A beautiful example of Monet's work at the height of the Impressionist movement, Le Saule depicts the artist's beloved environs of Giverny. Monet moved with his family to Giverny in April 1883, and remained there for the rest of his life. By 1890, he had become financially successful enough to buy the house and a large garden, which he had rented for several years. Monet's house and garden at Giverny and their surroundings were to provide the artist with the most important and celebrated imagery of his later oeuvre. The works from his initial years at Giverny reveal a passionate dialogue with the richly seasonal landscape of the town and surrounding areas. Heather Lemonedes writes, "After an intense period of travel during the first half of the decade, Monet spent much of 1885-86 close to home in Giverny, surrounded by family and the increasingly familiar landscape of southeastern Normandy. His efforts during these two years resulted in a remarkably diverse array of canvases. He painted the Seine and its tributary the Epte, winding country roads, villages nestled into the rolling hills of the region, and women picnicking in orchards. Lingering over details particular to every season in the countryside, he explored neighboring towns such as Bennecourt, Port-Villez, Limetz, and Vernon" (Heather Lemonedes, Monet in Normandy (exhibition catalogue), Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, 2006, p. 118).
Upon moving to Giverny, Monet was instantly drawn to the interplay of willow and poplar trees along the nearby Epte river, a tributary of the Seine. He executed four springtime landscapes in 1885, including Le Saule, that depicted a particular group of willow trees set against a forest of poplars. Until Daniel Wildenstein published his catalogue raisonné of the artist's work, Le Saule was known by the title Automne sur l'Epte. Wildenstein corrected the assumption and grouped this work with the other 1885 Springtime landscapes, including Arbres au bord de l'eau, printemps à Giverny and Printemps, saules. Together these works form a group that presages the groundbreaking series of the 1890s, such as those focused on the haystacks, Rouen Cathedral and most notably, poplar trees. This 1885 series follows the seasonal variations of light and atmosphere in a way that will significantly inform the later works.
Considered the final of these four paintings, Le Saule represents the mature development of painterly surface and emphasized the verticality which would become the hallmark of Monet's poplar series, also painted on the Epte river. The richly-textured horizontal bands of foreground and middle-ground play off the repeated verticals of poplar trees in the distance. Monet would extend this dialogue later with works such as Les Peupliers à Giverny, 1888 and it would find its ultimate expression in the 1890s with works such as Les Peupliers, automne. This awareness of the canvas surface and compositional arrangement would become a beacon of High Modernism in the 20th century.
Fellow painter Georges Jeanniot recorded the earliest known description of Monet's artistic process at Giverny. His observation recalls the powerfully modern approach that is amply demonstrated in the present painting. Upon visiting the artist in 1888, Jeanniot remarked, "Monet works only on the effect he has chosen (even if it lasts no more than ten minutes) and always works from life... Once in front of his easel, he draws in a few lines with the charcoal and then attacks the painting directly, handling his long brushes with an astounding agility and an unerring sense of design. He paints with a full brush and uses four or five pure colors; he juxtaposes or superimposes the unmixed paints on the canvas..." (Georges Jeanniot, quoted in Monet's Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978, pp. 20-21).
The first owner of record of Le Saule was Desmond FitzGerald, a prominent Boston civil engineer and major collector of Impressionist pictures. In 1892, this work was included in the vanguard St. Botolph Club exhibition, a pioneering show that helped introduce the American public to the art of Monet and the style of Impressionist painting. The St. Botolph Club was established in 1880 as a meeting ground for prominent artists, authors and patrons in New England society. Early members included the artists John Singer Sargent and Daniel Chester French as well as architect H. H. Richardson. Against popular opinion, the club firmly espoused the artistic vision of the Impressionists and the 1892 exhibition was the first solo exhibition of Monet's work in the United States.
Oil on canvas
Boston, St. Botolph Club, Monet, 1892, no. 15
25½ by 36¼ in. 65 by 92 cm
"Claude Monet Exhibit Opens," Boston Post, March 15, 1905
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. II, Lausanne & Paris, 1979, no. 983, illustrated p. 159
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. V, Lausanne & Paris, 1991, discussed p. 43
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, Paris, Cologne, 1996, no. 983, illustrated p. 369
Desmond FitzGerald, Boston (acquired circa 1892 and sold: American Art Association, New York, April 21-22, 1927, lot 196)
Edwin S. and Jane Webster, Boston (acquired at the above sale)
Mary Webster, Boston (by descent from the above circa 1972 and sold: Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, October 22, 1980, lot 44)
Pescali (acquired at the above sale)
Galleria Marescalchi, Bologna (acquired by 1984)
Daniel Malingue, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2005