Lot 15
  • 15

Claude Monet

20,000,000 - 30,000,000 GBP
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  • Claude Monet
  • Le Grand Canal
  • signed Claude Monet and dated 1908 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 73 by 92cm.
  • 28 3/4 by 36 1/4 in.


Galerie Bernheim-Jeune & Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (purchased jointly from the artist in May 1912)

Durand-Ruel Gallery, New York

Hunt Henderson, New Orleans (acquired from the above on October 1913)

Private Collection, U.S.A. (by descent from the above. Sold: Sotheby’s, New York, 15th November 1989, lot 23)

Private Collection, Japan (purchased at the above sale. Sold: Sotheby’s, New York, 2nd November 2005, lot 12)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Monet, Venise, 1912, no. 4

Paris, Galerie Manzi-Joyant, Art Moderne, 1913, no. 71

Saint Petersburg, Florida, Museum of Fine Arts, circa 1979 (on loan)

Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Monet and the Mediterranean, 1997, no. 78, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

London, Royal Academy of Arts, Monet in the 20th Century, 1999, no. 49, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

London, The National Gallery, 2006-2014 (on loan)


Arsène Alexandre, ‘La vie artistique, Claude Monet et Venise’, in Le Figaro, Paris, 29th May 1912, mentioned p. 4

Gustave Geffroy, ‘La Venise de Claude Monet’, in La Dépêche, Paris, 30th May 1912, mentioned p. 1

Henri Genet, ‘Beaux-Arts et Curiosité. ‘Les Venises’ de Claude Monet’,  in L’Opinion, Paris, 1st June 1912, mentioned p. 698

Georges Lecomte, ‘Un radieux poème à la gloire de Venise’, in Le Matin, Paris, 3rd June 1912, mentioned p. 6

André Michel, ‘Promenade aux Salons’, in Journal des Débats, Paris, 5th June 1912, mentioned p. 1

‘Art et Curiosité. Venise vue par Claude Monet’, in Le Temps, Paris, 11th June 1912, mentioned p. 4

‘Vision d’art. Venise par Claude Monet’, in Le Gaulois, Paris, 14th June 1912, mentioned p. 1

Gustave Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son œuvre, Paris, 1922, discussed pp. 317-318

Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Paris & Lausanne, 1985, vol. IV, no. 1739, illustrated p. 233; letter no.2012a, p. 385; documentation nos. 240 & 241

Philippe Piquet, Monet et Venise, Paris, 1986, no. 2, illustrated p. 690

Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné,  Paris & Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, no. 1739, listed p. 53

Paul Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet, Life and Art, New Haven & London, 1995, illustrated p. 200

Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. IV, no. 1739, illustrated p. 810

Stephan Koja, Claude Monet, Munich & New York, 1996, illustrated p. 150

Monet. Atti del convegno (exhibition catalogue), Casa dei Carraresi, Treviso, 2002, illustrated p. 85



The canvas is lined. Apart from some spots of retouching along the upper framing edge, and a few small spots scattered in the sky, all visible under ultra-violet light, this work is in very good condition. Colours: In comparison to the printed catalogue illustration, the colours are overall considerably fresher and brighter and the yellow and green tones are much more pronounced in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Le Grand Canal is an exceptionally rare and beautiful painting from the esteemed series of works that Monet painted in Venice in 1908. The ineffable light conditions of the city are in this work rendered as dappling crests of pink and gold upon the surface of the canal and imbue the domes of Santa Maria della Salute with a pearlescent glow. This view of the Grand Canal is arguably the most iconic of all the Venetian paintings. Monet executed six canvases which show variations on the theme of Santa Maria della Salute seen from the steps of the Palazzo Barbaro (figs. 1 & 2), where he set up his easel during the first half of October. Joachim Pissarro describes this group of works as, ‘unquestionably one of Monet’s most systematic series. The six canvases are almost exactly the same dimensions; the layout of the motif is virtually identical in all, and each of the canvases was painted at the same time of day, probably in the afternoon. The fact that Monet chose to represent the tide changes that cover and uncover the steps of the Palazzo Barbaro is not incidental: Monet deliberately emphasizes that we are on the sea ('his element'), not on fresh water. Establishing in advance the conditions of observation and the context of his experimentation, Monet used Venice as another pictorial laboratory, gauging changes in the 'envelope' (the indefinable Venetian 'haze') under identical circumstances. These are two typically Venetian effects that animate these views of Santa Maria della Salute: the filtering haze either heightens the colours of the prism, almost setting them alight, or, on the contrary, it dampens them and unites them in a sort of muffled monotonous harmony’ (J. Pissarro, Monet and the Mediterranean (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 72).

Monet and his wife Alice travelled to Venice for the first time in the autumn of 1908 at the invitation of Mary Young Hunter, a wealthy American who had been introduced to the Monets by John Singer Sargent. They arrived on 1st October and spent two weeks as her guest at the Palazzo Barbaro, which belonged to a relation of Sargent - Mrs Daniel Sargent Curtis, before moving to the Grand Hotel Britannia on the Grand Canal where they stayed until their departure on 7th December. From the balcony of the Palazzo Barbaro, they could see three of the great palaces Monet was to paint during his time in Venice: Palazzo da Mula, Palazzo Dario (fig. 4) and the Palazzo Contarini (fig. 5). Initially reluctant to leave his house and garden at Giverny, Monet must have sensed that the architectural splendours of Venice in their watery environment would present new and formidable challenges. His first days in Venice seemed only to confirm his initial fears but after several days of his customary discouragement, he commenced work on 7th October. In his study of Monet's work and the Mediterranean, Joachim Pissarro has given a detailed account of Monet's working schedule while he was in Venice: ‘After so much procrastination, Monet soon adopted a rigorous schedule in Venice. Alice’s description of his work day establishes that from the very inception of his Venetian campaign, Monet organized his time and conceived of the seriality of his work very differently from his previous projects. In Venice, Monet divided his daily schedule into periods of approximately two hours, undertaken at the same time every day and on the same given motif. Unlike his usual methods of charting the changes of time and light as the course of the day would progress, here Monet was interested in painting his different motifs under exactly the same conditions. One could say that he had a fixed appointment with his motifs at the same time each day. The implication of this decision is very simple; for Monet in Venice, time was not to be one of the factors of variations for his motifs. Rather, it was the 'air', or what he called 'the envelope' - the surrounding atmospheric conditions, the famous Venetian haze - that became the principal factor of variation with these motifs’ (J. Pissarro, ibid., p. 50).

Discussing the Venetian paintings of 1908 Gustave Geffroy attempted to define the approach Monet took to his depictions of the city, in particular making a study of the artist’s repeated portrayal of certain motifs: ‘It is no longer the minutely detailed approach to Venice that the old masters saw in its new and robust beauty, nor the decadent picturesque Venice of the 18th century painters; it is a Venice glimpsed simultaneously from the freshest and most knowledgeable perspective, one which adorns the ancient stones with the eternal and changing finery of the hours of the day’. Monet’s Venetian canvases transported Geffroy: ‘in front of this Venice in which the ten century old setting takes on a melancholic and mysterious aspect under the luminous veils which envelop it. The lapping water ebbs and flows, passing back and forth around the palazzo, as if to dissolve these vestiges of history… The magnificence of nature only reigns supreme in those parts of the landscape from which the bustling city of pleasure can be seen from far enough away that one can believe in the fantasy of the lifeless city lying in the sun’ (G. Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son œuvre, Paris, 1924, pp. 318 & 320).

In Venice Monet continued to observe, as he had in the views of the river Thames he completed in 1904 (fig. 6), how light reflected off a wide stretch of water dissolves and liquefies the solid, uneven surfaces of brick and mortar. In Venice, however, the closeness of the buildings to the water's edge led him to explore more abstract compositions accentuating the interplay between the rhythms of the ornate façades, with their arched openings and horizontal divisions, and the rhythmic expanse of water (fig. 7). This innovative approach was perhaps encouraged by Monet’s appreciation of the special importance Venice held for his artistic forebears. George Shackelford and MaryAnne Stevens argue: ‘Venice offered Monet contact with a specifically resonant artistic tradition and with aesthetic options that invited him to extend the artistic concerns with which he had been engaged since the early 1890s […] to depict the dominant tonality of the air that lies between the subject and the artist/viewer (the enveloppe) and […] the reflection of subject and light on water, Monet drew upon such predecessors in Venice as Turner and Whistler, and the achievements of his London series’ (G.M.T. Shackelford & M. Stevens, Monet in the 20th Century (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 178). The glorious canvases that Turner produced in the early 1840s, such as The Dogana, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa (fig. 8), present a Venice which is transfigured by light. It is a light that has a form and presence more accurately recorded in the waters of the lagoon than falling on the city itself. Matisse is recorded to have noted: ‘it seemed to me that Turner must have been the link between the academic tradition and impressionism’ (quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 203) and he divined a special connection between Turner’s works and Monet’s. Writing in the catalogue for the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition Katherin Lochnan pinpoints the Venice pictures as the culmination of Monet’s discourse with those two painters: ‘These beautiful and poetic works are portals through which the viewer can enter a world of memories, reveries and dreams. Fearing that they might constitute the final chapter in his artistic evolution, Monet sounded in them the last notes of his artistic dialogue with Turner and Whistler that had been central to his artistic development’ (K. Lochnan in ibid. p. 35).

During the course of his stay Monet painted thirty-seven canvases of Venetian subjects, which depicted views of the Grand Canal, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Rio della Salute; the Palazzos Dario, Mula, Contarini and the Doge’s Palace. On 19th December 1908, a few days after Monet’s return to Paris, Bernheim-Jeune acquired twenty-eight of the thirty-seven views of Venice although Monet kept the pictures in his studio until 1912 to add their finishing touches. After the death of Alice in 1911, Monet finally agreed on a date for the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune. Claude Monet Venise opened on 28th May 1912 and was greeted with considerable critical acclaim, not least by Paul Signac who viewed the Venetian canvases as one of Monet’s greatest achievements. Writing to Monet he states: ‘When I looked at your Venice paintings with their admirable interpretation of the motifs I know so well, I experienced a deep emotion, as strong as the one I felt in 1879 when confronted by your train stations, your streets hung with flags, your trees in bloom, a moment that was decisive for my future career. And these Venetian pictures are stronger still, where everything supports the expression of your vision, where no detail undermines the emotional impact, where you have attained the selflessness advocated by Delacroix. I admire them as the highest manifestations of your art’ (P. Signac quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 207).

A year after the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune Le Grand Canal was acquired by Hunt Henderson, the New Orleans based sugar magnate. Henderson was one of the most important collectors in the American South in the first half of the 20th Century, amassing a significant collection of works by the Impressionists, including paintings and drawings by Monet, Renoir and Degas. Henderson’s collection continued to grow as he acquired work by the most avant-garde artists of the day from both sides of the Atlantic, from Picasso and Braque to Georgia O'Keefe. A founding trustee of the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art (subsequently known as the New Orleans Museum of Art), Henderson lent his works generously to the opening exhibition. However, as Henderson’s collection began to include increasingly contemporary work, the museums’ conservative director Ellsworth Woodward expressed his disapproval and Henderson withdrew his support for the museum, and following his death in 1939 the collection remained with his descendants until 1983.