Claude Monet's greatest series pictures are symphonies of colour and of light. Their modernism speaks for itself: their moodiness equates to Rothko, their structure to Mondrian and their subtleties of texture to Jasper Johns. Their ethereal qualities also elevate them to the most sophisticated paintings of the Impressionist movement. With the passing of time and the artistic development out of figurative painting into non-objectivity, the significance of these series paintings has become more and more apparent.
There was a tremendous discipline implied in the paintings of this series. Monet would rise at 3:30 every morning to be on the river just before dawn. Once on the riverbank, he would paddle the small flat-bottomed skiff, which he had used to paint his Poplars series, into the waters of the Seine and take up exactly the same painting position as the previous day. The damp air of the river, the fast changing climate of late summer, and the rising of each dawn provided him with a variation of light, colour and mist effects which he had never experienced before. Each of the resulting series of twenty-one paintings is a rhapsodic exploration of the subtlest colour variations. They have a transcendental quality perhaps matched only by Rothko in the 20th Century.
Monet began the series in 1896 but his work was curtailed by extremely bad weather in the autumn. Due to the fact that his method was exactly the same as he had used in the Rouen Cathedral series, namely that he worked on many of the pictures simultaneously, moving from one to the next to apply different colours in order to obtain different pictorial effects, it took nearly a year before Monet considered the series finished. It is known that in August 1897, according to Maurice Guillemot, he was still working on fourteen pictures. Reporting his visit to Giverny in La Revue illustrée (15 March 1898), Guillemot wrote that he had watched Monet working on 'fourteen paintings which had all been begun at the same time, a sort of range of studies interpreting the same, single theme, the effect of which was modified by the time of day, the sun and the clouds'.
Aside from clarifying Monet's working method on the series, Guillemot also pinpointed the exact location of these paintings; namely, at Ile aux Orties, where the Epte River meets the Seine. He painted looking upstream towards the south-east and the trees to the left of these compositions sat on an island which has now been dredged out.
Monet chose to use two formats for his paintings, either a horizontal or an almost perfect square and it is these square examples which are perhaps the most successful because the almost perfectly balanced refelction, with the horizon of the water at the very centre creates a tremendously satisfying illusion. Furthermore it is in these square format pictures that the viewer has the strongest feeling of actually sitting in the skiff alongside the artist.
Inevitably the Matinée sur la Seine series was criticised because of the apparent simplicity of its subject, but such criticism ironically struck at the very heart of Monet's intentions: only by getting to the very essence of the landscape by creating a composition of sky, foliage and water could Monet begin his real work which was to capture the effects of light, shadow and reflection. The natural culmination of this process outside this series were the waterlilies paintings which preoccupied him at the end of his life. Monet revealed how succcesful he felt that his emancipation from subject had been when he told his fellow artist Lilla Cabot Perry in the late 1890s that in this series he had, 'carried his effects as far as he could.'
Aside from these artistic reasons there may also have been practical reasons for Monet's choice of the area where the Matinées were painted. During this prolonged sojourn painting on the Normandy coast, Suzanne Hoschedé had not been well and Monet, ever close to his family, had decided that he should return to paint closer to home. Hence the Matinée sur la Seine series was painted on a part of the Seine extremely near to Giverny.
The Matinée sur la Seine exhibtion which opened at Galerie Georges Petit in June 1898 was an unqualified critical success. The most glowing of tributes came from Le Gaulois, which devoted a special supplement to Monet's recent work, published only two weeks after the exhibtion opened. Also reprinted in the supplement were articles written previously by eminent art historians who had reviewed his Cathedrals and Grainstack exhibtitions. The 1890s had been an incredible decade for Monet as exhibtion after exhibtion was met with tremendous acclaim. The cover of Le Gaulois carried a superb authoritative photograph of Monet taken by Nadar: a clear statement that Monet was the master artist of his generation.
The Matinee sur la Seine paintings have always been very sought after by private collectors and museums alike. They have been greatly acclaimed from the first time they were exhibited at Galerie Georges Petit and today examples are housed in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Musée d'Orsay, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Interestingly many of the first owners of the paintings were Americans who had been brought the pictures by Durand-Ruel: these included Mrs Potter-Palmer of Chicago, Joseph F Flanagan of New York, Dwight F Davis of St Louis, and Martin A Ryerson in Chicago. Many of these were sold immediately after the war and have now found their way to museum collections.
The present painting was purchased by Gabriel Cognacq in March 1902 and passed by descent through the family. Amongst other Monets in the Cognacq Collection were La Seine à Rouen (W. 210), now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, L'Eglise de Bennecourt (W.990) and Le Soir dans la prairie, Giverny (W. 1206).
Our exhibition will mark the first occasion on which this painting has been shown publicly since the end of the war. According to Wildenstein the last and only occasion it was exhibited was at the Galerie Charpentier loan exhibition of 1945 in Paris.
Matinée sur la Seine, près de Giverny
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 'Claude Monet 96' (lower left)
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, "Paysages" d'eau douce, 1945 (possibly no. 91).
35 1/8 x 36 1/8 in. (89.3 x 91.8 cm.)
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné, vol. V, Lausanne and Paris, 1985, no. 2037 (illustrated p. 17).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, Cologne, 1996, no. 1436a (illustrated p. 594).
Acquired from the artist by Bernheim, Georges Petit and Montaignac in February 1899 (9065).
Gabriel Cognacq, Paris, by whom purchased from the above in March 1902.