nos. 1455-1458; fig. 4). A solid, block-like presence on the very edge of the cliff, the cabin seems to represent a stand-in for Monet himself, contemplating the expanse of the sea in solitude, vulnerable to the elements but committed to mastering them. Tucker has written, "The cabin appears to have been a repository for Monet's deep feelings of various and sometimes contradictory kinds. It appears to be at once mournful and heroic, anxious and reserved, threatened and self-contained" (ibid., p. 217).
Although Monet had painted the customs house from a very similar vantage point in 1882 (Wildenstein, nos. 735-738, 805), the new views differ substantially from these earlier treatments of the motif. In 1896-1897, Monet came closer to the cottage, enlarging its presence in the scene, and diminished the amount of the canvas devoted to the sea. The result is to make the landscape seem weightier and more monumental, as if more mature concerns were being considered. The later paintings are also characterized by more generalized effects of light and softer, less defined contours. In the present canvas, for example, the entire scene is bathed in a muted, pastel glow, with few contrasting shadows; forms meld into one another, and even the waters of the Channel seem preternaturally calm. Richard Thompson has written, "Such paintings seem to exist in a strange equilibrium, a hinterland between the plein-air naturalism that Monet had so triumphantly pursued in 1882 and a more evocative, almost dream-like quality more consistent with the cultural climate of Symbolism in the 1890s. For such paintings prompt a variety of responses--a sense of solitude, a pantheistic tranquility in the warm clasp of nature, and, perhaps particularly in Monet's case, a sense of nostalgia for the verities of familiar natural elements and forces in a changing modern world" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2003, p. 150).
Indeed, during the last years of the century, Monet developed a mounting interest in re-working themes from earlier in his career. His Thames series of 1899-1901, for example, was the fulfillment of a long-cherished plan to re-visit sites that he had painted on his first trip to London in the early 1870s. In 1901, he returned to the village of Vétheuil, where he had lived and worked three decades earlier, and painted a series of fifteen views that exude the same rosy, nostalgic glow as the late Pourville scenes. "Since these softer effects engender a sense of introspection," Tucker has written, "it is tempting to see these pictures as being informed as much by memory as by experience, leading us to believe that we are looking at an aging man reflecting on his past as much as observing and transcribing specific lighting conditions" (exh. cat., op. cit., Boston, 1990, p. 222). The artist himself explained to Thiébault-Sisson, "Ever since I turned sixty, I have had the idea of undertaking, for each of the types of motif which had in turn shared my attention, a sort of synthesis in which I would sum up in one canvas, sometimes two, my past impressions and sensations. I would have to travel a great deal and for a long time, to revisit one by one the staging posts of my life as a painter and to verify my past feelings" (quoted in J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 31).
In June 1898, just over a year after he returned to Giverny from Pourville, Monet exhibited twenty-four views of the Normandy coast at the Galerie Georges Petit. They were paired with fifteen paintings from his Matinées sur la Seine series, which had occupied him during the summers of 1896 and 1897. The Petit show was Monet's first exhibition of new work since the Rouen Cathedrals were shown at Durand-Ruel in May 1895, and it was an unqualified critical success. The present canvas was most likely included as either no. 27 or 28 and was illustrated in a special, widely distributed supplement of the periodical Le Gaulois, which cemented Monet's status as the pre-eminent landscape painter in France (see photograph, previous page).
Front page of Le Gaulois (supplement), 16 June 1898. BARCODE: 28860419
(fig. 1) Photograph of the customs house at Varengeville, circa 1900. BARCODE: 28001669A_FIG
(fig. 2) Claude Monet, La maison du pêcheur à Varengeville, 1882. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. BARCODE: 28860402
(fig. 3) Claude Monet, La gorge de Varengeville, fin d'après-midi, 1897. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. BARCODE: 28860396
(fig. 4) Claude Monet, Cabane de douaniers, 1897. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. BARCODE: 28860389
La maison du Douanier, effet rose
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'Claude Monet 97' (lower left)
Claude Monet , 19th Century, Paintings, oil, France, Impressionist, landscape
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Exposition Claude Monet, June 1898, no. 27 or 28 (titled Poste de Douaniers, à Varengeville).
Berlin, Galerie Paul Cassirer, Collektiv-Austellung Claude Monet, Werke von Lucien Simon, Liebermann, Leistikow, Degas, Cotte, March 1903.
London, Gimpel Fils, Claude Monet, November 1950, no. 11.
Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Choix d'un amateur: collection de M. Jacques Spreiregen, 1960, no. 54 (illustrated).
New York, Richard L. Feigen & Co., Claude Monet: For The Benefit of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October-November 1969, p. 55, no. 35 (illustrated).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
25 7/8 x 36½ in. (65.8 x 92.7 cm.)
"Exposition Claude Monet" in Supplément au journal Le Gaulois, 16 June 1898, p. 3 (illustrated).
H. Rostrup, "Det levende Ojeblik" in Maddelelser fra Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, vol. 15, 1958, p. 21 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Monet, Impressions, Lausanne, 1967, p. 50 (illustrated in color, p. 55).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Milan, 1971, p. 63, no. 3 (illustrated in color).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1979, vol. III, p. 204, no. 1457 (illustrated, p. 205).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1991, vol. V, p. 51, no. 1457 (titled Cabane de douaniers à Varangeville).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1996, vol. III, pp. 604-605, no. 1457 (illustrated in color, p. 604).
B. Echte and W. Feilchenfeldt, eds., Kunstsalon Cassirer, Wädenswil, 2011, vol. I, pt. 2, p. 732.
Allard et Noël, Paris (acquired from the artist, February 1899).
Avrillon Collection, Paris.
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 14 January 1902).
Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above, 15 December 1902).
Lady John Hope, London; sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 17 July 1957, lot 177.
Jacques Spreiregen, Geneva (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, London, 9 July 1965, lot 98.
M. Cresswell, New York (acquired at the above sale).
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York.
John Crawford, New York (1966)
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York.
Luis A. Havas, Venezuela (1972).
Lolo Hernandez, Caracas.
Trosby Galleries, Palm Beach.
Vectra Barnett, Atlanta (acquired from the above, 1973); sale, Christie's, New York, 2 November 1993, lot 22.
Private collection, Massachusetts (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.