COLORFUL SILENCE | WORKS FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
Discussing a group of Monet’s still lifes executed during this period, Richard Thomson commented: "Monet painted such canvases with a flourish, confident in his ability to animate any still-life motif with the vivacity of his brushwork, unity of his light and coherence of his chromatics, and without excessive commitment to surface exactitude" (R. Thomson, Monet. The Seine and The Sea 1878-1883 (exhibition catalogue), National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2003, p. 76). In the present composition, Monet applied his exuberant palette not only to the flowers, but also to the vase and the table top which reflects the various colors of the bouquet—an effect which is visual suggestive of of the artist’s own palette. The vase itself appears to be decorated with a floral motif, and Monet’s subtle touches of the white pigment beautifully convey the shine of the porcelain.
Having temporarily abandoned the still-life motif during his years at Argenteuil earlier in the decade, Monet embraced this subject again in Vétheuil, where he lived from the summer of 1878 until the end of 1881. Delighted by the rich vegetation that surrounded him, Monet often set up his easel in his own garden, painting its lavish trees, bushes and pots of flowers. As Christoph Becker described: "Anyone going to the garden had to cross the road and go through a gate at the top of a flight of stone steps leading down to a grassy area. On either side of the steps there were several rows of sunflowers which had shot up in June. On the lower steps and on the grass were the already familiar six large, blue-patterned plant-pots, densely planted with red gladioli" (C. Becker, Monet’s Garden (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus, Zurich, 2004-05, p. 39). Indeed the gladioli that Monet had cultivated, together with other garden flowers, provided not only a lively decoration for the interior of the artist’s house but also an inspiring subject for him to indulge in on days when bad weather prevented him from painting outdoors.
The Seventh Impressionist exhibition opened in March 1882 and Monet contributed, among other canvases, several still lifes he had painted during his years at Vétheuil. As Debra N. Mancoff observed: "Six floral still lifes were included in Monet’s submissions to the Seventh Impressionist exhibition. He had painted bouquets of flower on occasion throughout his career and now, in a time of financial crisis, his own garden offered an alternative to expensive travel searching for subjects to paint. Critics praised these works" (Debra N. Mancoff, Monet: Nature into Art, Lincolnwood, 2003, p. 51). It was not just the critics, but also the art dealers who recognized the artistic, as well as the commercial potential of Monet’s still lifes. Like Renoir, in the 1870s Monet increasingly relied upon the appeal of his floral compositions to remedy his financial difficulties; their delicate charm was appealing to a wider audience, and their commercial success eventually won Monet the financial backing of the Impressionist dealer Georges Petit, who helped to usher the artist into the limelight of the Parisian art market.
Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge have written about Monet’s influence on van Gogh, whose powerful compositions of sunflowers were perhaps inspired by the Impressionist artist’s vision: "It is particularly in Monet’s still lifes that we recognize what it was that van Gogh learned from him: not simply the powerful and expressive palette but also a quality of impassioned drawing that is much more apparent in the flower paintings—forms painted at the range of stereoscopic vision, therefore more tactile—than in most of his landscapes. In these sumptuous flower paintings done only when the weather prevented outdoor work, the drawing and color are carried along together with tremendous impetus. His love for flowers is unmistakable. The character, the quality of growth, the specific rhythm of each bouquet is given its due" (R. Gordon & A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 215).
Bouquet de glaïeuls, lis et marguerites has a noteworthy provenance, having been in several prominent American collections. In its early days it belonged to R. Austin Robertson, a New York-based businessman, art collector and member of the American Art Association. Following Robertson’s death in 1891, the American Art Association sold his art collection which consisted of, among other objects, nineteenth-century paintings including three by Monet, bronzes and Oriental porcelains.
The work was purchased at this auction by another American businessman, Collis Potter Huntington, an industrialist who played a pivotal role in building the Central Pacific Railroad. Huntington acquired a substantial art collection, a large part of which—including oils by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Corot—he left to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Bouquet de glaïeuls, lis et marguerites then passed into the possession of James F. Sutton, who was a dealer and Oriental art expert. Sutton was a partner in the Kurtz Gallery, which later became the American Art Gallery. Following the death of his widow, the painting was once again auctioned by the American Art Association in New York in 1933. From the late 1950s, Bouquet de glaïeuls, lis et marguerites entered the collection of Paul H. Nitze, who was a notable American statesman and Cold War strategist. The work remained in his family for over forty years.
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