A magnificent example of Monet's winter landscapes, Route de Giverny en hiver of 1885 depicts the snow-covered road leading into the town of Giverny, where the artist lived at the time. 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 his most important and celebrated imagery for the remainder of his career. The present composition is dominated by the main road leading into the village, covered by the shimmering white snow and the blue shadows of the trees. The curving line of the street takes the viewer's eye towards the houses in the centre of the canvas, their roofs rising towards the icy winter sky.
Soon after settling in Giverny, Monet travelled to Italy and the south of France and later to Etretat in Normandy, and painted very few landscapes in the area of his new home around this time. As the artist himself proclaimed, 'One always needs a certain amount of time to get familiar with a new landscape' (quoted in D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1996, vol. I, p. 192). In January 1885, however, a heavy snowfall inspired him to paint the region surrounding Giverny. Impatient to capture the newly transformed landscape before the snow melted, Monet immediately started painting, producing nine oils (D. Wildenstein, op. cit., nos. 961-968), including the present work. As was his usual practice, Monet continued working on Route de Giverny en hiver during the rest of the year, completing the composition in January 1886.
Monet painted his first snow scene in Honfleur in 1865 (fig. 1), and returned to this subject again in early 1867, in a series of winter landscapes inspired by a heavy snowfall that winter (fig. 2). Fascinated by snow and by the possibilities it offered him as a painter, and inspired by the unique quality of winter light, Monet executed a number of snow-covered landscapes throughout his career. In 1895 he travelled to Norway, and was delighted with the scenery and a different quality of northern light, resulting in several outstanding paintings.
In 1868, Léon Billot gave an account of Monet painting out-of-doors in the snow, a vivid proof of the artist's dedication to capturing the effects of light on snow: 'It was during winter, after several snowy days, when communications had almost been interrupted. The desire to see the countryside beneath its white shroud had led us across the fields. It was cold enough to split rocks. We glimpsed a little heater, then an easel, then a gentleman swathed in three overcoats, with gloved hands, his face half-frozen. It was M. Monet studying an aspect of the snow' (L. Billot, 'Exposition des Beaux-Arts', in Journal du Havre, 9th October 1868, quoted in ibid., p. 82).
Writing about Monet's snow scenes, Eliza E. Rathbone observed: 'The Impressionists, and above all Monet, determined to record the complete spectrum: deep snow in brilliant sunshine, creating the bluest of blue shadows; snow under a low, gray winter sky that shrouds nature in a single tonality; landscapes so deep in snow that all details are obscured, evoking a silent world; even snow melting along a country road at sunset; or, perhaps most striking, a sky filled with snow falling. Of all the Impressionists, Monet painted the largest number of snowscapes and the greatest variety of site, time of day, quality of light, and quality of snow itself. He was not only interested in a relatively traditional conception of a snowy landscape, but he found beauty in unexpected phenomena of winter. He brought to his snowscapes his desire to experiment both with new technique and with formal invention' (E. E. Rathbone, 'Monet, Japonisme, and Effets de Neige', in Impressionists in Winter (exhibition catalogue), The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1998-99, p. 25).
Fig. 1, Claude Monet, La Charrette, route sous la neige à Honfleur, 1865, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 2, Claude Monet, La Route de la ferme Saint-Siméon en hiver, 1867, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 5th February 2008
Oil on canvas
Hiroshima, Prefectural Art Museum & Tokyo, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Monet and Renoir: Two Great Impressionist Trends, 2003-04, no. 8, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Turin, Palazzina della Promotrice delle Belle Arti, Gli impressionisti e la neve - La Francia e l'Europa, 2004-05, no. 135, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
65.5 by 81cm. 25 3/4 by 31 7/8 in.
Maurice Malingue, Claude Monet, Monaco, 1943, illustrated p. 118 (titled La Route)
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet. Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne & Paris, 1979, vol. II, no. 968, illustrated p. 155, mentioned in letters no. 639 & 652, pp. 270 & 271 (with incorrect measurements)
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet. Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, no. 968, illustrated in colour p. 359 (with incorrect measurements)
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (1910)
Comtesse Murat, Paris (acquired from the above in 1910)
Private Collection, France (by descent from the above)
Sale: Sotheby's, London, 28th November 1989, lot 22
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner