During the period in which the present work was created, Monet was enraptured by the cliffs at Étretat and depicted them from numerous angles and in varying weather conditions. Discussing the importance of the Normandy coast within Monet’s oeuvre, Paul Hayes Tucker noted: “Without doubt his favorite site during the 1880s was the Normandy coast; it obviously was in his blood from his childhood in Le Havre and Sainte-Adresse and was easily accessible from Vétheuil and later from Giverny where he moved in 1883. Of all the places he visited on the coast, several became his most frequented—Pourville, Varengeville, Étretat, and Dieppe. Their appeal lay primarily in their dramatic cliffs and stretches of beach, their simplicity, starkness, and past history” (P. H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven & London, 1995, p. 107).
Monet’s first campaign in Étretat was during the winter of 1868-69, when he completed several canvases featuring local fishing boats at sea. In 1883, he returned to the Normandy coast, initially to Le Havre and then to Étretat where he stayed for three weeks. During this time the artist’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 removed these humdrum elements, preferring to paint uninhabited views of the magnificent coastline. The scholar Robert L. Herbert wrote: “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 color: 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. 108-10 & 127).
Monet’s affinity for the stunning natural features of the Normandy coast was not unique; the area was also popular with artists and writers of the preceding generation, including Delacroix, Corot, Boudin and Courbet, the latter of whom exerted a strong influence on Monet’s work. 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).
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