We’re in the Monet!

Who wouldn’t want a Monet painting hanging on their wall?

In 1878 Monet moved along the River Seine from Argenteuil to the rural tranquillity of Vétheuil, a small town on a bend in the river. With a population of only 622, most of whom were farmers, there was no industry, no railroad, and no Parisian pleasure-seekers.

Vetheuil-todayOver the next few years Monet would paint Vétheuil from different points of view and in every season, as seen from the riverbanks, from the meadows, and from a boat he had arranged as a kind of floating studio.

In some 150 canvases, he experimented with brushstrokes and simplified, horizontal forms in order to evoke the changing skies over the Seine. He was also expanding his stylistic repertoire of colour combinations, surface effects, and composition.

Today, Vétheuil would be little known but for its connection with Monet, who in 1883 moved further down river to his now famous house and gardens at Giverny where he painted the water-lilies.

Monet was an early riser. Writer Claire Joyes lived and worked at Giverny with the painter Jean-Marie Toulgouat, who was born there in 1927 (the year after Monet’s death) and where he spent his childhood years and was taught to paint by Monet’s stepdaughter and the widow of his elder son, Jean. In Monet at Giverny (1975), Joyes writes:

“Up by four or five in the morning, he would open the window, the curtains were never drawn, and study the sky. Whatever the temperature, he would always take a cold bath. He used to say that he loved getting up, that he often felt like returning to his bed for the pleasure of leaving it again… Nevertheless, Monet was often a difficult character, irascible and moody, always dissatisfied with his work, liable to fly into a temper over a broken flower, an unexpected visitor, some inexpertise in the kitchen, and above all by the variations in weather and light.”

P1120392It was during the winter of 1878/79 that Monet painted Vétheuil in Winter, looking back across the ice floes of the Seine toward the 13th century Church of Our Lady. On December 12, 1879, Dr Georges de Bellio (left), an avid collector of Monet’s work, wrote to the artist that this was one canvas that would never leave his possession. It did, eventually, and now hangs in the Frick Collection, New York.

A conservative estimate of the worth of Vétheuil in Winter on the art market today is $15 million. But in 2016, a grain stack (titled Meule) – Monet painted about 25 in the early 1890s, of which 19 are in public museum collections – fetched a record $81.4 million.

For most of his life, Monet was short of a sous or two and only towards the end was he able to buy the property at Giverny visited today by hordes of tourists. Neither Monet nor De Bellio could have foreseen the change in fortune that Impressionist art underwent during the 20th and 21st centuries:

“We’re in the money!
We’re in the money!
We’ve got a lot of what it takes to get along!”


Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

One thought on “We’re in the Monet!”

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