Monet’s Bennecourt series was his third attempt at depicting the transformation of the frozen river. Earlier depictions at Bougival in 1868 and then at Lavacourt, near Vétheuil, in 1879-80, mark his fascination with this subject and the gripping effect of the freezing river on his psyche. Writing about Monet’s first depictions of ice floes, Eliza Rathbone writes: “Monet’s passion for painting the river itself, even in its bleakest moment, is anticipated by his earlier painting of the Seine, Ice Floes on the Seine at Bougival and Snow on the River, both probably dating from the winter of 1867-68. Although these works depict a different location and were painted before Monet began to live by the Seine, these first paintings of the river nevertheless anticipate both in subject and season this major series in the artist’s oeuvre” (E. Rathbone in Impressionists in Winter, Effets de neige, Op. cit., p. 114).
Winter and snow scenes had an early and important place in the Impressionist artists’ oeuvres, though for most of them they would not maintain this fascination in their later works. Monet, exceptionally, would return to scenes of snow and ice as the nineteenth-century ended and the twentieth-century began. Charles S. Moffett examined the appearance of the snow scene in the Impressionist movement in his exploration of winter scenes in European art history: “Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Caillebotte, Gauguin, and others focused on the very particular character of the air, the light, and the appearance of color in landscapes that were blanketed with white. Their snowscapes represent the first sustained interest in the subject since that of the seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painters. With a few notable exceptions, however, most of these earlier paintings are not about the defining characteristics of the snowscape but rather about a wide range of human activities in the context of a landscape covered with snow. The Impressionists, on the other hand, were drawn to the subject because of its unique visual characteristics. The subtleties of light and color offered an opportunity to work in a range of often muted color that brings to mind Whistler’s ‘symphonies’ in particular colors or combinations of color. The Impressionists concentrated not on ideas about the thing but the thing itself” (C. Moffett in ibid., pp. 15-16).
These scenes were meditations on the cycles of life and the relentless passage of time and the artist’s apparent awe with the grandeur of nature. Paul Tucker suggests that Monet’s decision to focus on the ice floes yet again was an attempt to “reinvigorate himself, even to the point of painting outdoors in temperatures that were well below freezing. They are at once elegiac and soothing, appropriately familiar in their composition and handling while striking in their color and their chilling atmospheric effects” (P.H. Tucker, Monet in the ‘90s, The Series Paintings, Op. cit., p. 169).
The months preceding the series of canvases Monet created in 1893 depicting the ice floes on the Seine were relatively unproductive. Monet’s marriage to Alice Hoschéde and the ensuing combination of their households proved a distraction. It was not until an especially frigid period which caused the Seine to freeze in January that the artist’s interest was again piqued: “During this period of renewed enthusiasm, Monet produced thirteen views of ice floes on the Seine that are remarkable for their delicate atmospheric effects and energetic brushwork. Monet, as he had since 1865, braved the elements and produced these extraordinary studies of weather in rather frigid conditions…. For over two weeks in January of 1893, the Seine went through a period of freezing and thawing that produced dramatic ice floes. These pieces of ice floated for several days, and inspire Monet to produce these subtle atmospheric studies. Painted on the Bennecourt bank of the river, across from Giverny, Monet executed nine examples that face towards the hills on the left bank with subtle changes of site, time of day, and atmosphere. In the center of the works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Waterhouse Collection [the present work], and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Monet has included the islet of Forée, which was at that time situated between the Grand-Ile and the Ile de la Flotte…. In these paintings, the river is filled with snowcapped ice floes, and provides a fascinating combination of ice, water, and cold mist. These works are a triumph of atmosphere. Despite the similar compositions of this series, they are each distinguished by their delicate palettes which vary individually from ice-blue, mauve, and pink of a frigid day on the river to warmer tones of yellow and blue when the sun attempts to melt the thick ice that floats on the water…. The color river provides the perfect reflection of the islet, the trees, and the sky, and adds to the tranquil and harmonious mood of this series” (K. Rothkopf in Impressionists in Winter, Effets de neige, Op. cit., p. 126)
Monet’s series paintings from the 1890s are widely considered his finest and most innovative achievements. By painting the same subject at various times of day and under different weather conditions, he could document the continual transformation of his surroundings. His painting of Les Glaçons, Bennecourt and the related canvases coincided with his series of depictions of Rouen Cathedral, and both undertakings reveal similarities in palette and approach. Monet would apply the lessons he learned from these pictures to later series of misty mornings on the Seine and ultimately to his depictions of the waterlilies in his garden at Giverny. Perhaps more than any of the series from this decade, the ice floe pictures laid the groundwork for his approach to his renderings of the floating lilypads and the reflection of the trees and sky in the garden pond.
The present work is distinguished by its important early provenance. The first private owner of Les Glaçons, Bennecourt was Louisine Havemeyer, the art collector and philanthropist, who acquired the picture form Galerie Montaignac in 1897, a mere four years after it was painted. Together with her husband, Henry Osborne, Louisine amassed what was perhaps the finest art collection in America. She was a patron of many Impressionist artists and her collection was a legendary assemblage of the best examples of works by artists including Rembrandt, Corot, Courbet, Manet, Cézanne and Monet among many others. Louisine purchased Monet's The Drawbridge, Amsterdam in 1875; it was the first painting by the artist to find a home in the United States. The Havemeyer’s donated more than 4,500 works of art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York including another work by Monet’s from this important series, Les Glaçons from 1893, which is on view today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's galleries.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale