"As far as method of colouring is concerned, [the Impressionists] have made a real discovery, whose origin cannot be found elsewhere - neither with the Dutch, nor in the pale tones of fresco painting, nor in the light tonalities of the eighteenth century. […] Their discovery actually consists in having recognised that full light de-colours tones, that the sun reflected by objects tends (because of its brightness) to bring them back to that luminous unity which melts its seven prismatic rays into a single colourless radiance: light."
T his is how the French writer and art critic Edmond Duranty articulated the approach of a new group of painters in his essay titled La Nouvelle Peinture, written at the time of the Second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. This group of avant-garde artists, now known as the Impressionists, held the first of their eight group exhibitions in 1874, in opposition to the official, government-sponsored Salon.
Their pioneering approach in breaking away from the conservative art establishment is one of the defining moments in the history of Western art. 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.
These three exceptional examples of La Nouvelle Peinture by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro exemplify the qualities for which Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting is celebrated today. The opportunity to see these three paintings together, having belonged to the same private collection for over half a century, offers us an insight into the how Impressionism developed from its beginnings in the 1870s and 1880s before reaching its pinnacle with Monet’s magnificent waterlilies.
Claude Monet’s Nymphéas are among the most iconic and celebrated Impressionist paintings and their profound impact on the evolution of Modern Art marks them as Monet’s greatest achievement. The artist’s famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major later works, paintings whose significance in forging the path for subsequent artists is now fully recognised. Monet's legacy of experimental exploration can be considered as a precursor to the abstraction that came to prominence the post-war years.
By 1890, Monet was able to buy the house and a large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. With enormous vigour and determination, he swiftly set about transforming the gardens and creating a large pond, in which waterlilies gradually matured.
Towards the end of his life, Monet told a visitor to his studio: "It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once I had the revelation – how wonderful my pond was – and reached for my palette. I’ve hardly had any other subject since that moment"
"It took me some time to understand my water lilies... And then, all at once I had the revelation – how wonderful my pond was – and reached for my palette. I’ve hardly had any other subject since that moment"
Once discovered, the subject of waterlilies offered a wealth of inspiration that Monet went on to explore for the rest of his life. The beauty and purity of the waterlilies are indeed abundantly evident in this work, an extraordinary example of the artist's virtuosity as a colourist. The surface texture is rich with detail, particularly in the passages where the blossoms float atop the water.
The distinction between reflection and surface, water and flora, and the general clarity of the scene are particularly striking in this composition. Here, Monet’s primary interest is in depicting the effects of light on the surface of the pond and on the waterlilies themselves, and the play of shadows and modulations of light that the weather creates.
In the Spring of 1885 Monet painted the magnificent Printemps à Giverny, effet du matin, executed during a period when the astoundingly rich and diverse landscape surrounding Monet’s home became his primary motif. Having moved his large family to the rural hamlet of Giverny in the spring of 1883, the artist found here a retreat where he could dedicate himself to explorations of the natural world.
Located some forty miles from Paris, Giverny was virtually untouched by the modernisation that had radically altered many of the villages along the Seine. Monet found endless sources of inspiration in the hills overlooking Giverny’s 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.
The artist’s fascination with the splendour of the countryside is particularly pulpable in his spring-time canvases, such as the present work and Printemps, Giverny now in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. For Printemps à Giverny, effet du matin, Monet chose a spot that gave him a magnificent view over the field and trees with the town’s church and rooftops in middle distance, a harmonious blending of natural and man-made reminiscent of Van Gogh’s renderings of the countryside surrounding Auvers.
Camille Pissarro's Neo-Impressionist vision
Painted in 1884, Les meules et le clocher de l’église à Eragny is a beautifully rich and textured depiction of the landscape surrounding Pissarro’s home in a bucolic village on the banks of the river Epte. Pissarro moved to Eragny with his family in the spring of 1884 and was to remain there until his death in 1903. He delighted in the tranquility of the region and in 1892 he went on to purchase a house there with the financial aid of Claude Monet who lived in the neighbouring village of Giverny.
The house still exists to this day, on a street named after the artist. In a letter written to his son Lucien dated 1st March 1884 Pissarro expresses his love for the area: "…I found the country much more beautiful than Compiègne, although that day it was still pouring torrents. But here comes the spring, the fields are green, outlines are delicate in the distance. Gisors is superb" (quoted in John Rewald, Camille Pissarro, Letters to his Son Lucien, New York, 1943, p. 58).
During the years spent in Eragny, Pissarro was to capture and rework his vision of the surrounding countryside endlessly. In Pissarro’s opinion, Impressionism was already over in 1883, and it was at this time that he embraced the Neo-Impressionist technique, under the influence of Seurat, with whom they exchanged ideas on colour theories and scientific research into the nature and effect of colour when they finally met in 1885.
The present work is a stunning example of Pissarro’s own version of pointillism, using short, fragmented brushstrokes to capture the dazzling effect of a bright day and to create vivid colour contrasts between light and shadow.
This trio of masterworks celebrates of not only the luminosity and magic of these two artists’ surroundings, but their passion for discovering new ways of capturing what lay before them.
Aleksandra Todorovic, Head of Research, Impressionist & Modern Art London