Although Monet executed far fewer still lifes than landscapes throughout his career, in the late 1870s and early 1880s he, like Renoir, turned to this subject that was most readily saleable and therefore provided a secure source of income to both artists. Monet exhibited several still lifes during the Impressionist exhibitions of the late 1870s, and it was largely due to the artist’s success in these exhibitions that the legendary art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel began to buy his paintings regularly— eventually leading him to commission a unique group of works for his own grand salon. The project, commissioned in May 1882, was envisaged to contain thirty-six decorative panels depicting flowers and fruit, to adorn six double doors of the drawing room in his apartment at 35, rue de Rome in Paris.
While Prunes et abricots was not part of the final decorative design for the door panels, it was acquired by Durand-Ruel around the same time. In both its subject matter and its characteristic elongated format, the present work resembles the small-scale still-lifes of flowers and fruit created as part of Monet’s experimentations that led to the final design. Paul Hayes Tucker commented on this group of works: "Charming, lusciously painted, and often quite novel in terms of their organization as decorative groups, these pictures were the kind that came easily to Monet" (P. Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet, Life and Art, New Haven & London, 1995, p. 122). Indeed, the subject of a still life of fruit would certainly have appealed to the artist and he often returned to it throughout his career, in between working on his landscapes.
The Durand-Ruel commission occupied Monet between 1882 and 1885, and these charming still lifes were sufficiently important for him to spend considerable time and energy on their completion. As he wrote in a letter to Durand-Ruel: "To finish these panels, how many did I need to destroy. More than twenty, perhaps even thirty". Unlike the examples that the artist felt compelled to destroy, he was evidently satisfied with the present composition, which he considered a complete painting in its own right, and which Durand-Ruel exhibited at his New York gallery in 1935.
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