Friday, 25 June 2010

40 Antibes landscapes in 4 months by Claude Monet

Of the places people like to paint, the south of France has been a favourite with many artists because of the quality of the light.  It's interesting therefore to look at the different ways in which different artists treated it.

Antibes 1888 by Monet, Claude  
Oil on canvas; 
height: 65.5 cm (canvas); width: 92.4 cm (canvas); 
height: 85 cm (frame) ; width: 112 cm (frame); depth: 11 cm (frame)

One of my favourite paintings is a painting of a tree, called Antibes, painted by Claude Monet.  Its home is the Courtauld gallery and I sketched it recently (see Sketching Antibes in the Courtauld) - and I then decided that I wanted to find out a bit more about it.

Sketch of "Antibes" 
by Claude Monet at the Courtauld Galley
11.5" x 8" in Large Moleskine Sketchbook, pencil and coloured pencils
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Monet painted gardens and the coastline in the south of France in the late nineteenth century.  What I'd never realised before is that Monet produced a large number of paintings of Antibes, all painted in fourmonths between January and May of 1888.  They're not really a series but I think I'd argue that they're very much a stepping stone towards his series paintings of the 1890s.
"I'm painting the town of Antibes, a small fortified town turned gold by the sun, standing out against beautiful blue and pink mountains and the everlastingly snow covered Alps."
Claude Monet
By the late 1880s Monet was definitely beginning to become interested in developing his series paintings.  Maybe because he was getting older and more settled at Giverny?  Maybe because his reputation now meant that he could take more time over his painting projects and become more involved with his interest in painting light? 

He certainly stopped painting people and started painting single motifs seen again and again in different light, different weather and in different seasons.  He was also trying to widen his audience beyond those who were familiar with his Normandy roots and the associated landscapes.  He was also trying to decentralise Impressionism - to take it to places beyond Paris.

Antibes was suggested by his dealer as being the antithesis of the Belle Isle.  It also enabled Monet to say that he painted both the south as well as the north of France.

Having now viewed these paintings (links below) I think the Antibes series is the beginning of Monet experimenting with repeated paintings of the same motif.

However research shows that starting to paint in a new area or a new motif was not without its trials and tribulations.  Having reviewed by books about Monet (some of which are listed below) it's become apparent that Monet was setting himself challenges.  He wanted new sites but wasn't averse to moaning about the difficulties he had in getting his paintings to work when he found one.  He wrote to Berthe Morisot while in Antibes as follows
It is so difficult, so delicate, so tender particularly for me who is inclined towards tougher subjects
To Geffroy he said
I am very worried about what I am doing.  It is so beautifiul here, so clear and luminous!  You are bathed in blue air, it's frightening!
While in Antibes he produced around 40 paintings of a limited range of motifs.  He initially had concerns about repeating himself and looked for more motifs.

On his return he created an exhibition Ten Marines from Antibes from 10 of the paintings at Boussod and Valadon in June 1888, which was about a month after he left the south of France. This was his second show of closely related works and it generated comment in the press.  All the works exhibited were purchased for 11,900Fr by Theo van Gogh (the art dealer brother of Vincent).  The remaining works were purchased by Durand Ruel and others which were mainly resold quickly to dealers in the USA.

The paintings are now dispersed and so far as I am aware nobody has tried to pull them together as a collection since they were painted.  Some are in private collections, some are in major art museums and some seem to have disappeared.  What follows are links to the ones I could find - listed by the location of their current owners.

Cleveland Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art
Courtauld Gallery, London
  • Antibes 1888 (aka The Esteral Mountains)
Kunstmuseum Basel
Museum of Fine Art Boston
As Monet grew older, his paintings became simpler. He began to focus on a single, isolated motif, the better to record the changes in color and light wrought on it by different times of day and fluctuations in weather. "Cap d'Antibes, Mistral" is one of three paintings of these very same trees that Monet made during his four-month sojourn in Antibes, from January through May 1888.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The ancient walled city of Antibes is a hazy, ethereal presence across the sea in this painting of the Mediterranean coast, in which Monet's smooth brushwork evokes the heat of the morning and the languid stillness of the landscape. At the suggestion of the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, the artist visited Antibes on the Mediterranean Sea from January to April 1888. During the 1880s Monet increasingly explored areas beyond Paris and Normandy in search of fresh, appealing motifs. Sometimes these ventures into new territory were accompanied by doubts and challenges, as in the south, where the brilliant sun troubled Monet. He wrote to his companion and future wife, Alice Hoschedé, from Antibes: "How beautiful it is here, to be sure, but how difficult to paint! I can see what I want to do quite clearly but I'm not there yet. It's so clear and pure in its pinks and blues that the slightest misjudged stroke looks like a smear of dirt." Despite Monet's misgivings about his ability to evoke Mediterranean light, in June 1888 the dealer Theo van Gogh, Vincent's brother, bought and exhibited ten paintings that Monet made at Antibes, this work among them.
Jennifer A. Thompson, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 72.
Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio
Private Collections
Unknown locations
The main difference between the Antibes series and Monet's other series paintings is that the Antibe series featured a small number of different motifs.  He painted the same view of some of them (eg Antibes seen from the Salis Garden) at different times of day thus creating the pattern which was to become much expanded in later series.  The compositions for the most part are very simple and feature pine trees at the shoreline, or a view of the bay and distant town of Antibes.  In the background of most of them are the Maritime Alps. 

What's very clear from viewing them altogether as a group is that Monet had to change his palette to capture the colours of the south of France. His technique for making marks also ensured that he mad small touches of pure colour juxtaposed to create a vibrant shimmering colour as seen through the haze of the heat.

It's highly likely that many were bought as souvenirs of visits to the area.
    My reference sources for this post included:   


    vivien said...

    interesting post - I enjoyed reading this

    Caroline Peña Bray said...

    This is a very interesting piece. Are you also aware of his series of poplars painted from a boat on the River Epte? Each painting is painted at a different time of day with diff lighting conditions. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge UK has some, as does the National Gallery London, Philadephia Museum of Art and others. There's a funny story behind them as well, from the National Gallery website...Enjoy!:

    'In the spring of 1891 Monet began work on a series of 23 paintings depicting the poplars which lined the left bank of the river Epte, near Limetz, south of Giverny. On 18 June the town decided to auction off the trees. Monet persuaded a wood merchant to buy them jointly with him, on the condition that they were left standing for a few more months to enable the artist to finish his series.'


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