Masters of Light, the Works of Monet, Pissarro and Boudin

By Sotheby's

Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale on 19 June will feature a group of four works by three of the most celebrated Impressionist painters: Pissarro, Monet and Boudin. These four works come from a single private American collection and exemplify the mastery over light that these painters achieved in their work.


Pissarro’s series paintings of Paris in the late 1890s are amongst the supreme achievements of Impressionism, taking their place alongside Claude Monet’s series of Rouen Cathedral, poplars and grainstacks and the later waterlilies. For an artist who throughout his earlier career was primarily celebrated as a painter of rural life rather than the urban environment, the Boulevard Montmartre series confirmed his position as the pre-eminent painter of the City.

It may not be very aesthetic, but I’m delighted to be able to have a go at Paris streets, which are said to be ugly, but are [in fact] so silvery, so bright, so vibrant with life […] they’re so totally modern!
Letter from Camille Pissarro to his son Lucien, 15th December 1897.

Le Boulevard Montmartre, brume du matin, painted in 1897, is an outstanding work from one of the most important series of Pissarro’s urban views. The excitement and spectacle of the city at the fin-de-siècle are brilliantly evoked by the artist’s handling of paint and the elegant composition.


Painted in 1871, Le Port de Zaandam is a rare and particularly striking example of Monet’s early Impressionist painting. A powerful and evocative depiction of the port of Zaandam in Holland, it exemplifies his innovative approach to the expressive qualities of painting, using loaded brushstrokes and pure colour tones to convey a powerful sense of time and place.

In the autumn of 1870, the escalating Franco-Prussian war forced Monet and his young family to seek safety first in England and then eventually in Holland. On 2nd June 1871 Monet wrote to his friend Camille Pissarro: "We have finally arrived at the end of our journey, after a rather unpleasant crossing. We traversed almost the whole length of Holland, and to be sure, what I saw of it seemed far more beautiful than it is said to be. Zaandam is particularly remarkable and there is enough to paint there for a lifetime."

It is marvellous for painting here; there is everything you can find <i>de plus amusant</i>. Houses of all colours, hundreds of windmills and ravishing boats […] and with all this very fine weather, I already have several canvases on the go.
Letter from Claude Monet to Camille Pissarro, 17th June 1871.

Monet’s vibrant depiction of a branch of lemons was painted at Bordighera on the Italian Riviera, near the end of Monet’s visit there, which lasted from late January to early April 1884. Having accompanied his friend Pierre-Auguste Renoir on a short trip to the region the year before, Monet returned alone in order to be able to concentrate on his painting. He worked with great zest and in a letter to his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel he wrote: 'I am certain that I will bring back interesting things, for everywhere all is beauty and the weather is superb' (quoted in Monet and the Mediterranean (exhibition catalogue), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1997, p. 30).

At the moment I am spending all of my time painting still-lifes [...]; today I turn my hand to lemons.
Letter from Claude Monet to Alice Hoschedé, 3rd April 1884


Crinolines sur la plage is a beautiful early example of Boudin’s favourite subject, that of fashionably dressed figures on a beach. Having settled in Paris after his marriage in 1863, throughout the 1860s and 1870s Boudin travelled every summer to the coast of Normandy, usually staying at the neighbouring resorts of Trouville and Dauville, where he found the inspiration to paint endless variations on the themes most dear to him.

Jean Selz wrote: ‘What fascinated Boudin at Trouville and Deauville was not so much the sea and ships but the groups of people sitting on the sand or strolling along the beach: fine ladies in crinolines twirling their parasols, pompous gentlemen in top hats, children and little dogs playing on the sand. In the harmony of the colours of the elegant clothes he found a contrast to the delicacy of the skies’ (J. Selz, Eugène Boudin, New York, 1982, p. 57).

In the harmony of the colours of the elegant clothes [Boudin] found a contrast to the delicacy of the skies’
(J. Selz, <i>Eugène Boudin</i>, New York, 1982, p. 57).

In Crinolines sur la plage the artist exhibits his exceptional qualities as an observer of both society and nature. At their best, the beach scenes vibrate with subtle nuances of light, colour, shade and movement, tiny and hasty specks of pure colour simultaneously dramatising the surface and bringing the whole into harmony’ (V. Hamilton, Boudin at Trouville, London, 1992, p. 63).

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