The present painting depicts the Seine at Vétheuil, a sleepy, hamlet about sixty kilometers northwest of Paris where Monet lived from 1878 to 1881 (fig.1; W.608). The years that Monet spent at Vétheuil represent a watershed moment in his artistic development: 'the most momentous change in the career of the most revolutionary Impressionist' (C. Stuckey in Monet at Vétheuil: The Turning Point, exh. cat., University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1998, p. 41).
Following his move to Vétheuil, Monet entirely abandoned the contemporary themes that had dominated his earlier oeuvre and began to focus instead on capturing fugitive aspects of light and nature. With their sensitive description of the changing effects of light on water, Monet's views of the Seine at Vétheuil presage the last great series of the artist's career: the waterlilies at Giverny. Carole McNamara has written: 'The acknowledged painter of contemporary life who settled in Vétheuil in 1878 departed from that town in 1881, as from a chrysalis, renewed and redirected. He was no longer the painter of modernity who 'preferred an English garden to a corner of the forest,' as Zola had described him. Monet settled farther downriver at Giverny and, through his series paintings, created a whole new understanding of landscape painting. Many of those later innovations derived their impetus from the paintings executed [at Vétheuil]' (ibid., p. 86).
The village of Vétheuil is located on the right bank of the Seine, on a hill overlooking a picturesque bend in the river. Monet and his family arrived there in August 1878 and settled in a small house on the outskirts of the town with a garden sloping down to the banks of the Seine (fig. 2). Monet immediately set to work exploring the quiet backwaters of the river near his new home, using a partially covered boat that he had outfitted as a studio (fig. 3).
Monet was drawn to the effects of light on water throughout his career, but it was in Vétheuil that the river became a central motif. In the present work Monet takes as his vantage point a view of the Seine immediately downstream from Vétheuil with the hills of Chantemesle on the right. During the flooding in the early part of 1881 Monet painted a number of these views from his boat (see W.638; fig.2, W.639; W.641 and W.642). The surface of the water in these paintings can seem agitated, waves having been whisked up by the gales. As the water level fell Monet was able to put his boat aground and a slightly higher vantage point is found (as in W.640; W.643). In the present work the year is more advanced, the water is lower, and calm, with wonderful reflections. Monet takes up his vantage point in an arm of the Seine between les Îles de Moisson and the shore, where it was usually calm and with less current. It was also very quiet. The site is just a short distance from his house and the Route de Vétheuil in the direction of La Roche-Guyon (see W.584). The scene is suffused with light and the river's surface is calm, reflecting the tall poplars which are such a feature of Monet's Vétheuil paintings. A similar view (W.674; private collection) shows the same composition but omits the bank in the foreground.
La Seine à Vétheuil
Oil on canvas
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
Signed and dated 'Claude Monet 81' (lower right)
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
29 x 39½ in. (73.7 x 100.5 cm.)
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, 1840 - 1881, Lausanne, 1974, p. 402, no. 673 (illustrated p. 403).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue Raisonné - Werkverzeichnis, vol. II, Cologne, 1996, no. 673 (illustrated p. 253).
Charles Bonnemaison-Bascle, Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, 3 May 1890, lot 32 (titled La Seine à Vétheuil, effet du matin).
Boussod, Valadon et Cie., Paris, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Madame d'Arc, by whom acquired from the above by 1891.
Jean Levy, France.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 27 June 1995, lot 14.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.