Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Claude Monet (France, 1840–1926)
Riverbank at Lavacourt (La Berge à Lavacourt), 1879
Oil on canvas
23 ½ x 35 ¼ in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
Parisian Claude Monet traveled often to the coast of Normandy beginning at the age of 18, and it was there he met Eugène Boudin, who inspired him to become an artist. Monet then attended the Académie Suisse in Paris and later studied with Charles Gleyre in the 1860s, where he met his future peers in Impressionism Jean-Frédéric Bazille, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. Monet’s early experiences with Boudin gave him an appreciation for plein air painting, and the additional example of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot encouraged the four aspiring artists to continue their study in the Forest of Fontainebleau.
Monet, together with his three colleagues, would develop the style eventually know as Impressionism from their experiences at Fontainebleau. At the first exhibit of the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) in 1874, Monet exhibited his painting Impression: Sunrise (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris), a study of the perceptual effect of the rising sun on the hazy atmosphere of the port at Le Havre, Monet’s hometown. The title of Monet’s painting, as well as his roughly sketched representation of forms, led critic Louis Leroy to deride the entire show as “The Exhibition of the Impressionists,” prompting the artists to eventually adopt the term to describe their group.
Critical and financial success eluded Monet for much of the 1870s, and the changes modernity brought to Paris and its suburbs encouraged him to settle in Vétheuil in 1878, a small rural village further downriver on the Seine. His paintings of this period largely ignore industrialization and urbanization in favor of a countryside that had remained unchanged for centuries, and he frequented the quaint hamlet of Lavacourt situated on the left bank of the Seine opposite from Vétheuil. His Riverbank at Lavacourt (La Berge à Lavacourt) is likely derived from a plein air study. Monet used abbreviated brushwork for the foliage and longer strokes for the path and the background to urge the viewer alternatively to dwell on the details of the landscape or to meander visually. The painting depicts the towpath along the river, which would have been used to tow boats from the shore when conditions interfered with sailing. Monet had little interest in boat traffic, however, and focused exclusively on the tranquility of the surrounding landscape. He encourages the viewer to take the path at left into the countryside, where two figures stand at the river. The houses at left underscore Monet’s interest in a peaceful existence in the natural world, free of the turmoil of modernity.