Baron Denys Cochin, Paris (acquired from the above in 1892)
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above on 6th March 1897)
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (acquired from the above in 1914)
Martin A. Ryerson, Chicago (acquired from the above on 18th December 1915)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (donated by the above in 1933)
E. & A. Silberman Galleries, New York (acquired from the above in 1947)
Sam Salz, New York
William B. & Evelyn (née Annenberg) Jaffe, New York
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (donated by the above in 1951. Acc. No. 617.1951)
Weimar, Großherzogliches Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, Claude Monet, 1905, no. 20
Manchester, Manchester Art Gallery, Modern French Paintings, 1907-08, no. 2
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Exposition de paysages par Claude Monet et Renoir, 1908, no. 2
Munich, Moderne Galerie, Impressionisten-Ausstellung, 1909, no. 24
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Tableaux par Monet, Pissarro, Renoir et Sisley, 1910, no. 15
St. Petersburg, Institut Français, Centenale de l’art français, 1912, no. 437
(possibly) Galerie Durand-Ruel, Tableaux par Claude Monet, 1914, no. 36
Boston, Brooks Reed Gallery; Saint Louis, Noonan-Kocian Gallery & Chicago, Auditorium Hotel, Tableaux Durand-Ruel, 1915
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by Claude Monet, 1915, no. 9
Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery, Expressionism in American Painting, 1952
Saint Louis, Saint Louis City Art Museum & Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Claude Monet, 1957, no. 66
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Claude Monet, 1976, no. 48
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA 2000, 1999-2000
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Claude Monet. Fields in Spring, 2006, no. 23, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Monet (1840-1926), 2010-11, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Alfred H. Barr, Masters of Modern Art, New York, 1954, illustrated p. 19
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1979, vol. III, no. 1167, illustrated p. 99
John Rewald, Post Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1956, illustrated p. 17
Leon Degand & Denis Rouart, Claude Monet, Geneva, 1958, illustrated p. 83
Luigina Rossi Bortolatto, Opera Completa di Claude Monet, 1972, Paris, illustrated p. 109
René Huyghe, La relève du réel: la peinture française au XIXe siècle: impressionnisme, symbolisme, Paris, 1974, illustrated p. 139
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, no. 1167, mentioned p. 45
Robert Gordon & Andrew Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, illustrated p. 148
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. III, no. 1156, illustrated in colour p. 437
During the second half of the 1880s, Monet’s work was neatly divided between ‘campaigns’ abroad and painting the environs of Giverny. Andrew Forge and Robert Gordon suggest that: ‘The campaigns away from home resulted in self-contained groups of canvases that have their own character and speak of special qualities of experience. Each campaign was a period of great emotional intensity and titanic effort’ (R. Gordon & A. Forge, op. cit., p. 156). Indeed his output in 1885 was forty-eight paintings from Giverny and forty from Étretat; the next year twenty-five from home and thirty-five from the Belle-Île and when the present work was painted in 1887-1888 twenty-four were executed at Giverny whilst he brought back thirty-six from Antibes. It becomes clear that in this intense period of creativity returning to Giverny was of equal importance to going away; not only to reflect upon and repaint canvases from the campaigns abroad but to reengage with his most enduring subject – Giverny.
Discussing the artist’s daily routine at his new home, Claire Joyes wrote: ‘The landscape at Giverny fascinated him. He spent a long while exploring, walking over hills and through valleys, in marshes and meadows, among streams and poplars. Or, drifting down the quiet river in his boat he would watch with a hunter’s concentration for the precise moment when light shimmered on grass or on silver willow leaves or on the surface of the water. Suddenly or by degrees his motif would be revealed to him’ (C. Joyes, Monet at Giverny, London, 1975, p. 20). Once settled on a subject Monet would rise early, breakfast lavishly, and set out across the fields with his canvases and painting paraphernalia in a wheelbarrow, often accompanied by an ‘assistant’ in the form of his step-daughter Blanche Hoschedé. Progress was only interrupted by lunch – taken punctiliously at twelve o’clock – or a drastic change in weather. Monet was devoted to painting en plein air and the brilliant acuity of his observations of light and shade drawn directly from nature, was matched only by the sublime harmony of his compositions. Gustave Geffroy, who became well-acquainted with the artist in the 1880s, wrote about Monet’s working methods: ‘All haste as he fills the canvas with the dominant tones, he then studies their graduations and contrast and harmonises them. From this comes the painting’s unity… Observe… all these different states of nature… and you will see the mornings rise before you, afternoons grow radiant, and the darkness of evening descend’ (quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 2003, p. 234).
Commenting on the present work and another important example of Monet’s work from the period, Un Tournant de l’Epte (fig. 4), Gordon and Forge have written: ‘Cultivated poplars are as typical a feature of the river valleys of northern France as olive trees are of Tuscany. For Monet they were essential, offering him an endlessly varied succession of models for pictorial ideas, both in the larger aspects of composition and in the fine structure of the picture surface. In paintings like these, in which the main forms of the landscape are drawn parallel to the canvas, Monet has relinquished any idea of local incident or focal point. The trees present a frieze that the eye can explore back and forth, as if exploring a fluttering wall of leaves, sky and sunlight’ (R. Gordon & A. Forge, op. cit., p. 148).
An inherent part of the landscape of France, avenues of poplar trees are the most identifiable recurring motif in Monet’s works from the 1880s and 1890s. During the latter decade the poplars were taken as a singular device upon which the vicissitudes of temporal conditions and artistic notions were repeatedly tried and tested. By the time the present work was painted Monet was already exploring the concept of a series of paintings covering a single motif, although the assignment might only run to a pair or trio of works, such as the Sous les Peupliers works (figs. 1 & 2). In the early 1890s Monet would further explore the possibilities presented by the poplar tree as the central motif, in dozens of works which are grouped under the titles Champ de coquelicots (W. 1251-1254, fig. 5), Les Peupliers (W. 1291-1313, fig. 6), and Paysage de printemps (W. 1366-1369, fig. 7).
Monet delighted and despaired in finding new motifs and painterly devices. His newfound financial security encouraged his bold experimentation in both subject and style, and yet the disappointment of some works led him to burn pyres of failed canvases – to the horror of his family and supporters. The dramatic contrast between the rugged, harsh beauties of the Belle-Île and effervescent sweetness of Antibes represent the breadth of Monet’s interpretive talents in the late 1880s. However, it was during the well-earned respite at Giverny that he sought more subtle and exacting natural phenomena to paint. So familiar to him was the land surrounding his home, that even the most common-place motifs were used to experiment on the fundamentals of painting, as John House has explained: ‘The simple formal structure of the subject becomes just an armature for the elaboration of the surface; by inflexions of brushworks and graduations of colour Monet could define the space and articulate the surface while bypassing composition in its traditional sense’ (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, New Haven & London, 1986, p. 54). The freedom of Giverny’s landscape elicited some of Monet’s most accomplished works. In Les Peupliers à Giverny and its counterpart (W. 1155), the artist has contrived to present the foremost line of poplars still flush with colour under the crepuscular rays of evening, whilst the second row has already been cast into aphotic blues and purple silhouettes. In these works Monet has immortalised the most ephemeral and exquisite qualities of light.
Monet’s masochistic pursuit of challenging subjects during this period has been characterised and justified by Christofer Conrad: ‘The agonizing confrontation with the motif and that struggle to find the right response to the atmospheric moment produced paintings of magical lightness and an intrinsic poetic quality that far surpasses straight depiction of nature’ (C. Conrad, in Claude Monet. Fields in Spring (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 79). Discussing the ways in which Monet achieved these extraordinary effects in the present work and its counterpart (W. 1155), Conrad writes: ‘The distance between the two galleries of trees alone imbues these expansive and entirely two-dimensional works with a sense of depth. One is almost tempted to believe that Monet wanted to demonstrate his complete mastery of the technique of variation in these two works based on identical composition schemes. Projecting back to what may have been the original natural event, one could identify two phases of dusk in which the reddish light first generates an almost surreal blue-and-purple coloration into which the yellow spots carry the radiant reflections of the light from the leaves, only to burn through the silhouettes of the poplars as golden color substance a few moments later. Both of these paintings confront the viewer with an endless array of unexpected, truly contrapuntal nuances of color that […] create a color space of musical beauty that is beyond the pale of mere impression’ (C. Conrad, ibid., pp. 87-92).
The present work has a long and distinguished provenance, from its early years in France to its subsequent history in America. It was acquired by the writer and politician Denys Cochin from Boussod, Valodon et Cie. in 1892. Durand-Ruel acquired it from Cochin’s collection, and exhibited it extensively throughout Europe and in the United States. It was eventually purchased by Martin A. Ryerson, the Chicago-based industrialist and philanthropist. Ryerson’s outstanding art collection comprised Old Masters as well as Impressionist paintings, with Monet represented by no fewer than sixteen canvases. A supporter of the Art Institute of Chicago for over forty years, Ryerson bequeathed his collection to the museum upon his death in 1932. Les Peupliers à Giverny entered the Art Institute as part of this bequest and remained there until after the Second World War. In 1951 it entered a second great institution, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, when it was donated by William B. and Evelyn (née Annenberg) Jaffe, and where it has remained until the present day.
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