- Claude Monet
- Etretat, falaise et Porte d'Amont, grosse mer
- signed Claude Monet (lower right)
- oil on canvas
Sale: American Art Association, New York, 25th February 1920, lot 147
Holland Galleries, New York (purchased at the above sale)
Felix Isman, New York (acquired by 1937)
Mr & Mrs William Ginsberg, Rowayton, Connecticut (sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 20th November 1968, lot 29)
Peter Findlay Gallery, New York (purchased at the above sale)
Galerie Motte, Geneva
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners in 1970
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, no. 827, illustrated p. 307
Monet, I luoghi della pittura (exhibition catalogue), Casa dei Carraresi, Treviso, 2001-02, illustrated p. 328
This part of the Normandy coast, with its stunning natural features such as the cliffs the Porte d'Amont, the Porte d’Aval and its companion the Aiguille, had been popular with writers and painters of the preceding generation, including Delacroix, Corot, Boudin and Courbet, the latter of whom exerted a strong influence of Monet's work. These pioneering painters, whose compositions eschewed the staid classicism of the Italianate style which predominated at the beginning of the nineteenth century, found Normandy to hold numerous advantages. Whilst near enough to Paris for convenient travel and trade, the cost of living remained low, and it was endowed with an idyllic countryside encircled by a coastline of majestic beauty. The novelist Guy de Maupassant, who was a native of the region and was well acquainted with his generation’s leading artists, described the quality of light as the crucial advantage of the Norman coastline: ‘I have seen so many other painters pass through this little valley, doubtless drawn to the quality of light, so unlike anywhere else! The daylight is as different to places just a few leagues away as the wines of the Bordelais. For here it is dazzling without being harsh; everything is bright but not startling and all imbued with a remarkable subtlety’ (G. de Maupassant, ‘La Vie d’un paysagiste’, in Gil Blas, 28th September 1886, translated from French).
Monet’s first visit to Etretat was during the winter of 1868-69, when he completed a few canvases, mostly of the fishing boats out at sea. In 1883 he returned to the Norman coast, initially to Le Havre and then to Etretat where he stayed for three weeks. The views of the spectacular cliff formations of chalk arches and flying buttresses between Dieppe and Le Havre inspired at least eighteen canvases. In the late 1860s Courbet had painted a number of works with marine subjects, the composition of one of these (fig. 2) established the perspective employed in many paintings subsequently produced by Monet. As Richard R. Brettell states, in these works of Normandy there is a ‘clear debt to Courbet and their concomitant fascination with the almost mythic natural landscape of the north coast. [...] The viewer, like Monet himself, is most often alone - walking on the beaches, clinging to the cliffs, staring at the waves that crash against the coast of France itself’ (R. R. Brettell, Monet in Normandy (exhibition catalogue), Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2006, p. 46).
During the 1880s Monet's main pictorial emphasis grew to encompass more natural themes than the social ones which concerned his earlier works. Previously, Monet’s depictions of the Normandy coastline were populated by the bourgeoisie at leisure or bucolically presented peasants, elements of which still lingered in a few canvases painted in 1883, but by and large Monet had removed these humdrum elements, preferring to paint uninhabited views of the magnificent coastline. The scholar Robert L. Herbert has written: ‘In these pictures we are brought extremely close to the cliffs in unusual compositions intended to make us feel small and powerless in front of awesome nature. [The paintings] could suit the words of Jacob Venedey, when he climbed the Aval in 1837: "yawning gulphs open at our feet, out of which the agitated sea sends up tones like the voice of a bard singing the destruction of his race." Monet's rocks have an overpowering presence by virtue of their writhing mass, and by a stronger contrast of colour: his dark blues and purples stand out against the yellowish sunset. If we stare at his picture for a few moments, its rhythms force our eye upward, and then we sense the fragility of these delicately curved masses that seem almost to tremble against the evening sky, threatening us with their potential of collapse’ (R. L. Herbert, Monet on the Normandy Coast: Tourism and Painting, 1867-1886, New Haven & London, 1994, pp. 108-110 & 127).