André Engran, Paris (circa 1940-1945)
L. Brolatti, Geneva (1945-1947)
Private Collection, Switzerland (by 1947 and until at least 1997)
Wildenstein Gallery, New York (1999)
Acquired from the above in 2004
Geneva, Petit Palais, L'Art au service de la paix: XXVe anniversaire des Nations-Unies, 1970, no. 71, illustrated in the catalogue
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts & London, Royal Academy of Arts, Monet in the 20th Century, 1998, no. 78, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Monet and Modernism, 2001-02, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, Claude Monet (1840-1926), A Tribute to Daniel Wildenstein and Katia Granoff, 2007, no. 59, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, 2010-12 (long-term loan)
Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, Cologne, 1996, no. 1921a, illustrated p. 919
M. Stevens, “From Relative Finish to Completed Work,” in Monet: Atti del Convegno, Conegliano, 2003, illustrated p. 162
Monet's bridge had powerful symbolic resonance when it was painted in the years after World War I. As the bridge had been a symbol of progress for late 19th century artists, it was now also a signifier of the mending of nations and the joining of cultural forces. Between 1918 and 1924 Monet seized upon the opportunity to lavish renewed attention on the bridge in his garden, using radical formal tactics that eliminate perspective, merge land with sky, and sky with water. What he is attempting to suggest in the Japanese Bridges is the existence of a hybrid environment, a place where East becomes West through the powers of French culture and where nature becomes art through the Impressionist vision.
Monet constructed his Japanese bridge in the summer of 1893 on a newly-acquired plot of land where he was creating a pond irrigated by the Epte river. Daniel Wildenstein noted that just a few days before purchasing the land, Monet had viewed a collection of prints by Utamaro and Hiroshige at Durand-Ruel’s gallery and this Asian aesthetic was clearly on his mind. He first painted the bridge in 1895, but it was not until 1899 that he turned to the pond and bridge in a series of eighteen views, twelve examples of which were exhibited at Durand-Ruel in 1900. Nearly two decades later, Monet returned to this subject again. Between 1918 and 1924 he completed twenty-five views of the bridge, now radically abstracted amidst layers of paint. These later pictures, which have often been credited as an inspiration for Abstract Expressionism in the second-half of the 20th century, were completed contemporaneously with his Grandes Décorations project and were stylistically related to this monumental undertaking. When considered within the scope of the series, each of the Pont japonais pictures differ signficantly. In some canvases, Monet would stay true to the colors of the actual scene, rendering flecks of white, green and mauve for the trails of wisteria that covered the railing and the balustrade. In others, he did little to differentiate the bridge from the pond, and his color choices were surprisingly daring. The present composition is exceptional for its fine balance between abstraction and realism, enabling us to see the bridge clearly amidst the torrent of Monet's wildly expressive brushwork.
Paul Hayes Tucker provides an analysis of Monet's series of Japanese bridges, describing the artist's unorthodox approach to painting these pictures: "The new Le pont japonais pictures were a throwback to his first engagement with this aquatic paradise, but now on radically different terms. Completely disregarding artistic decorum, Monet lathered the surfaces of these canvases with thick, wet paint, making the liquid medium appear to seethe and dance as if fired by some unseen power. These paintings are cauldrons of cacophonous color, trumpeting Monet's daring and abandonment, while asserting the value of the unknown over the secure, the reckless over the refined" (P. Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet, Late Work (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, p. 36).
The present composition is one of the artist's most expressive renderings of the Japanese bridge. Monet has lavishly applied his paint in the center of the canvas, while thinning it into washes in the corners. His technique creates a peripheral recession, which is apparent even in the photograph of this painting hanging in the artist's Giverny studio.