Description & Technical information

Famously Léon Billot recalled stumbling across Monet one day ‘cold enough to crack pebbles’, ‘huddled in three overcoats…and with his face half frozen’ studying a snow effect. Remembering the event, he said, referring to the great man, ‘There are soldiers of art who lack nothing for courage.’ For Monet, capturing the direct effects of light on the landscape en plein air was tantamount to being an artist, such qualities were to be conveyed at all costs – even in some instances, to the detriment of his own well-being.

This pastel, long held in a private collection, and hardly seen in public since its execution is dateable to the late 1860s and is directly comparable to a series of pastels executed by Monet around Le Havre, which have been identified and dated by Daniel Wildenstein to around 1868. It is also comparable to an earlier pastel View of the Sea at Sunset, now in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston which is dated to circa 1862.

The use of pastel had a deep tradition in Monet’s native Normandy. Millet had used pastels in Normandy in the 1840s and 50s as had Delacroix in Dieppe in 1852 and 1854 (indeed the latter had been much inspired by John Constable’s inventive cloud studies of the 1820’s). Above all though, Monet’s efforts in pastel can be traced back to the influence of his earliest mentor, Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), whose pastels he encountered in the late 1850’s with Boudin’s exhortation to Monet to work directly from nature itself. The allure of Normandy and the light it provided that so enthused Monet would in turn diffuse itself amongst his contemporaries, particularly Edgar Degas who also would find inspiration there for his own series of pastels in 1869.

Monet’s use of pastels in the 1860s chart his growing confidence as an artist and his willingness to experiment. With their granular softness, pastels were an appropriate medium for an artist attempting to capture fleeting aspects of nature and the changeability of the elements – rubbing and blending as he worked. Ultimately however, these are not studies. They are to be viewed as works in their own right, particularly given they are all signed and some of the group were indeed presented to close friends as presents.

The unusual square format of the work seems to be a conscious choice by Monet. It emphasises the yellow rays of the fading sun which triangulate outward, both in the sky and reflected in the water, from the centre of the sheet. There is no drawn horizon line, and the work itself is a virtuous celebration of colour over form - verging on abstraction. As the viewer’s gaze becomes lost in the myriad of pastel strokes, only tones denote a sense of depth (for example in the pale tones of the receding sky and the dark shadowy reflection of clouds on the water surface). Indeed, on one hand this is abstraction, but on the other, isn’t this disregard for form actually the simplest and most realistic depiction of what the eye sees in nature? Monet’s standing as one of the most celebrated artistic geniuses of our time is partly due to his sublime ability to comprehend the notion that there are no lines in nature, only colour. In this way, the present example is Monet at his best, pre-empting the same technique used in his celebrated ‘Waterlilies’ series - commenced in the following decade in which the viewer becomes so engrossed in the scene that one is not sure where nature ends and reflections begin.

Date:  1860s
Period:  1850-1900, 19th century
Origin:  France
Medium: Pastel
Signature: Signed ‘Claude Monet’ (lower right)
Dimensions: 25 x 25 cm (9⁷/₈ x 9⁷/₈ inches)
Provenance: Private Collection, France

Literature: Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, catalogue raisonné, supplement of drawings and pastels, Tome V, Lausanne 1991, P 35, reproduced page 161.
Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints