PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Monet painted this audaciously composed coastal landscape, depicting a deep fissure in the earth that descends between swelling land masses toward the sea, during an extended summer sojourn in 1882 at the tiny fishing village of Pourville, one of a sequence of transformative painting campaigns at the Normandy shore that occupied him throughout the first half of the decade. Exploiting the monumental earth forms that stood before him, he rendered the bluffs and the great gash between them as if the landscape had broken asunder, granting him access to the ocean beyond, just as the Red Sea parted for Moses and the Hebrews. Glorious, late afternoon sun streams into the scene from the left, striking the exposed cliff face at the very spot that the crevice in the rock angles to the left and disappears from view. A lone figure, dwarfed by the awesome terrain, has paused momentarily at this critical juncture, about to round the bend toward the Promised Land. No mere pretext for formal experimentation, this was a landscape that held profound personal resonance for Monet, then at a decisive moment of transition, both personally and professionally.
Monet had first travelled to Pourville earlier in 1882, for a solo stint that lasted from mid-February through mid-April. His companion Alice Hoschedé remained home with their combined brood of eight children at Poissy, a bustling suburb west of Paris where they had settled just a few weeks before, seeking better schools for the older children than rural Vétheuil could offer. Alice’s letters to the artist from these two months are filled with tribulations. She and the children all became ill in succession; her estranged husband Ernest was pressuring her to return to Paris; money was desperately tight, and their former landlady from Vétheuil was still owed back rent. Although these worldly concerns plagued Monet too, the stark and solitary beauty of the coast in the off-season offered him a welcome refuge. ‘One could not be closer to the sea than I am,’ he wrote rapturously to Alice, ‘right on the shingle, and the waves break at the base of the house’ (quoted in exh. cat., Monet: The Seine and the Sea, Edinburgh, 2003, p. 132).
Monet’s original destination that February had not been Pourville but the much larger centre of Dieppe, five kilometres to the east. Upon his arrival there, however, Monet was dismayed to find the hotels too expensive, the cafés too crowded, and the coastline much less beautiful than he had expected. After only a week, he decamped for Pourville, an unpretentious and wholly unfashionable port far more to his liking, with just a single modest inn run by an Alsatian baker known as Père Paul. For the rest of his stay, Monet painted with single-minded focus, employing a local porter to carry his canvases over the high chalk cliffs and broad, deserted beaches. On some days, he wrote to Alice, he worked on as many as eight different views, moving from one to the next as the light and weather changed. ‘The number of canvases in train at once testifies not only to Monet’s hard work,’ Richard Thomson has written, ‘but also to the variety of effects and motifs he sought, and above all to the nuances that he now brought to his work as a plein-air painter’ (ibid., p. 118).
The artist was back in Poissy – a ‘horrible’ place, he had decided by this time – for only two months before returning to Pourville for the summer, this time with Alice and all eight children, ages four through sixteen, in tow. Durand-Ruel had purchased twenty-three paintings from his first Pourville sojourn, and Monet used what was left of the funds once his debts were paid to rent the sprawling Villa Juliette, a short walk from the beach, from mid-June through early October. ‘The country is wonderful at the moment and I can’t wait to get back,’ he wrote to the dealer, eagerly anticipating the end of the children’s school term (quoted in D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1996, vol. 1, p. 180).
During this second stay at Pourville, Monet roamed even further afield than before, climbing the Falaise d’Amont on the Dieppe side and walking the length of the Falaise d’Aval as far west as Varengeville. To paint the present view, however, he did not have to venture very far. The canvas depicts the Chemin de la Cavée, a well-trodden footpath that wound its way down from the cliff tops to the beach at Pourville. A panoramic oil sketch that Monet made of the view from the summit depicts the Villa Juliette in the middle distance (Wildenstein, no. 764; sold, Christie’s London, 4 February 2008, Lot 76). In Le chemin creux, Monet set up his easel lower down on La Cavée, where the trail nestled deeply between steep, shrub-covered slopes. The path opens out in the foreground and cooling stripes of shade fall across the sandy earth, beckoning the viewer to enter the landscape. ‘Monet was clearly captivated by the picturesque qualities of this route,’ David Steel has written, ‘but he seems to have been particularly sensitive to the compositional possibilities offered by one particular bend in the path’ (exh. cat., Monet in Normandy, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2006, p. 110).
Monet explored a very similar composition in three canvases – two vertical and one horizontal – painted slightly higher up on La Cavée, where the land dropped off precipitously (Wildenstein, nos. 760-762; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). In all of these, the cleft in the cliffs approaches a dense, dark thicket of vegetation, flower-flecked yet still vaguely foreboding. In the present version, by contrast, the curving path leads from shade into sun, like the light at the end of a tunnel. The lone figure who bravely traverses this route remains largely in shadow, but his head and hat are silhouetted against the pale gold rock, anticipating his passage into full sunlight. A mere dash of paint evoking the impressive scale of the surging hills, this diminutive human presence serves as a proxy for the solitary traveller, like Monet, who has sought respite from the mundane in the boundless powers of nature – in the magisterial confrontation of earth, sea, and sky.
No doubt, this lone figure generated a profound sense of identification in Monet, whose exceptionally active, gestural brushwork here offers visible testament to his absorption in the landscape. What lay around the bend for him, the artist must have wondered? As it turned out, Providence was resolutely on his side. Alice never returned to Ernest Hoschedé but remained with Monet, eventually becoming his second wife. Durand-Ruel weathered the collapse of the Union Générale bank and continued to buy freely from the artist, whose financial worries soon eased. During the ensuing years, he was able to make several return trips to the Normandy coast, which played a key role in cementing his commercial success and establishing his mature artistic identity. As for the lamentable town of Poissy, the family left there in April 1883, just six months after returning from Pourville, and settled some fifty kilometres downriver at rural Giverny, which would remain Monet’s home and haven for the remainder of his long life.
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Le chemin creux
signed and dated 'Claude Monet 82' (lower left)
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Tableaux par P.A. Besnard, J.C. Cazin, C. Monet, A. Sisley, F. Thaulow, et poteries par E. Chaplet, February - March 1899, no. 46 (titled 'La cavée (Pourville)').
Amsterdam, Huinck & Scherjon Co., Claude Monet, Pissarro and Sisley, May 1931, no. 7 (dated '1884').
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Kersttentoonstelling, December 1931 - January 1932, no 44, p. 20 (titled 'De holle weg').
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Kunstschatten uit Nederlandse, June - September 1955, p. 86, no. 203 (illustrated p. 191; dated '1884').
(possibly) A. Dalligny, 'L'exposition de la rue de Sèze', in Journal des Arts, 25 February 1899.
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Lausanne, 1979, p. 80, no. 763 (illustrated p. 81).
D. Wildenstein, Monet: Catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Cologne, 1996, p. 285, no. 763 (illustrated).
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris, by whom acquired from the artist on 16 October 1882.
Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, by whom acquired on 10 September 1883.
Huinck & Scherjon Co., Amsterdam, by 1931 (no. 404).
Ph.A.J Mees, Rotterdam, by 1931 and until at least 1955.
E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam (no. S2034x).
Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London (no. C2867).
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1975.