Michel Monet, Giverny (by descent from the above)
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., London (acquired by 1952)
Henrik Nordmark, Sweden (acquired by circa 1954)
Sale: Galerie Koller, Zurich, May 25-26, 1979, lot 5180
Sale: Christie’s, New York, November 6, 1979, lot 16
Acquired at the above sale
Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux Arts, La Peinture Française en Suède: Hommage à Alexander Roslin et à Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, 1967, no. 53, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Vétheuil)
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue raisonné, Lausanne & Paris, 1979, vol II, no. 1058, illustrated p. 187
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. III, no. 1058, illustrated p. 400
The rural town of Giverny rests against the hills on the east bank of the Seine, where the valley broadens and offers extraordinary vistas of the sprawling rural landscape. Having moved to the small town in 1883, Monet found endless inspiration in the hills overlooking the village, the roads and field near his home, along the banks of the Seine and ultimately amidst the vast landscaping project in his extensive flower gardens. Each location would become the subjects of his best-known works, such as Les Meules à Giverny, Les Peupliers, Matinée sur la Seine and Nymphéas. During a period of heavy rain in the early spring of 1886, the meadows next to Monet’s property flooded with overflow from the nearby river. As a chronicler of the village and surrounding landscape Monet clambered to higher ground to capture the event in the present work, Inondation à Giverny. By capturing the stilled movements of the ripples atop the transient floodwaters, which at any moment might recede, Monet has instilled Inondation à Giverny with a sense of heightened intensity, while the picturesque town is bathed in a soft light as the clouds withdraw, simultaneously supplying a sense of momentary stillness. The vitality with which Monet has applied his brushstrokes, and the subtle tonal shifts used by the painter allow him to capture the rippling reflections of the hills, the grassy banks of the river and the gnarled trees in the water with a great immediacy that epitomizes the Impressionist desire to render the characteristics of light as it changes the appearance of nature. A primary goal of the Impressionist painters was to capture fleeting visual effects of the natural world; the transitory nature of the deluge and the rapidly altered landscape was one that fascinated a number of the Impressionist artists and would feature in the works of Pissarro and Sisley in the 1870s and reappear in the work of Monet in late 1896, when the countryside near Giverny was once again transformed by the neighboring river.
The composition of the present work seems to recall Monet’s series paintings depicting the small medieval village of Vétheuil where the artist and his family lived in from 1878-1881, affording him an extended period to paint the backdrops of rural France. Monet's many paintings from Vétheuil both during this time and upon his return in the late 90s are evidence of a critical development in the evolution of his style, when he began to strike out from the already established techniques of the early Impressionist imagery that he had perfected while living in Argenteuil in the 1870s. The Vétheuil series is representative of the ways in which Monet successfully integrated his vision of landscape painting with the village motif, personalizing this by focusing most pressingly on capturing the vagaries of natural light. As John House explained: “He gradually moved away from a concern with the individual elements in the scene, and the relationships between them, to concentrate on its overall effect; whereas his earlier technique served to differentiate particular elements, later their specificity became absorbed into a closely integrated whole” (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, New Haven & London, 1986, p. 15).
Many of these canvases strike a balance between the naturalist-realist origins of Impressionism and a boldly experimental approach to capturing the changing qualities of light. This small stretch of the Seine that contains both Givery and Vétheuil provided innumerable opportunities for Monet to observe the same, or similar, views in different seasons and at different times of day and to explore the resulting nuances of light and color. The artist’s fascination with exploring the ever-changing nature of a given motif resulted in the series paintings, which are counted among the most celebrated achievements of the Impressionist movement. Returning to the same vistas over a number of years allowed Monet to observe the landscape in all its moods: capturing it bathed in the crisp, golden light of a warm afternoon or by way of contrast, in the somber, muted tones that he used to evoke the particularly harsh winter of 1879-80. By capturing the passing floodwaters that filled the valley near his home Monet has provided a rare glimpse into a moment otherwise lost in time.
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