The Personal Monet
Five Recently Rediscovered Works from Monet's Family Collection

Claude Monet's sketches from the late 1850s are among the most important records remaining of the adolescent artist's activities during this period, providing a key insight into his environ and his artistic development. When Monet died at the age of eighty-six, hundreds of his paintings already were in preeminent public institutions and private collections. Much of what remained was bequeathed to his second son, Michel Monet, including the artist's letters and childhood sketchbooks, which Michel subsequently dispersed. One sketchbook, from 1857, is a particularly intimate grouping of works that are academic in aesthetic and technique while providing a glimpse into the artist's daily life and young mastery of various media.

From an early age Monet became enthralled with drawing, spending much of his free time habitually depicting what was around him. Few records remain of young Monet's quotidian activities except for the memoirs of Théophile Beguin Billecocq—brother-in-law of Monet's childhood friend Théodore—whose accounts provide the only known firsthand testimony regarding Monet in the mid-1850s and frequently reference Monet's compulsive drawing. Commenting on young Théodore and Claude's activities in the summer of 1857, Beguin Billecocq reminisced "They went vagabonding in the environs, swimming in the ocean, fishing, going out for lunch and staying out through dinner. Oscar [Claude] drew a great deal and always carried with him little sketchbooks and pencils, with which he sketched pastoral landscapes and marines. In addition every scrap of paper, no matter how small, was drawn upon with country scenes, tiny seascapes, and fishermen. Every sheet of paper that came into his hands was destined for a drawing. He preferred old papers of the previous century, made from real rags. His sketches, whether in crayon or pencil, were always excellent, even if they were rapidly executed. He knew how to capture the essential characteristics of a scene," (quoted in The Unknown Monet, Pastels and Drawings (exhibition catalog), The Clark Institute, Williamstown, 2007 p. 23).

The sketches of 1857 provide a formidable display of the young artist's dexterity and a glimpse into the Impressionist landscapes to come. The subject matter of these drawings that filled his sketchbooks primarily consist of what the young artist observed around him: architecture (lots 3 and 5), natural formations (lot 4), and sailing vessels (lot 2). Monet made notes to himself on the works to record the locations and dates of execution, providing a snapshot into the artist's routine. Such careful observation and meticulous annotation are evident in Rochers et falaisses à Sainte-Adresse (lot 4), in which Monet homed in on a section of the Sainte-Adresse cliff-scape he would later repeatedly depict on canvases, and he described his location on the sheet as "dans les basses falaises" next to the date of execution.

His artistic process is chiefly evident in the striking Divers Bateaux (lot 2), in which Monet illustrated seven partial or whole shipping vessels. Four of the ships appear complete, with sails either blowing against the wind or stowed by gaskets Monet carefully suggested with darker pencil. For the boat in the middle left he included rippling water and distant sails in the horizon, creating a mini-scene within the larger sheet. On the bottom third of the sheet are two outlines, one of a ship and its mainsail extended on the mast, and next to it the beginnings of a main-mast for an undepicted ship, thereby providing insight into Monet's observational approach.

Homme au chapeau haut de forme et lunettes (lot 6) likely is related to Monet's work as a caricaturist that at the age of fifteen earned him local recognition and began his official artistic career. "At fifteen I was known all over Le Havre as a caricaturist. My reputation was so well established that from all sides people came to me and pestered me for caricatures. I had so many requests, and the pocket money my mother could spare me was so meager, that I was led to take a bold step, one which needless to say shocked my parents: I started selling my portraits. Sizing up my customer, I charged ten or twenty francs a caricature, and it worked like a charm. Within a month my clientele had doubled," (C. Monet quoted in M. Tsaneva, Claude Monet: 183 Paintings, Pastels, Drawings, Morrisville, 2013, pp. 3-4). These caricatures caught the attention of both locals and visitors, including Eugène Boudin, who had moved to Le Havre in 1850 with a three-year scholarship to pursue his artistic calling. After seeing Monet's caricatures Boudin made inquiries about him in the local shops, and with the assistance of a frame-maker he sought out an introduction between the himself and the young Monet. Monet, however, was uninterested and went out of his way to avoid Boudin, until a chance encounter. It was during this meeting that Boudin began to urge Monet to expand beyond his caricatures and join Boudin painting landscapes en plein air.

We are delighted to offer five works on paper by the young Monet, lots 3, 4, and 5 come from the 1857 sketchbook. These works are exemplary of Monet's gifted draftsmanship and trace directly back to the artist via the painter's great-grandson Michel Cornebois, the artist's sole living direct descendant.


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