Le Pont de Bois

Le Pont de Bois
Circa 1872
Oil on canvas
54 x 73 cm
signed Claude Monet (lower left)
Edouard Manet, Paris (acquired from the artist in 1872) Mme Edouard Manet, Paris (by descent from the above in 1883) Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired in 1886) Alphonse Portier, Paris (acquired in 1888) Edmond Decap, Paris (sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 15th April 1901, lot 15) Maurice Barret-Decap, Paris (sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 12th December 1929, lot 7) Henri Canonne, Paris (purchased at the above sale) Jacques Canonne, Paris (acquired from the above circa 1961) Mme Jacques Canonne, Paris (by descent from the above in 1963. Sold: Sotheby’s, London, 29th April 1964, lot50) L. Harding (purchased at the above sale) Norton Simon, Los Angeles (acquired circa 1968. Sold: Christie’s, London, 30th November 1971, lot 24) Gustav Rau, Zurich, purchased at the above sale
Arsène Alexandre, La Collection Canonne, Une Histoire en action de l’Impressionnisme et de ses Suites, Paris,1930, illustrated p. 12 Paul Jamot & Georges Wildenstein, Manet, Paris, 1932, listed Claude Monet: The Early Years – From British Collections in Aid of Police Dependants, The Lefevre Gallery, London, 1969, mentioned p. 115 Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, biographie et catalogue raisonné, Paris & Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, no. 195,illustrated p. 203 Alice Bellony-Rewald, The Lost World of the Impressionist, London, 1976, illustrated p. 117 Yvon Taillandier, Claude Monet. Meister der modernen Kunst, Munich, 1977, illustrated p. 115 Joel Isaacson, Claude Monet. Observation et Réflexion, Oxford, 1978, no. 35, illustrated p. 93 Luigina Rossi Bortolatto & Janine Bailly-Herzberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Monet, 1870-1889, Paris, 1981, no. 60, illustrated p. 92 Paul Hayes Tucker, Monet at Argenteuil, New Haven & London, 1982, illustrated p. 60 Robert Gordon & Andrew Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, illustrated p. 54 Douglas Skeggs, River of Light, Monet’s Impressions of the Seine, London, 1987, illustrated p. 76 Jean-Jacques Lévêque, Les années impressionnistes – 1870-1889, Paris, 1990, illustrated p. 220 Daniel Wildenstein, Claude Monet, biographie et catalogue raisonné, Paris & Lausanne, 1991, vol. V, listed p. 25 Virginia Spate, The Colour of Time – Claude Monet, London, 1992, illustrated p. 88 Paul Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet. Life and Art, New Haven & London, 1995, no. 67, illustrated in colour p. 56 Daniel Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue Raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, no. 195, illustrated in colour p. 89 Impressionists in Winter – Effets de Neige, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1999, illustrated p. 66 Impression: Painting Quickly in France 1860-1890, The National Gallery, London, London, 2000, no. 79, illustrated in colour p. 128
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Claude Monet, 1931, no. 25 Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art & San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, The New Painting. Impressionism 1874-1886, 1986, illustrated in the catalogue Tokyo, Bridgestone Museum of Art; Nagoya, Nagoya City Art Museum & Hiroshima, Hiroshima Museum of Art, Monet: A Retrospective, 1994, no. 18, illustrated in colour in the catalogue Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Claude Monet, 1995, no. 29, illustrated in colour in the catalogue Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Claude Monet, 1996, illustrated in colour the catalogue Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection, Impressionists on the Seine. A Celebration of Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’, 1996-97, no. 14, illustrated in colour in the catalogue Tokyo, Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art; Miyazaki Prefectural Art Museum; Matsue, Shimane Art Museum; Yokohama, Sogo Museum of Art; Matsuyama, The Museum of Art; Paris, Musée du Luxembourg; Rotterdam, Kunsthalle; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Bergamo, Accademia Carrara; Bogota, Casa de la Moneda; Portland, Portland Art Museum; Dayton, The Dayton Art Institute; Nashville, Tennessee State Museum & Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Meisterwerke von Fra Angelico bis Bonnard. Fünf Jahrhunderte Malerei. Die Sammlung des Dr. Rau, 1999-2006, no. 60, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, Monet, A Bridge to Modernity, 2015, no.1, illustrated in colour on the cover and in the catalogue
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Monet: The Early Years, 2016-2017, no.50, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
London, National Gallery, Monet and Architecture, 2018, no. 109, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Vienna, Albertina, Claude Monet, A Floating World, 2018-19, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Impressionism in the Age of Industry, 2019, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

“Monet loves water, and it is his especial gift to portray its mobility and transparency, be it sea or river, grey or monotonous, or coloured by the sky.”[i]

Stéphane Mallarmé

The evanescence of colour and light has fascinated Monet throughout his career. Scintillating reflections on water are vital elements of this compositions, and appear in his views of La Grenouillère, which he painted as a young man, just as in his countless canvases of the water- lily ponds in Giverny, he produced towards the end of his life. Bridges are another recurring theme in Monets oeuvre: from the massive stone and steel structures of Paris and London, the lightweight draw-brides of Amsterdam to the gracefully curved Japanese footbridges in his Giverny gardens. During his years in Argenteuil, a small-town only a short train ride away from the French capital, where Monet settled with his young family from 1872-78, the subject rose to special prominence. The artist dedicated 18 works to the two bridges crossing the Seine between Argenteuil and Petit-Gennevilliers. The present canvas shows the highway bridge in 1872. Monet, who was 32 then, painted it in the same year that he created his famous work L’Impression, soleil levant, which he submitted to the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, and which gave the Impressionist movement its name.

Claude Monet
Impression, soleil levant (English: Impression, Sunrise), 1872
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

In Le pont de bois Monet depicts a bridge under repair. The structure was destroyed in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. Parts of the bridge are scaffolded, but, nonetheless, it is busy with traffic – people on foot and a horse-drawn public bus are crossing the river. Interestingly, the artist chose to not include the entire bridge in his painting, but only one arch, which is perfectly mirrored in the calm waters of the Seine. This rather extravagant composition was most likely inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, which Monet knew well and collected.

Katsushika Hokusai
Under the Mannen Bridge at Fukagawa
From the series Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, 1830-32
Polychrome woodblock print on paper

Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando)
Bamboo Yards, Kyobashi Bridge,
No. 76 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
12th month of 1857
Polychrome woodblock print on paper

By focussing on only one fragment of the bridge and its reflection in the water, the artist created an octagonal frame around a view of the flat Argenteuil shoreline. We see a smokestack emitting a billowing cloud of white smoke against the pinkish-grey sky; what looks like a church steeple is actually the silhouette of a Louis XIII-style manor of a wealthy banker; in the middle ground to the left stands a yellow building, where Parisians came to rent rowboats on the weekends. Several sailboats are moored in the water. The scene is a perfectly modern landscape, showing a busy bridge under construction in its suburban, semi-industrial surroundings.  The artist captured it during the short moments of wintry evening light, using sketchy brushstrokes in muted nuances of pink, yellow, greys and browns.

Monet created this painting at a critical point in French history, the bridge under reconstruction representing a new beginning after the devastation caused by the Franco-Prussian War. With this modern subject, unconventional composition and loose execution, Le pont de bois also marks a critical point in the history of art:  the emergence of Impressionism in the early 1870s, a chapter of renewal that laid the foundations for Modern Art.

The significance of Le Pont de bois as a landmark painting was undoubtedly recognized by its first owner Edouard Manet, who acquired it from Monet in the year of its creation.  The approval by the older artist, who was one of the most innovative painters of the era, was certainly perceived as a badge of honour by Monet. The prominent dealer of Impressionist art Paul Durand-Ruel purchased the painting from Manet’s widow in 1886. Subsequently it passed through several renowned collections, including the ones of the American Norton Simon, and the German Dr. Gustav Rau.

[i] Stéphane Mallarmé, quoted in Ruth Berson, The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, San Francisco, 1996, vol. I, p. 95