La route rouge près de Menton was painted in 1884 while Claude Monet was making his way back to his home at Giverny after several months spent in Bordighera. Discussing this picture in his catalogue raisonné of Monet's work, Daniel Wildenstein explained: 'This view from the Cap Martin, with the promenade which still today runs around the Cape in the foreground, shows the Tête de Chien overlooking Monte Carlo and the rock of Monaco in the background and the Cap d'Ail on the left' (D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, Vol. II, Cologne, 1996, p. 332). Monet spent a handful of productive days in Menton, and this is one of the fruits of that visit; two other views showing a similar composition exist, one of which, La Corniche de Monaco, has been in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam for over a century. La route rouge près de Menton featured in several exhibitions in France soon after its completion before crossing the Atlantic and becoming an early example of American collecting of Impressionist works, entering the collection of Martin A. Ryerson of Chicago in 1891; it was bequeathed by him to the Art Institute of Chicago, in whose collection it remained until they engaged Christie's to offer it at auction to raise funds in 1983.
With its warm tones and the bold, even expressionistic palette evident in the deep lapis sliver of the sea and especially in the intense contrast between the red road of the title and the greenery, it is clear that Monet was continuing to explore the momentum of the innovations that he had recently made on rediscovering the Mediterranean. The composition of La route rouge près de Menton lends itself to experimentation: rather than use the road to give a sense of perspective with a vanishing point, Monet has instead created a daring composition in which the colours retain an almost abstract quality, recalling Paul Cézanne's views of, say, L'Estaque in the near abstraction with which the forms of the landscape have been assembled on the canvas.
It is telling, looking at La route rouge près de Menton, that Monet's first exposure to the South and its intense light had come at the end of the previous year, during which he and his fellow artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir had stayed with Cézanne on their return from a trip to Italy. The composition of La route rouge près de Menton certainly echoes Cézanne, or vice versa, revealing how close many of those artists were during this period. It is in that context that, looking at La route rouge près de Menton, one can see Monet's influence on a range of later artists, from the Fauves to the Abstract Expressionists. The colour here has been allowed to sing for itself to some extent, anticipating Monet's own so-called 'abstractions', the Nymphéas.
Monet had travelled to Italy with Renoir in 1883, seeing the Mediterranean for the first time since his national service. This was a fleeting visit, a release back into his adored pleinairisme after the lengthy work he had done creating panels for the interior of Paul Durand-Ruel's apartment at 35, rue de Rome. Monet was struck by the opportunities that the South of France and North of Italy provided, and within a short time of his return to his new home at Giverny, he had made plans to return alone. Indeed, he even specified that Renoir was not to learn of this trip, as he wanted no distraction, but only to paint. However, he had already marked out several spots for re-investigation during that first trip, which proved to be essentially a scouting expedition.
While in Bordighera, Monet created a range of views, many of them featuring the firework-like palm trees that punctuated so much of the landscape. He also painted a group of intensely immersive images of the olive trees in the garden of Francesco Moreno, one of the recommended spots for sight-seers visiting Bordighera.
However, during a day trip to Monte Carlo in February, Monet felt that he saw in the landscape of the South of France subjects which were, 'more complete, more picture-like' than some of the scenes in Italy, and resolved to return there (Monet, quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 1996, p. 196). Eventually, after several more reconnoitring day trips, Monet left Bordighera in April 1884 and, after a tussle with the customs officials at the border, arrived, took rooms in the Hôtel du Pavillon du Prince des Galles in Menton, and sallied forth to the motifs such as that visible in La route rouge près de Menton which he had been planning to capture for several months now. Monet stayed for about a week in Menton, near the Cap Martin, and created a range of works during this time which included La route rouge près de Menton and its sister-picture in the Rijksmuseum's collection. It is a mark of Monet's fascination for this vista that, on his return to Giverny, he created a third which in turn is visible on the studio wall shown in a sketched self-portrait that was given to, and formerly attributed to, his friend John Singer Sargent. The serialised treatment of this subject was itself something of an innovation at the time, again foreshadowing the great series for which he would subsequently become so well known. It is a telling indication of his enthusiasm for the scenery around Cap Martin that he prolonged his stay in Menton, even following a bout of jealous panic regarding Alice's behaviour at home. Indeed, a change for the better in the weather allowed him to indulge his love of light and colour with new gusto. Looking at La route rouge près de Menton, one can perceive his joy at being able to paint a view that includes the sea, a factor that had been surprisingly hard to incorporate in many the coastal views that he had explored in Bordighera due to its topography, leading to some frustrations on his part. It is a tribute to the quality of the pictures that Monet painted while staying in Menton that the notoriously self-critical artist even wrote of them to his dealer Durand-Ruel, saying, 'I think you will be happy with me' (Monet, quoted in ibid., p. 201).
La route rouge près de Menton
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'Claude Monet 84' (lower right)
Claude Monet , 19th Century, Paintings, canvas, oil, France, Impressionist, landscape
(probably) Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 4e exposition internationale de peinture, May 1885, no. 65.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 5e exposition internationale de peinture, June - July 1886.
New York, Union League Club, Monet, February 1891, no, 60.
Minneapolis, Institute of Arts, Modern French Paintings, November 1921, no. 14.
Chicago, The Art Institute, Paintings loaned to The Art Institute of Chicago by M.A. Ryerson, 1925, no. 2145.
Chicago, The Art Institute, A Century of Progress, 1934, no. 224.
Chicago, The Art Institute, Paintings by Monet, March - May 1975, no. 60 (illustrated, titled 'Vue du Cap Martin').
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Monet and the Mediterranean, June - September 1997, no. 37 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Brooklyn, Museum of Art, October - January 1998.
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum and Foundation Corboud, Painting light. The hidden techniques of the Impressionists, February - June 2008 (illustrated fig. 232); this exhibition later travelled to Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, July - September 2008 and Vienna, Albertina, September 2009 - January 2010.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
26 x 32 3/8 in. (66.1 x 82 cm.)
(probably) F. Fénéon, Les impressionnistes en 1886, Paris, October 1886, p. 34.
P.H., 'L'exposition de Monet', in L'art dans le deux mondes, 28 February 1891, p. 173.
(probably) G. Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre, Paris, 1922, p. 109.
M.C., 'Monets in the Art Institute', in Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, February 1925, p. 19.
L.R. Bortolatto, L'opera completa di Claude Monet, Milan, 1966, no. 278, p. 106 (illustrated, titled 'Veduta da Cap Martin').
F.A. Sweet, 'Great Chicago Collectors', in Apollo, vol. LXXIV, September 1966, p. 202.
J.U. Halperin, Félix Fénéon, oeuvres complètes, Geneva, 1970, p. 41.
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Lausanne and Paris, 1979, no. 889, p. 126 (illustrated p. 127).
L.R. Bortolatto & J. Bailly-Herzberg, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Monet, Paris, 1981, no. 271, p. 106 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Claude Monet at the Time of Giverny, Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris, 1983, p. 20 (illustrated fig. 11).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, catalogue raisonné, vol V, Lausanne, 1991, no. 889, p. 42.
M. Alphant, Claude Monet, une vie dans le paysage, Paris, 1993, p. 395.
Exh. cat., Monet: A Retrospective, Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1994, p. 226 (illustrated fig. 14).
D. Wildenstein, Monet, catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Cologne, 1996, no. 889, p. 332 (illustrated).
(probably) Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired from the artist in May 1884.
(probably) Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, by circa 1886.
Spencer collection, by circa 1891.
Martin A. Reyerson, Chicago, by 1891.
The Art Institute of Chicago (no. 33.1162), a bequest from the above in 1933; sale, Christie's, New York, 17 May 1983, lot 19.
Private collection, by whom acquired at the above sale; Sotheby's, New York, 14 May 1985, lot 30.
Private collection, Germany, by whom acquired at the above sale.
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