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La Seine à Jeufosse près de Vernon / The Seine at Jeufosse near Vernon



Claude Monet (1840-1926)
La Seine à Jeufosse près de Vernon / The Seine at Jeufosse near Vernon
oil on canvas
AGLC 338 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

Every history of art ever written reminds us that it was a painting by Claude Monet, Impression, Soleil Levant (Paris, Musée Marmottan), exhibited in Paris in 1874, that gave rise to the term Impressionism. This neologism, which went on to meet the fortune we all know so well, was coined by a mocking art critic and delivered with hostility to the small group of painters that included, besides Monet, Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Armand Guillaumin (1841- 1927), Stanislas Lépine (1836-1892), Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Pierre- Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and Alfred Sisley (1839- 1899), who had organised their exhibition outside of official events and the academic establishment. Nevertheless, Monet’s art cannot be reduced to a mere Impressionist episode. From the schoolboy caricatures he drew in Le Havre in late adolescence, to the masterly decoration of the Water Lilies series, the masterpiece of his final years, Monet never ceased to reinvent himself, pursuing a colourful, luminous, structured vision, which gradually imposed itself and changed his public’s way of seeing.  

In Le Havre, Monet benefitted, beginning in the late 1850s, from the advice of Boudin and J. B. Jongkind (1819-1891), who persuaded him to work from nature, en plein air, and encouraged him to preserve the spontaneity of the first draft in the finished canvas. Later on, the examples of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and Édouard Manet (1832- 1883) suggested the idea of large-format portrayals of people outside, in a landscape, or in a bourgeois interior. The fragments of his uncompleted Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1865-1866; Paris, Musée d’Orsay), Femmes au Jardin (1867; Paris, Musée d’Orsay) and Le Déjeuner (1868; Frankfurt, Städelsche Kunstinstitut) are all indicative of this style. At the time they were painted, hardly anyone appreciated them other than Émile Zola. The failure of these large canvases is no doubt one of the reasons that led Monet, during the 1870s, to reduce his formats. Without abandoning the human figure, he nonetheless favoured the landscape, especially after he moved to Argenteuil, and then to Vétheuil, on the banks of the Seine. The Paris of his time, which he had always painted, was also a source of inspiration for the Gare Saint-Lazare series of 1877.  

The beginning of the 1880s marked a turning point. Monet, like his friend Renoir, declared his withdrawal from the Impressionist group by submitting a canvas to the official Paris Salon. He also held his first solo exhibition at the premises of La vie moderne, a literary and artistic journal. After the death of his first wife, Camille, Monet left Vétheuil for Poissy and, finally, in 1883, settled at Giverny, never having left the banks of the Seine, where he lived until his death. Thanks to the support of his art dealer, Paul Durand- Ruel (1831-1922), his material existence improved and, after a number of seasons on the shores of Normandy, in December 1883 and accompanied by Renoir, he made his first trip to the Mediterranean coast. Captivated by the light of the Midi, he headed south again in January 1884, alone, to Bordighera on the Italian Riviera. His palette adopted light blue and rose in order to render the tones of ‘the pigeon’s throat and the flame of punch’ of the Mediterranean landscape, punctuated by palm trees and agaves. This colourful exuberance is always present in works up until the end of the summer of 1884, when, having returned to Giverny, Monet began to work very close to his home, on the left bank of the Seine, southeast of Port-Villez, at Jeufosse. This view of the Seine in the A. G. Leventis Collection is one of the canvases painted at that time. Monet situated himself on the towpath, facing upstream. To the left, the islands of Merville and Flotte offer their thick vegetation; to the right, the bank of the Seine rises abruptly, blocking all but a fragment of blue sky dotted by puffs of white clouds. These clouds – which we can imagine moving, like the trees bending along the bank or the quivering foliage of the poplar on the right-hand side of the composition, animated by countless nervous brushstrokes – match the coloured mass of the river and the blue, purplish, yellow and green reflections creeping over it. The foreground to the right juxtaposes the shadows of trees that have escaped from the frame with the vivid light of the river bank, thus allowing the eye of the viewer to follow the meandering of the river as it moves up the valley. In all likelihood painted mostly from nature, even if the artist had the habit of reworking in his studio, this canvas shows perfectly the mastery of the 44-year old painter, always attentive to the most subtle variations of light. Signed and dated, it is one of the most accomplished of a small group of works depicting the same subject. A version of this scene, more of a sketch than a painting, belonged to the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), a great admirer of Monet and the Impressionists.  

Monet’s move to Giverny ushered in a more serene period in his life. Even though he had often moved in order to find new subjects, Giverny lies at the heart of his creativity: it is there that he painted, beginning in 1890, his first series of haystacks and poplars, followed by the Rouen Cathedral series (1892-1893) and the Water Lilies (from c. 1898 on), inspired by the water garden which he had created near his house and studio.

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About the artist

From an early age in Le Havre he drew caricatures and was encouraged by Eugène Boudin to paint landscapes en plein air. He moved to Paris to study at the Académie Suisse and later with Charles Gleyre, through whom he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Frédéric Bazille. Together they were amongst the founders of the Impressionist movement. Although he did not abandon the figure, he always preferred to paint landscapes, especially around the homes he had outside Paris along the banks of the Seine, notably at Giverny from 1883. Especially from the 1890s onwards, he created series to examine changes in light and colour in different atmospheric conditions and at various times of the day. By abandoning the conventions of academic art, he opened the door to further abstraction by future artists. His public appeal is unrivalled, upholding his legacy as a key figure in modern painting.

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