Impressionism is officially off the mat (to use a boxing analogy) and out of the doldrums to be the pretty puppy in art auctions around art capitals of the world. Don’t take our word for it, though: just look at the sales figures from the latest art auctions and you can see oil paintings associated with Impressionism as a movement, and with Impressionist artists, have skyrocketed as of late. Leading this charge, suitably so, is one of the stalwarts of Impression, Claude Monet.
The work in question is Monet’s oil painting from 1885 known as The road leading to Giverny under snow, or in its original French, “L’Entrée de Giverny en hiver.” It sold last week for £8.2 million at a Sotheby’s London sale, well above the estimate of £4.5 million to £6.5 million. The 65.5 by 85.5cm oil on canvas work was special because this was the first time it had ever been offered at auction: it was only offered to the open market once in 1924, when it was bought up by a collector, who only publicly displayed it at one exhibition in 1930, the Claude Monet retrospective in 1930 at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.
The painting, as the title suggests, shows the road in the town of Giverny, which was just outside Paris and a popular retreat for the Impressionists. Because of its time spent in one collection, the auction house noted its superb level of preservation, with the varnishings unspoilt and the oil quality on canvas near perfect. But onto the actual image: Monet in particular loved Giverny, most famous for his estate and the famous gardens that grew the now immortalised water lilies. Monet and family moved to Giverny in 1883 (where he would remain until his death) and bought his famous estate in 1890. This painting, completed in 1885, thus represents the halfway point in the artist establishing himself in the locale – as such it presents an almost avant-garde look at his style, which became more textured and featured more colours than the bulk of previous Monet oil paintings.
It is thus refreshing to see this image of the area, especially because it portrays a winter landscape, a slight numerical rarity in the Monet oeuvre compared to other seasons. Nevertheless, Monet loved the challenge of painting winter light and accurately capturing the interplay with its surroundings. In fact, he produced the most winter landscapes of any Impressionist, according to E.E. Rathbone’s account in Monet, Japonisme and Effets de Neige in the essay collection Impressionists in winter: “The Impressionists, and above all Monet, determined to record the complete spectrum: deep snow in brilliant sunshine, creating the bluest of blue shadows; snow under a low, grey winter sky that shrouds nature in a single tonality; landscapes so deep in snow that all details are obscured, evoking a silent world….of all the Impressionist, Monet painted the largest number of snowscapes and the greatest variety of sites, time of day, quality of light and quality of snow itself”. Given the chill across Europe at the moment, we’re sure Monet would have valued a paintbrush, easel and down jacket in the cold.