Monet was in his early twenties when he painted this view across the breakwaters to the headland of La Hève, near Sainte-Adresse on the Normandy coast. He knew the area well, as he had spent his childhood in nearby Le Havre. The picture was probably made on the spot as a study for a larger studio painting, La Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth) which he showed at the Paris Salon in 1865.
The empty shingle beach has a wintry, desolate air. Three figures in a boat rowing towards us are wrapped up against the cold, and smoke rises from the chimney of the cottage on the cliff. In the distance sailing boats race along the horizon, their dark sails set against the glimmer of sunlight below the bank of grey cloud. The crisp dabs of paint suggesting pebbles on the beach and broad flat brushstrokes surrounding the boat hint at the future direction of Monet’s art.
Monet was in his early twenties and at the start of his artistic career when he painted this picture. He was living in Paris but had travelled to Normandy in the last week of May 1864 with his fellow artist Frederic Bazille in search of fresh motifs. He was particularly drawn to the coast, painting several sea views during the summer and autumn that year. This picture is related to a group of works that show the view across the breakwaters to the headland of La Hève. It was an area Monet knew well as he had spent his childhood in nearby Le Havre, and the beach at Sainte-Adresse was just to the west of his father’s summer home.
The picture was probably made on the spot as a study for a larger studio painting, La Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth), which Monet showed at the Paris Salon in 1865. For the Salon picture, Monet deleted the rowing boat, replacing it with a cart in the water and figures and horses on the beach, emphasising that this was a working landscape. Originally a small fishing port, Sainte-Adresse was also developing into a holiday resort where many wealthy people had weekend villas, but this is not evident in the study or the larger picture. Several of Monet’s later views of the Normandy coast, such as The Beach at Trouville, would feature fashionable people relaxing by the seaside.
Here the slightly desolate shingle beach is rather more as Monet remembered it. It has a slightly desolate air. It is empty of people, but there are the three figures in a boat rowing energetically towards us. It feels wintry; the people in the boat are wrapped up against the cold and smoke rises from the chimney of the cottage on the cliff. In the distance sailing boats race along the horizon, their dark sails set against the glimmer of sunlight below the bank of grey cloud. Crisp dabs of paint suggest the pebbles on the beach, while in the foreground broad flat brushstrokes surrounding the boat and conveying its reflection on the water hint at the direction Monet’s art would take in future. The luminous sky and subtle tones reflect the influence of his early mentors, Boudin and Jongkind, who also painted this view.
The acceptance of the Salon picture and its companion piece, Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur (Norton Simon Museum, Passadena), marked the official beginning of Monet’s public career. They were well received, with one critic writing ‘The two marines of M. Monet are unquestionably the best in the exhibition; the tone is frank, the breeze penetrates as on the open sea and the treatment is naïve and young.’
The painting was bought by the famous baritone singer Jean-Baptiste Faure, who owned several paintings by Monet and other Impressionist painters. The subject of the northern French coast obviously appealed to him: he had a villa at the Normandy coastal town of Etretat and commissioned Monet to make a painting of the cliffs there. The picture featured in the first one-man show devoted to Monet held by the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel in 1883.
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