The following text appeared in a leaflet accompanying the exhibition.
Thanks to the generosity of the Art Gallery of Ontario, The Frick Collection is able to bring together for the first time in over a century two views of Vétheuil that Claude Monet painted in 1878 and 1879, one in winter, one in summer. The temporary juxtaposition of these two canvases—from August 4 through October 4, 1998—follows the highly successful run of the exhibition Monet at Vétheuil, which brought together twelve works by Monet depicting that village—but not The Frick Collection’s Vétheuil in Winter. Organized by The University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, this show was presented there first, and subsequently at the Dallas Museum of Art and at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
From 1878 to 1881, Claude Monet (1840–1926), his wife Camille, and their two children lived together with the family of Ernest Hoschedé in a small house in Vétheuil, a village of some 600 inhabitants about 70 kilometers west of Paris, on the Seine. Initially this union was intended as a summer holiday, but for various reasons, financial as well as emotional, it went on for three years.
Delighted with the unspoiled, agrarian atmosphere of Vétheuil, Monet painted the town from many angles, but most often looking back at it from a tiny studio-boat he anchored in the river. The Frick Collection’s picture and the Art Gallery of Ontario’s share this same viewpoint, the Frick one appearing closer to shore and including human presences—notably, at left, passengers in the little ferry-boat that linked Vétheuil to the village of Lavacourt across the Seine. Vétheuil in Summer, dated 1879, had to have been painted that summer; evidence suggests Vétheuil in Winter was painted the previous winter of 1878–79.
Both views are dominated by the central tower and mass of the church of Notre Dame. Built in the sixteenth century, with the tower and choir added in the eighteenth, the church had been classified a historic monument in 1845. After Camille Monet died on September 5, 1879, she was buried two days later in the cemetery adjoining the church. The artist’s many depictions of it anticipate the better-known series he would paint later of Rouen cathedral.
Viewed together, Vétheuil in Summer and Vétheuil in Winter raise the question of how an artist’s creations reflect his private life, about which a lot is known in Monet’s case.
While the palette of Vétheuil in Winter is appropriately cool, it is seductive in its sumptuous mélange of blues, mauves, and tones of white. Nothing about the picture suggests the anguish its creator was enduring at the time it was painted: the desperate financial straits that engulfed the Monet and Hoschedé families (twelve persons in all)—Alice Hoschedé unable to afford even a sack of potatoes—or the emotional tensions arising from Monet’s amorous involvement with his friend’s wife, as his own lay expiring from cancer, and Ernest Hoschedé was off in Paris seeking employment. Nor does the picture seem to reflect the professional discouragement Monet was enduring as critics, patrons, and friends were lamenting the decline of his talents, apparent in the “unfinished” character of his current work. Viewing these two paintings today, it is hard to conceive that when they were created, Monet was writing to a friend: “Each day brings its torments and each day new difficulties arise from which we will never escape. That’s why I am giving up the struggle as well as all hope; I don’t have the strength to work any more under these conditions.”
Similarly, Vétheuil in Summer, in its shimmering harmonies of pale pinks, greens, and blues, hardly reflects Monet’s state of mind during the summer of 1879, the summer his wife died. In fact, Monet’s ability to separate his art from his life, a process he himself characterized as “an organic automatism...an unconscious operation,” would lure him to paint Camille on her deathbed (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), though he initially had hesitated to do so. The transformation of her coloring that death had effected was impossible to resist recording.
Both Vétheuil in Winter and Vétheuil in Summer were purchased from Monet by his friend Dr. Georges de Bellio, the former in December 1879, the latter, in either 1879 or 1880. De Bellio, a Rumanian homeopathic physician, was an avid collector of Monet’s work, even though he was lamenting at this time that he owned too many “sketches” and wanted pictures “more finished.” By 1894, both views of Vétheuil belonged to another Parisian collector, Donop de Monchy, who had married de Bellio’s daughter. In a manuscript catalogue of that collection, they are listed as No. 69 (Summer) and No. 70 (Winter). After that, they went their individual ways. But eventually, both were owned by the firm Wildenstein and Co., which sold them, respectively, to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1929 and to The Frick Collection in 1942.
While Henry Clay Frick did not share the enthusiasm of many of his contemporaries for Impressionist painting, he did acquire major works by Degas, Manet, and Renoir that remain in The Frick Collection today. He also owned at one time two canvases by Monet—Argenteuil, Seen from a Branch of the Seine, which he bought in 1895 and returned to Knoedler & Co. for credit in 1909, and Banks of the Seine at Lavacourt, which he acquired from Durand-Ruel, New York, in 1901. The former picture is now in a Swiss private collection; the latter, in Clayton, The Henry Clay Frick Estate, Pittsburgh. It was painted during the same summer of 1879 as Vétheuil in Summer.
Curator, The Frick Collection