Claude Monet

Brouillard à Giverny

Oil on canvas: 28.7(h) x 36.3(w) in /

73(h) x 92.1(w) cm

Signed lower left: Claude Monet

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THE MATSUKATA MONET

 

CL 3578

 

CLAUDE MONET

Paris 1840 – 1926 Giverny

 

Brouillard à Giverny

 

Signed lower left: Claude Monet

Oil on canvas: 28 ¾ x 36 ¼ in / 73 x 92 cm

Frame size: 38 x 45 in / 96.5 x 114.3 cm

In a Louis XV carved and gilded swept frame

 

Painted in 1888

 

Provenance:

James F Sutton (1843-1915);

sale, Mrs James F Sutton, Plaza Hotel, New York, 16th-17th January 1917, no.150 ($2,700 to M Knoedler);

M Knoedler & Co. Inc., New York;

Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950), France (acquired from the above on 12th December 1921 for FFr.20,000)

Private collection, Tokyo, acquired circa 1950;

private collection, Japan

 

Exhibited:

(Possibly) Paris, Georges Petit, Monet–Rodin, June-July 1889, no.108 or 120

Paris, Georges Petit, Exposition Claude Monet (organized for the benefit of the victims of the

Japanese catastrophe), January 1924, no.25

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, on loan 1960-1963

 

Literature:

Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, Lausanne and Paris 1979, pp.112-113, no.1197, illus.

Daniel Wildenstein, Monet. Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, Cologne 1996, pp.455-456, no.1197, illus.

The Old Matsukata Collection (exhibition and collection catalogue), Kobe City Museum, 1989, no.A-8, p.3

 

 

This shimmering, opalescent work conjures up the mist on the meadows near Monet’s home at Giverny. Monet moved with his family to this Normandy village in May 1883, renting a property called Le Pressoir. ‘Once settled, I hope to produce masterpieces’, he wrote to his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, ‘because I like the countryside very much’[1]. Giverny became Monet’s private paradise. He remained there for the rest of his life, buying and enlarging the house and creating the magical garden that was the inspiration for so many of his paintings.

 

Brouillard à Giverny depicts the poplars and other trees on the Plaine des Essarts, a quarter of a mile south of Monet’s house. The meadows were embraced by two branches of the river Epte, which run westwards down into the Seine. The chill morning mist lies thick in these damp pastures, making ghosts of the trees. A band of thicker blue mist snakes just above the ground. The scene is warmed by the first pink rays of dawn, which steal into the Lombardy poplar dominating the left-hand side of the painting and flush the ground and the line of trees beyond.

 

The painting is one of a number of views in which Monet explored the motif of poplars at Les Essarts in the latter half of 1888. That same year he embarked upon his first avowed Series of canvases, that of the Haystacks, followed in 1891 by the famous Poplars Series. Whereas the fully-developed Series paintings of the 1890s take a motif such as the poplars or the façade of Rouen Cathedral, painted from the same viewpoint over many canvases, in different times of day and weather conditions, the Les Essarts pictures are more loosely linked. Monet roams around the meadow, choosing different trees and different angles. What they all have in common, however, is their gentle palette and rich atmosphere. In Brouillard à Giverny, the atmosphere is palpable, metamorphosing familiar natural features, damply brushing the skin. Monet works the foreground with dabs of paint, green and blue worked in among the shell-pink. The upper two-thirds of the picture has rapidly criss-crossed brushwork, shifting and dissolving like the mist itself.

 

By great good luck, we have a description of Monet’s working methods in 1888, from the artist and journalist Georges Jeanniot, who was among the first visitors to Giverny. He wrote: ‘Monet works only on the effect he has chosen (even if it lasts no more than ten minutes) and always works from life…Once in front of his easel, he draws in a few lines with the charcoal and then attacks the painting directly, handling his long brushes with an astounding agility and an unerring sense of design. He paints with a full brush and uses four or five pure colours; he juxtaposes or superimposes the unmixed paints on the canvas. His landscape is swiftly set down and could, if necessary, be considered complete after only one session, a session which lasts…as long as the effect he is seeking lasts, an hour and often much less. He is always working on two or three canvases at once: he brings them all along and puts them on the easel as the light changes. This is his method’[2].

 

In the case of Brouillard à Giverny, the pink flush of dawn through the mist would have had to have been captured very swiftly, in a matter of minutes. Yet, as Jeanniot acutely observes, Monet has ‘an unerring sense of design’. The tall poplar is held in tension by the horizontal of the meadow and the varied shapes of the other trees, shrouded in mist, seem to advance and recede with the moisture-laden air, adding to the sense of mystery.

 

Monet made three other paintings of the meadows from this viewpoint, the gold-tinged La prairie à Giverny (private collection, Japan)[3], presumably painted when the morning sun was higher in the sky; Matin, brouillard (private collection, USA)[4] and Brouillard matinal (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)[5], where the colours are cool lilacs and blues. Other paintings from this period portray the meadow from different angles and later in the day, including Paysage avec figures, Giverny (Figures au soleil)[6], which depicts the Hoschedé and Monet families strolling in full sunlight.

 

 

A remarkable Japanese provenance

Brouillard à Giverny was acquired in 1921 – during Monet’s lifetime – by the industrialist Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950), one of the most influential Japanese collectors of Western art. Matsukata was the son of the Meiji-era Prime Minister Masayoshi Matsukata. He was educated in Japan and America, studying law at Yale. In 1896 he became the first President of the Kawasaki Dockyard Company Ltd. of Kobe and also controlled the Kobe Shimbun newspaper and the Kobe Gas Company. His empire survives today as Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

 

Matsukata made a fortune from his shipbuilding business in the First World War and began to collect art in London around 1916. Over many visits to Europe, he amassed a collection of over 10,000 paintings, sculptures and works of art. This included around 8,000 Japanese ukiyo-e (‘Floating World’) woodblock prints from the collection of the Parisian jeweller Henri Vever, a reflection of the passion for Japanese art that had grown up in Europe with the opening up of the country following the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Japan powered ahead in industrial development; Matsukata, one of the enablers of this advance, wanted to bring Western art as an inspiration to his own people. He commissioned his art advisor, the painter Frank Brangwyn, to create a museum for his collection in Tokyo.

 

Matsukata visited Monet at Giverny in 1921, having been introduced to him by a mutual friend, the statesman and Wartime leader Georges Clemenceau. He bought eighteen paintings from Monet, who was prepared to part with them when it was explained that they were intended for the education of Japanese art students. Like many of his contemporaries, Monet was deeply influenced by Japanese art. He owned Japanese prints and, although he never went anywhere near Japan, was reminded (via Hokusai) of Fujiyama when depicting Mount Kolsaas in Norway[7]. The Japanese bridge became a much-painted, iconic feature of the Giverny gardens, while Monet’s waterlilies, another ‘floating world’, exude Japanese sensibility.

 

Matsukata did not buy Brouillard à Giverny directly from Monet, but purchased it in the same year that he met the painter from the New York dealer Knoedler. They in turn had bought it from the 1917 sale of Mrs James F Sutton, widow of the art dealer James Sutton (1843-1915). Sutton, co-founder of the American Art Association, bought many works directly from Monet. One would like to think that Monet’s subtle and shifting evocation of mist, steeped in his understanding of the natural world, spoke deeply to Matsukata’s experience of Japanese art, with its elegant restraint and respect for nature.

 

Kojiro Matsukata’s dream of building a museum for his collection was not realized in his lifetime. The Japanese economic crisis of 1927 caused him to sell many paintings. Several hundred artworks stored in London were destroyed in a fire in 1939, while those in Paris were seized by the French government as enemy property in the Second World War. 308 paintings and sixty-three sculptures were returned to Japan in 1959 to mark renewed amity between the two countries and form the magnificent nucleus of the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, specially built to house the Matsukata Collection.

 

 

Claude Monet and Kojiro Matsukata, circa 1921.

 

 

 

Claude Monet, Brouillard matinal, 1888.

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Chester Dale Collection.

 

[1] Lionello Venturi, Les Archives de l’Impressionisme, Paris and New York 1939, vol. I, p.254; quoted by Daniel Wildenstein in New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Monet’s Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, 1978, pp.15-16.

[2] G[eorges] J[eanniot], ‘Notes sur l’Art, Claude Monet’, La Cravache Parisienne, 23rd June 1888, pp.1-2’; quoted by Wildenstein in Monet’s Years at Giverny, op. cit., pp.20-21.

[3] Signed and dated 1888. Oil on canvas: 28 ¾ x 36 ¼ in / 73 x 92 cm. Wildenstein, Monet. Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, 2006, pp.454-5, no.1194, illus. in colour.

[4] Signed and dated 1888. Oil on canvas: size not known. Wildenstein 2006, op. cit., vol. III, p.455, no.1195, illus.

[5] Signed. Oil on canvas: 28 ¾ x 36 ¼ in / 73 x 92 cm. Wildenstein, ibid., vol. III, p.455, no.1196, illus. in colour.

[6] Wildenstein, ibid., vol. III, pp.456 and 458, no.1204, illus. in colour.

[7] Daniel Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne 1996, p.306.

ImpressionistClaude Monet