Plage et falaises de Pourville
Oil on canvas: 23.6(h) x 28.7(w) in /
60(h) x 73(w) cm
Signed and dated lower left: Claude Monet 82
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Paris 1840 – 1926 Giverny
Plage et falaises de Pourville
Signed and dated lower left: Claude Monet 82
Oil on canvas: 23 5/8 x 28 ¾ in / 60 x 73 cm
Bought from Claude Monet by Durand-Ruel, 1882;
bought from Durand-Ruel by the sculptor René de Saint-Marceaux, circa 1883
Private collection of Mr Tempelaere, The Netherlands, 1931;
André Weil Gallery, Paris, 1940;
through whom bought on 6th May 1940 for FFr.160,000 from Mr Tempelaere by a private collector, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France;
by descent to his grandchild
Amsterdam, Galerie EJ Van Wisselingh, private exhibition, 1935
Paris, Galerie André Weil, Centenaire de Claude Monet, February 1940
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, 1882-1886, Lausanne 1979, pp.60-61, no.710, illus.
Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, Nos. 1-968, Taschen/Wildenstein Institute, Cologne 1996, pp.265-6, no.710, illus.
Claude Monet was fascinated by the mystery and power of the sea all his life. He grew up in Le Havre on the Normandy coast and was inspired to paint en plein air by Eugène Boudin, the son of an Honfleur harbour pilot.
From the early 1880s Monet embarked upon a series of painting expeditions to the Normandy seaside villages of Fécamp, Pourville and Etretat, depicting the sparkling light and rugged coastline. In February 1882 he set off for a painting campaign in Dieppe, but found it too busy, and moved on to Pourville, about two miles west. Pourville was still a quiet fishing village and ‘only an embryonic bathing place’, as Guy de Maupassant commented in 1883. Monet was enraptured, writing to his mistress Alice Hoschedé at their rented house in Poissy: ‘The countryside is very beautiful and I only regret not having come here sooner….one could not be closer to the sea than I am; the waves beat against the foundations of the house’.
Monet portrayed the cliffs sweeping westward towards Varengeville from Pourville beach in different lights and weather; figures gazing from the vertiginous clifftops; cottages tucked into the folds of the land. Exploring Pourville’s ‘delicious nooks and crannies’, Monet stayed until mid-April, painting ‘like a fanatic’.
For the present painting, Monet has set up his easel on Pourville beach looking westward along the jagged cliffs towards Varengeville and Vastérival. He depicts the limestone clefts known as valleuses, the first of which is that at Mordal; the Petit Ailly gorge, which provided the subject for several paintings from the land facing out to sea, can be seen in the distance. Monet is fascinated by the complexity of the landscape and the way in which the cliffs are moulded by light and colour: rich yellow-green on the sunlit, grassy clifftops contrasting with the lilac, purple, slate-grey and midnight blue shadows of the cliff face. The shifts in hue on the calm, radiant sea reflect the cool green water beneath the cliffs, hints of the sand beneath the shallows of the beach and the delicate pink light of sunset-tinged clouds. To achieve these textures, he very subtly varies his brushwork, from the staccato strokes of the foreground beach, to fluent, slick brushwork for the sea, to the intricate cliff-line almost ‘drawn’ with skeins of multi-coloured paint.
Monet’s composition is restrained and monumental, conveying his sense of the grandeur and mystery of nature. It is constructed from interlocking wedges, the parabola of the sea as it sweeps across the centre of the canvas bringing an especial harmony. The only hint of human presence is the two dark boats beached on the shore, which lead the eye into the middle distance. They, and the dappled shadows from unseen objects in the left foreground, are essential elements which hold in tension the rest of the composition. Although Monet believed in the direct vision and experience espoused by Impressionism and certainly painted en plein air in Pourville, he very carefully controls what the viewer sees for the maximum emotional impact. The same is true of his brilliant and apparently ‘spontaneous’ handling. As Robert Herbert has written, Monet ‘built up his compositions in successive stages, usually terminated by final touches in his studio’. Monet wrote to Alice Hoschedé from Pourville: ‘most of my studies have had ten or twelve sessions, and several of them, twenty’.
The energy evident in Plage et falaises de Pourville reflects Monet’s deep engagement with his subject and his optimism that this painting campaign would result in ‘things better than anything I have done before’. It was probably painted in the glorious early spring weather about which Monet commented to Durand-Ruel in a letter of 25th March. It compares most closely to Barques sur la plage de Pourville, marée basse (Mr and Mrs David Lloyd Kreeger Collection, USA, in 1966), which is taken from the same viewpoint, although the position of the boats is different.
Monet’s marine views of Fécamp had been well received at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in March 1882 and Durand-Ruel was enthusiastic about his works from the Pourville campaign, paying a total of 6,000 francs for sixteen pictures and 400 francs apiece for the next seven. Depicting his Normandy homeland and drawing upon his ‘passion for the sea’, Monet in his 1882 Pourville works was painting with ever greater power and complexity.
Paris 1840 – 1926 Giverny
Born in Paris in 1840, Claude Monet was the second son of a grocer from Normandy. In 1845 the Monet family settled in Le Havre, where the young Claude started painting at the age of fourteen. At fifteen, whilst painting on the beaches of Normandy, Monet met the artist Eugène Boudin who became his mentor and teacher, encouraging him to paint in oils and en plein air.
After a short spell in the army, Monet moved to Paris, studying in the studio of Charles Gleyre, where he worked alongside Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Frédéric Bazille who were to form the nucleus of the Impressionists. Art students were expected to spend long periods in the Louvre copying the works of the Old Masters, but Monet discovered that he preferred to paint from life. He first exhibited at the Salon in 1866 and continued to submit works until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, when he escaped to the safety of London to join his friend Camille Pissarro.
Monet returned to Paris in 1871, settling in the industrial town of Argenteuil on the Seine just outside Paris. In 1872 he painted Impression, sunrise (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris) which was to become one of his most famous works. Exhibited in 1874, at what is now known as the First Impressionist Exhibition, the title of this painting resulted in the naming of the Impressionists. In the following years Monet continued to pursue the theories of Impressionism and created some of the most enduring paintings of the period. Painting in the open air, he developed a colourful palette recording scenes of contemporary middle-class life infused with light.
Claude Monet had married Camille Doncieux in 1870 and they had two sons, Jean who was born in 1867 and Michel, born in 1878. Camille was delicate and Monet, plagued by debts and concerned for his wife’s health, in 1878 moved the family to the village of Vétheuil about forty miles west of Paris. The following year Camille died, never having fully recovered from the birth of her second child. Monet had been joined in Vétheuil by his patron Ernest Hoschedé and his family who were also experiencing financial difficulties. Hoschedé’s wife Alice provided emotional and practical support to Monet in the years after Camille’s death, enabling him to concentrate on his paintings of Vétheuil and the Normandy coast. From the 1880s, thanks to the energy of his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, Monet grew increasingly prosperous and came to be regarded as the most important of the Impressionists.
In 1883, after a short period in Poissy, Monet rented the house in Giverny which he bought in 1890 and began to construct the famous water garden which provided him with unlimited inspiration for paintings from 1900 until his death. In the 1890s he developed his ‘series paintings’, portraying the same motif, such as Rouen Cathedral or Poplars on the Epte, at different times of day. Three trips to London from 1899 to 1801 and to Venice in 1908 provided further poetic explorations of colour, water, sky and buildings.
Monet had no students, but a colony of painters had gathered to be near him at Giverny by the late 1880s, including the Americans Lilla Cabot Perry and Theodore Robinson (1852-1896). He retained a lifelong devotion to the truthful representation of the play of light and atmosphere, ideally by painting en plein air. Despite failing eyesight, he continued to paint until his death in 1926. Cézanne is supposed to have said of Monet: ‘Ce n’est qu’un œil, mais bon Dieu, quel œil!’ (It’s only an eye, but, my God, what an eye!’).
The works of Claude Monet are represented in most major international museums, including the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris; the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the National Gallery, London; the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
 In his short story ‘Enragée?’, Gil Blas, 7th August 1883; see E d’Auriac, quoted in John House, Impressionists by the Sea, exh. cat. London 2007, p.137.
 15th February 1882, quoted in Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, 1882-1886, Lausanne 1979, p.214, no.242.
 Letter to Durand-Ruel, 6th April 1882, quoted in Wildenstein 1979, op. cit., p.218, no.265.
 Monet on the Normandy Coast: Tourism and Painting, 1867-1886, Yale 1994, p.53.
 Letter of 6th April 1882, quoted in Herbert, op. cit., pp.53-4.
 Quoted in Daniel Wildenstein, Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism, catalogue raisonné vol. I, Cologne 1996, p.179.
 Wildenstein 1996, vol. I, op. cit., p.179.
 Wildenstein 1996, vol. II, p.266, no.709; illus in colour p.265.
 Wildenstein 1996, vol. I, p.180.
 Monet to Alice Hoschedé, quoted in Herbert, op. cit., p.42.