La Plage à Trouville is an important and fascinating early example of Monet's beach scenes, a subject that is now recognised as an icon of the Impressionist movement. With its evanescent effects of light and colour, and a lively, atmospheric depiction of daily life at a fashionable seaside resort, it represents a key moment in Monet's career and in the development of his Impressionist style. The present work was recently included in the travelling exhibition Impressionists by the Sea, which opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last summer. Its featuring on the cover of the exhibition catalogue is not only a testament to its importance in Monet's œuvre, but also proclaims it as an emblem of Impressionism.
La Plage à Trouville was painted in the summer of 1870, when the artist took his new wife Camille and their son Jean to Trouville (fig. 1) on the Normandy coast to spend the summer months there. By the second half of the nineteenth century Trouville had become a fashionable summer retreat for the French aristocracy, and their colourful costumes provided a subject-matter to a number of painters, most notably Boudin, who returned there throughout his career. Boudin and his wife were also spending the summer of 1870 at Trouville, and the two artists often painted together en plein air, while Camille and Madame Boudin would relax, sunbathe and read. Boudin's interest in capturing the fleeting effects of sunlight on sumptuous fabrics and the effect of a windy day on the flowing garments (fig. 2) was to have a profound influence on Impressionist artists. Indeed, 'Monet later acknowledged his debt to Boudin for introducing him to this peinture claire as a means of representing the effects of bright daylight' (J. House in Impressionists by the Sea (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 132).
The paintings Monet executed throughout the summer at Trouville depict either a wide stretch of the beach populated by a number of figures, as in the present work, or the elegantly dressed Camille on the beach (fig. 3). The three major achievements of Monet's summer at Trouville are the present work, its sister-painting La Plage à Trouville, now in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (fig. 4) and L'Hôtel des Roches Noires, à Trouville, in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris (fig. 5). These three pictures mark a turning-point in the artist's career, when he started using a brighter palette and focusing on the effects of light. Although he had been rejected from the Salon only months before, while his fellow artists Manet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley and others had all been accepted, the present work shows Monet in a seemingly optimistic mood, employing vivid colours and a daring compositional arrangement. The scene is characterised by its expansive sweep of beach, with the sea on the left, and the promenade on the right lined by the red-bricked, neo-Gothic grandeur of the Hôtel des Roches Noires. The tricolors bring an aura of festivity to the composition and are echoed in the billowing sails of the boats and dinghies in the bay.
The present painting is the larger of the two closely related horizontal versions of this view of Trouville. The Wadsworth Atheneum version (fig. 4) depicts the beach at low tide, with a boardwalk laid out on the margins of the beach for the ladies with their parasols and paramours. In the present work, by contrast, the tide has encroached upon the beach, leaving only a confined area of sand for the strollers to occupy. Both paintings must have been created at similar times of day, though, as the shadow that the green steps leading down to the beach cast is the same in both works. The flags and the sailing boats in the present painting, serve to enliven the present version of the scene still further.
John House wrote about the present work in relation to its sister-painting in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art: 'These two canvases form a clear pair, one showing the beach at low tide with the boardwalk of planks laid out at the top of the beach, the other the scene at high tide with the boardwalk removed. However [...] there is no evidence that Monet exhibited the two pictures together, despite their evidently complementary subjects. Monet's viewpoint in the two canvases is identical, but the more extended, horizontal format of [the present work] emphasises the expanse of the beach [...]. In [the Wadsworth Atheneum picture] the sea is relegated to the distance, and appears wholly placid and passive. By contrast, in [the present work] the waves encroach close to the promenading figures, though only the little dark figure of a child beyond the foreground couple seems to be taking any notice of them' (ibid., p. 132).
Almost ten years after this work was painted, Marcel Proust began to spend his teenage years at the Hôtel des Roches Noires, taken there by his grandmother, and later recalled 'those seaside holidays when grandmother and I, lost in one another, walked battling the wind and talking' (quoted in G. D. Painter, Marcel Proust: A Biography, New York, 1959, vol. I, p. 83, translated from the French). The author was later to fictionalise his yearly visits to Trouville in A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, in which the town becomes Balbec and the Hôtel des Roches Noires becomes Grand Hôtel de Balbec. Proust writes in A la recherche du temps perdu: 'I could see, on the first evening, the waves, the azure mountain ranges of the sea, its glaciers and its cataracts, its elevation and its careless majesty – merely upon smelling for the first time after so long an interval, as I washed my hands, that particular odour of the over-scented soaps of the Grand Hotel' (Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu, translated from the French).
This passage, so redolent of Proust's seaside experiences at Trouville, reflects in words the conjuring power that Monet achieves in paint in La Plage à Trouville. The blustery summer breeze is evoked in the bulging sails and the pennants blowing across the promenade. The wide perspective with which the artist handles the scene and the way in which the figures at the far end of the beach grow into larger figures walking towards the viewer in the middle distance, with their walking canes and parasols and their sun hats and Sunday best, invites the viewer into the scene. An image of leisure and luxury, of the pleasure of a fashionable seaside resort, the work is an important testament of its era. At the same time, it shows the painter's quintessential relish for sunshine, sand and sea, masterfully rendered in this composition that can be regarded as one of the most iconic images of Impressionism.
Fig. 1, The beach at Trouville, 1860
Fig. 2, Eugène Boudin, La Plage de Trouville, 1863, oil on canvas, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford
Fig. 3, Claude Monet, La Plage à Trouville, 1870, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London
Fig. 4, Claude Monet, La Plage à Trouville, 1870, oil on canvas, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford
Fig. 5, Claude Monet, L'Hôtel des Roches noires, à Trouville, 1870, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Oil on canvas
New York, American Art Galleries and the National Academy of Design, Works in Oil and Pastel by Impressionists of Paris, 1886, no. 278
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Monet et Renoir, 1900, no. 5
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Monet, 1902, no. 2
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Monet, 1907, no. 15 (as dating from 1872)
New York, Armory of the 69th Regiment; Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago & Boston, Copley Hall, International Exhibition of Modern Art, 1913, no. 496 (titled La Promenade à Trouville and as dating from 1872)
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by Monet, 1927, no. 3 (as dating from 1872)
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie, Claude Monet exposition rétrospective, 1931, no. 29 (as dating from 1873)
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Jubilee Exhibition, 1951, no. 41, illustrated in the catalogue
St. Louis, City Art Museum & Minneapolis, Institute of Arts, Claude Monet, 1957, no. 17, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1872)
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. William Goetz, 1959, no. 41, illustrated in the catalogue
Los Angeles, City National Bank, Selected Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. William Goetz, 1967, no. 23, illustrated in the catalogue
London, The Royal Academy of Arts; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection & Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Impressionists by the Sea, 2007-08, no. 37, illustrated in colour and detail illustrated in colour on the cover of the catalogue
48 by 73.5cm. 18 7/8 by 29in.
A. M. Frankfurter, 'The Goetz Collection', in Art News, New York, September 1951, illustrated in colour p. 27
The Armory Show 50th Anniversary Exhibition, New York, 1963, illustrated p. 89
Luigina Rossi Bortolatto, L'opera completa di Claude Monet, 1870-1889, Milan, 1966, no. 30, illustrated p. 90
M. Bodelson, 'Early Impressionist Sales', in Burlington Magazine, London, June 1968, p. 340
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Milan, 1971, illustrated p. 76
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne & Paris, 1974, vol. I, no. 157, illustrated p. 189
Luigina Rossi Bortolatto & Janine Bailly-Herzberg, Tout l'œuvre peint de Monet, 1870-1889, Paris, 1981, no. 37, illustrated p. 91
Nancy Mowll Mathews, Cassatt and her Circle, New York, 1985, pp. 174-175
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet. Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, no. 157, illustrated in colour p. 74
Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the artist in June 1871)
Ernest Hoschedé, Paris (acquired from the above in January 1877. Sale: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 5th & 6th June 1878, lot 47)
Mary Cassatt, Paris (purchased at the above sale)
Durand-Ruel Galleries, Paris (acquired from the above in 1883)
A. W. Kingman, New York (acquired from the above in 1886)
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (1896)
E. J. van Wisselingh, Amsterdam
M. P. Voûte, Amsterdam (acquired from the above on 30th June 1931)
Wildenstein & Co., Paris (acquired in 1948)
William & Edith Goetz, New York (acquired in 1948. Sale: Christie's, New York, Property from the Collection of William and Edith Mayer Goetz, 14th November 1988, lot 9)
Private Collection (purchased at the above sale. Sale: Sotheby's, London, 27th June 2000, lot 14)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner