signed Claude Monet (lower left)
Painted in 1869.
Paris, Durand-Ruel, Tableaux par Claude Monet, 1928, no. 11 (titled Embâcle de la Seine à Bougival)
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Exposition de tableaux, Claude Monet de 1865 à 1888, 1935, no. 8 (titled La Seine à Rueil)
London, Tate Gallery, Claude Monet, 1957, no. 36, illustrated in the catalogue
The subject of winter landscapes fascinated Monet throughout his career, and La Seine à Bougival is an outstandingly vivid early painting on this important theme. The artist's evocative palette of earthy tones finds a natural balance with the silvered sky enabling him to capture the gentle thaw of the last snowfall whilst the still ice-packed Seine is laden with glistening fresh snow. The preoccupation with snowy landscapes would extend to several of the Impressionist painters, including Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro (fig. 1), though Monet's effet de neige paintings are often viewed as the most successful examples of the theme (fig. 2). Writing about Monet's snow scenes, Eliza E. Rathbone observed: 'The Impressionists, and above all Monet, determined to record the complete spectrum: deep snow in brilliant sunshine, creating the bluest of blue shadows; snow under a low, grey winter sky that shrouds nature in a single tonality; landscapes so deep in snow that all details are obscured, evoking a silent world; even snow melting along a country road at sunset; or, perhaps most striking, a sky filled with snow falling. Of all the Impressionists, Monet painted the largest number of snowscapes and the greatest variety of site, time of day, quality of light, and quality of snow itself. He was not only interested in a relatively traditional conception of a snowy landscape, but he found beauty in unexpected phenomena of winter. He brought to his snowscapes his desire to experiment both with new technique and with formal invention' (E. E. Rathbone, 'Monet, Japonisme, and Effets de Neige', in Impressionists in Winter (exhibition catalogue), The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1998-99, p. 25).
La Seine à Bougival is one of five snowscapes Monet painted at Bougival during the winter of 1869-70. The present work depicts this small suburb west of Paris near the village of Saint-Michel where the artist and his family had settled earlier in the year, and the charming character of this community is suggested by the jaunty red flickers of paint that enliven the composition. The paintings he executed at this time were the first to employ the broken brush-marks, evident in the present work, which he used to successfully convey the ambience of his surroundings. In 1868, Léon Billot gave an account of Monet painting out-of-doors in the snow, a vivid proof of the artist's dedication to capturing the effects of light on the frozen landscape: 'It was during winter, after several snowy days, when communications had almost been interrupted. The desire to see the countryside beneath its white shroud had led us across the fields. It was cold enough to split rocks. We glimpsed a little heater, then an easel, then a gentleman swathed in three overcoats, with gloved hands, his face half-frozen. It was M. Monet studying an aspect of the snow' (L. Billot, 'Exposition des Beaux-Arts', in Journal du Havre, 9th October 1868).
Fig. 1, Camille Pissarro, La Route de Versailles à Louveciennes, 1869, oil on canvas, The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore
Fig. 2, Claude Monet, La Route de la ferme Saint-Siméon en hiver, 1867, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 5th February 2008
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