Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above on 9th January 1893)
Durand-Ruel Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1928)
Mrs Henry Potter Russell, Hillsborough, California (acquired from the above on 31st December 1928)
Mr & Mrs Charles H. Russell, Hillsborough (by descent from the above circa 1965)
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (a bequest from the above in 1974. Sold: Christie’s, New York, 14th May 1997, lot 20)
Purchased at the above sale by the late owner
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Exposition des œuvres de Claude Monet, 1883, no. 13
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Claude Monet. A. Rodin, 1889, no. 28
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir et Sisley, 1899, no. 5
Weimar, Grossherzogliches Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, Monet, Manet, Renoir und Cézanne, 1904, no. 16
Weimar, Grossherzogliches Museum für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, Claude Monet, 1905, no. 4
London, Grafton Galleries, Pictures by Boudin, Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, Sisley, 1905, no. 126
Vienna, Galerie Miethke, Monet-Manet, 1910, no. 30
London, Grosvenor House, Art Français, Exposition d'art décoratif contemporain, 1800-1885, 1914, no. 50, illustrated in the catalogue (titled La Seine à Asnières)
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Œuvres importantes de Monet, Pissarro, Renoir et Sisley, 1925, no. 28
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Paintings by the Impressionists, 1926, no. 12
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings by Claude Monet, 1927, no. 6, illustrated in the catalogue
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich; Paris, Galerie des Beaux-Arts & The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Claude Monet, 1952, no. 32, illustrated in the catalogue
Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery, The French Impressionists: Including Works by Some Earlier Artists who Influenced the Movement, 1953, no. 65, illustrated in the catalogue
St. Louis, City Art Museum of St. Louis & Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Claude Monet, 1957, no. 29, illustrated in the catalogue
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor; Santa Barbara, The Santa Barbara Museum of Art & San Diego, Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, Claude Monet, Paintings in California Collections, 1974, no. 3, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Claude Monet, 1976, no. 24, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art & San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, The New Painting: Impressionism, 1986, no. 30, illustrated in colour in the catalogue; illustrated in colour on the cover of the hardback edition
Emile Blémont, ‘Les impressionnistes’, in Le Rappel, 9th April 1876, mentioned p. 3
Anon., ‘A travers l'art... Exposition des œuvres de M. Claude Monet’, in L'Art Moderne, April 1883, mentioned p. 15
Camille Mauclair, L'Impressionnisme, son histoire, son esthétique, ses maîtres, Paris, 1904, illustrated p. 76
Julius Meier-Graefe, ‘Über Impressionismus’, in Die Kunst, January 1910, illustrated p. 153
Gustave Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son œuvre, Paris, 1922, mentioned pp. 59, 62, & 71
Florent Fels, Claude Monet, Paris, 1925, illustrated p. 39
Camille Mauclair, Claude Monet, Paris, 1927, illustrated pl. 19
Léon Werth, Claude Monet, Paris, 1928, illustrated pl. 29 (as dating from 1879)
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Paris & Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, no. 373, illustrated
Diana C. DuPont, Katherine Church Holland, Garna Garren Muller & Laura L. Sueka (ed.), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: The Painting and Sculpture Collection, New York, 1985, illustrated p. 344
Monet - Rodin. Centenaire de l'exposition de 1889 (exhibition catalogue), Musée Rodin, Paris, 1989-90, illustrated p. 78
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, no. 373, illustrated in colour p. 154
Ruth Berson, The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, San Francisco, 1996, vol. II, no. II-149, illustrated p. 56
Long praised as an idyllic rural retreat, in the 1870s Argenteuil offered the perfect escape for Parisians seeking a break from the increasingly industrialised capital. Peter Worms, a resident of the town, described the view from the main bridge in 1869, ‘Right away, you notice the magnificent basin of the Seine, where in the summer season, the happy boaters come to indulge in their nautical pastime; then you notice some small houses serving as pieds à terre for their owners in the pleasant parts of the year. Then further, a magnificent promenade shaded by majestic trees… Turn your eyes to the right and you see the railroad bridge being built…’ (quoted in P. H. Tucker, Monet at Argenteuil, New Haven & London, 1982, pp. 9-10). At Argenteuil the Seine reaches its widest and deepest point, making it ideal for sailing and the wide promenades stretching along the banks on either side of the river offered a leisurely alternative that drew a new crowd from the city. It also gave the opportunity to paint modern life in a landscape setting and this combination proved an irresistible attraction for the Impressionists. Monet rented a house there in 1871, and Caillebotte, Manet, Renoir and Sisley were regular visitors; it was during meetings at this house that the plans for the First Impressionist Exhibition were laid.
The pioneering approach of the Impressionists in breaking away from the Salon for their independent exhibition is one of the defining moments of art history. The opportunity to view the work of these artists together for the first time clarified their achievements as painters en plein air and their revolutionary approach to the use of light and colour. In his landmark 1876 essay ‘The Impressionists and Edouard Manet’ Stéphane Mallarmé described the achievements of the Impressionists, ‘[they] use simple colour, fresh, or lightly laid on, and their results appear to have been attained at the first stroke, that the ever-present light blends with and vivifies all things. As to the details of the picture, nothing should be absolutely fixed in order that we may feel the bright gleam which lights the picture, or the diaphanous shadow which veils it, are only seen in passing, and just when the spectator beholds the represented subject, which being composed of a harmony of reflected and ever-changing lights, cannot be supposed always to look the same, but palpitates with movement, light, and life’ (quoted in The New Painting: Impressionism (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 31).
In this respect, La Seine à Argenteuil – which was among the works Monet chose to exhibit at the Second Impressionist Exhibition – is the epitome of Impressionist painting; each stroke of paint is clearly defined and the visible energy of the brushstroke lends the painting a sense of spontaneity and immediacy. It also illustrates the importance of the years he spent at Argenteuil in developing the loose and vivid style that marked the height of his achievements in the Impressionist mode. In earlier works, from his first year at Argenteuil (figs. 1 & 2), the paint work still contains echoes of a more formal idiom, but even the following year, in a work such as Effet d'automne à Argenteuil now in The Courtauld Gallery, a looser brushwork is more apparent, imbuing the work with a hazy, autumnal feel. In his 1874 canvas Le bassin d'Argenteuil (fig. 4), Monet makes particularly effective use of this technique, in combination with a palette of vivid blues, to render the water with a remarkable sense of movement and energy. In La Seine à Argenteuil Monet emphasises this effect, contrasting the dense brushstrokes of the greenery with lighter horizontal strokes of blue so that water and sky seem to move through the canvas. The whole composition is suffused with a dazzling light that beautifully evokes the atmosphere of a sunny afternoon spent at leisure on the banks of the Seine.
However, the energy of the painting is not only a result of the fluid Impressionist style; it also owes something to Monet’s rigorous composition. The canvas is constructed as a balance; between the broad sweep of the river bank and a corresponding triangle of water, and between the vast canopy of sky and the land beneath it. All these elements lead towards a vanishing point to the left of the horizon, emphasising the sense of vitality that pervades the canvas. His masterful construction of landscapes was recognised and praised by contemporary critics – even the more conservative critics, less enamoured of the Impressionist movement. Arthur Baignères wrote in his review of the second group exhibition, ‘Monet exhibited some remarkable landscapes, among them the beach at Sainte-Adresse and several views of the Seine near Argenteuil. If only Monet wanted to cure himself of the sickness of Impressionism, what a landscape painter we would have! Few artists render better than he the brilliance of daylight, the purity of atmosphere, and the blue of water and sky’ (A. Baignères, L’Echo Universel, 13th April 1876).
Monet’s move to Argenteuil precipitated a period of incredible productivity; during the six years that he spent there he produced more paintings than he had since he first began working, and of all those, his depictions of the river bank are among the best. He was drawn to the riverside as the centre of life in Argenteuil and his enthusiasm for the place is evident – for Monet, the river epitomised the enticing blend of rural charm and modernity that first enticed him out of Paris. From the very first his paintings reflect this; La Promenade d’Argenteuil (fig. 1), now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., shows people enjoying an afternoon on the Seine, but amongst the buildings on the horizon loom two factory towers, and in another painting from the same year (fig. 2) he includes a steam boat amongst the craft on the river. Later paintings such as Le Pont du chemin de fer, Argenteuil (fig. 5) include more explicit reminders of the increasing industrialisation that was spreading out from Paris. Such explicit reminders are absent from La Seine à Argenteuil with Monet preferring in this case to focus on capturing the rural calm of the riverbank, but the inclusion of the scattered groups of figures enjoying a sunny afternoon with the lone sail in the distance provide an equally compelling insight into contemporary life.
Although Monet had been the first to move from Paris to Argenteuil – possibly encouraged by Manet who knew the area as the result of his family owning a house in Gennevilliers – the other Impressionists were quick to follow and the variety and multitude of the paintings they produced there reflect the central importance of Argenteuil in the development of Impressionism. Manet’s 1874 painting Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil (fig. 3) shares the same vibrant palette and tessellated brushwork as the present work. Although the composition of the two works is very different, with Manet focusing on a more intimate tableau and placing the viewer much closer to the river, they both illustrate the artists’ virtuosic and revolutionary handling of paint. They also reflect the particular characteristics of Argenteuil – the fusion of modernity with rural calm, and most crucially the ever-changing panorama of the river itself - that drew these artists to this small stretch of riverside at Argenteuil and inspired some of the most consummate examples of Impressionist painting.
La Seine à Argenteuil was first owned by the celebrated French opera singer Jean-Baptiste Faure. Faure was renowned as a collector of Impressionist art, at one time owning over sixty works by Monet alone. Along with the present work he leant nine other Monet landscapes for the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876. The work was subsequently in the collection of the acclaimed American collector Mrs Henry Potter Russell, whose descendants bequeathed it to The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1974. The work was included in their seminally important reconstruction of the Salon des Indépendants exhibitions. Taking place one hundred years after the final Impressionist exhibition in 1886, the exhibition celebrated the incredible importance of these shows in transforming the artistic landscape and enabled a new public to see a remarkable collection of Impressionist works in the context in which they had originally been presented to the world. Following this, La Seine à Argenteuil was acquired by the late owner in 1997 and has since remained in his collection.
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