Le Jardin de Vétheuil depicts a view of Monet's house and garden at Vétheuil (fig. 1), a small village situated along the Seine, where the artist and his family lived from September 1878 until December 1881. This picturesque location had been the site of some of Monet's most successful Impressionist landscapes of the late 1870s, and continued to fascinate him well into his later career. The natural beauty of the region was of great appeal to the artist, as was the impressive Medieval architecture that could be seen from many points in the surrounding area. Of particular interest to him were the rigid shapes of buildings, most noticeably that of the imposing 10th century church of Notre Dame de Vétheuil, juxtaposed against the patchwork of the landscape. In 1878, and again in 1901, Monet executed a number of iconic views of Vétheuil, showing the village as seen from across the river, with the fragmented reflection of the church and its environs appearing in the ripples of water.
Le Jardin de Vétheuil was followed by a series of six oils Monet executed in 1881 on this subject (D. Wildenstein, nos. 680-685; figs. 2 & 3). The present work, however, is the only horizontal composition from this group. In some of the other versions, Monet depicted Alice Hoschedé reading in the garden, or children scattered on the stairs leading up to the house (fig. 2). Discussing this group of works, Virginia Spate wrote: 'This was the first time he had painted the Vétheuil garden, although Taboureux who visited him in 1880 found it sufficiently remarkable to comment on his use of masses of 'natural flowers' [...] There is no hint of the world beyond the garden; no indication that the family house is separated from the garden by the main road into Vétheuil, and despite the sensuous profusion of the flowers, every form is locked into place by the vertical axes of the house, the steps and the path which leads to the space in which the painter must have stood' (V. Spate, The Colour of Time: Claude Monet, London, 1992, pp. 144 & 148).
The present work was probably executed during the spring of 1881 and its bright, lively palette of yellow, blue and green tones beautifully renders the atmosphere of a bright sunny day. The composition is dominated by the lavishly painted lawns and flowerbeds, framed by the large tree to the left. The path leads the viewer's eye from the bottom right corner towards the centre of the canvas, and up the steep steps towards Monet's house. In his landscapes painted at this time, Monet often experimented with the high horizon line, executing a number of paintings dominated by wild vegetation, with only a small portion of the canvas opening up to the landscape in the distance. In the present work, he eliminated the sky altogether, choosing instead to focus on the lushness of nature, and compositionally this represented a drastic shift from the open expanses of water and sky of the landscapes painted from his bateau atelier.
Christoph Becker wrote about Monet's garden paintings executed in 1881: 'That year Monet's garden also flourished magnificently. Anyone going to the garden had to cross the road and go through a gate at the top of a flight of stone steps leading down to a grassy area. On either side of the steps there were several rows of sunflowers which had shot up in June. On the lower steps and on the grass were the already familiar six large, blue-patterned plant-pots, densely planted with red gladioli [...] The advantage of having one's own garden was that a motif could be arranged for the purpose of painting, in a carefully planned natural setting, and right by where the artist lived. When a journalist asked if he might enter Monet's studio in Vétheuil, Monet was immediately indignant: "My studio! But I've never had one, and I don't understand how anyone could shut themselves into a room"' (C. Becker, Monet's Garden (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus, Zurich, 2004-05, p. 39). Indeed, the present work is a great example of Monet's paintings executed en plein air, showing his delight at depicting nature in all its splendour.
Oil on canvas
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir et Sisley, 1899, no. 13
Tokyo, Bridgestone Museum of Art; Nagoya, City Art Museum & Hiroshima, Museum of Art, Monet: A Retrospective, 1994, no. 32, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Treviso, Casa dei Carraresi, Monet: I luoghi della pittura, 2001-02, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
60 by 74cm. 23 5/8 by 29 1/8 in.
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, no. 666, illustrated p. 401
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet. Catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, mentioned p. 36
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet. Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, no. 666, illustrated in colour p. 251
David Joel, Monet at Vétheuil and on the Norman Coast 1878-1883, Woodbridge, 2002, illustrated in colour p. 126
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (probably acquired from the artist in April 1881)
Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above in February 1901)
Hugo Stahl, Berlin
Steinreich Collection, New York
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (acquired by April 1945)
Mrs Robert Winthrop, New York (acquired from the above in March 1946)
Sale: Christie's, New York, 15th May 1990, lot 10
Private Collection, Japan (by 1994)
Sale: Christie's, New York, 12th May 1999, lot 11
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner