Claude Monet - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • “For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life - the air and the light, which vary continuously. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.”
    — Claude Monet


    Confidently rendered in a flurry of rapid and yet precise brushstrokes, Paysage à Villez is a work of remarkable energy and vitality by Impressionist master Claude Monet. Depicting a line of poplar trees set on the grassy banks of the river Epte in the environs of Villez, it captures one of Monet’s most enduring themes - that of the play of light on water and the fleeting patterns meteorological and atmospheric effects that he was able to observe in nature. Evoking a quiet moment of calm on a bright, spring-like day, the light palette and loose, open brushwork are highly characteristic of the artist’s en plein air approach to painting, allowing him to record the sensations of an instant with remarkable skill.


    Against the slender, vertical line of the tree trunks, Monet juxtaposes deeper shades of emerald and mossy greens with touches of chartreuse and Indian yellow, the richly variegated foliage appearing animated by an invisible breeze. This same effect seems to stir the surface of the river, whipping its surface into little eddies as it flows past. In keeping with this radically economical approach to composition, the far bank of the river is evoked by a single, subtle line edged in violet, introducing a striking spatial tension as it appears to move towards us against the receding cooler blue tones. Demonstrating the profound effect of the natural world on the artist, Paysage à Villez at once recalls some of the artist’s earliest en plein air compositions while prefiguring his iconic series of Poplars and the Nymphéas which would occupy him completely in the final years of his life.



    Claude Monet, Nympheas, 1916-19, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
    Image: akg-images / Erich Lessing


    So Much for the City


    Even though Monet spent significant time in Paris, he was something of a reluctant city-dweller, finding instead a limitless source of inspiration in the countryside spread out to the northwest of the capital where he would eventually make his home. Moving first to Argenteuil in 1871, Monet ‘bought himself a boat and built a cabin on it for use as a floating studio as Daubigny had done before him’, allowing him to reach even more unspoiled and difficult to reach spots with his ease and paints.i  As is typical of the artist, he rarely painted his immediate surroundings, preferring to explore a little further afield for his subject. Moving first to Vétheuil in 1878, Monet deepened his appreciation for the natural abundance of the region, the house he rented there with his young children and the bankrupt Hoschedé family including a garden that ran down to the Seine where he could moor his boat in between excursions out on the river as he honed his increasingly fresh and delicately hued compositions.


    “All haste as he fills the canvas with the dominant tones, he then studies their graduations and contrast and harmonises them. From this comes the painting’s unity […] all these different states of nature […] and you will see the mornings rise before you, afternoons grow radiant, and the darkness of evening descend.”
     Gustave Geffroy


    Clarifying his unique and profoundly important contribution to emerging definitions of Impressionism in these years, by the time Monet moved to his beloved Giverny in 1883 he had successfully separated notions of so-called ‘modern’ painting from scenes of urban modernity, turning instead to the genre of landscape painting to extend his radical vision with remarkable assurance. Closely related to a series of similar compositions executed by the artist from a variety of locations around Villez - just a kilometre south of Giverny - the present work finds its closest compositional relation in Paysage à Villez près de Vernon, executed in 1883. In its combination of slender poplar trees and their fractured, shifting reflection in the surface of the river, Paysage à Villez also anticipates one of Monet’s most stunning and significant series, Les Peupliers.



    Claude Monet, Les Peupliers, 1891, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Image: The Philadelphia Museum of Art/ Art Resource/ Scala, Florence


    As Daniel Wildenstein describes, by the summer of 1891, Monet would make the serpentine line of poplars on the south bank of the Epte upstream from his home and legendary gardens at Giverny the sole focus of his attention. Hearing that the trees were due to be felled, the artist successfully lobbied to hold the plans just long enough to allow him to render the scene in paint. Traversing the river in his boat, Monet produced 23 paintings of the scene, 11 especially exemplifying the artist’s serial approach in these years, showing the same view at varying times of the day and a range of weather conditions. Deeply representative of the northern French countryside itself, in adopting the poplars as a central motif in the 1880s and 90s, Monet signposts both his mastery of Impressionist technique and the ways in which he embraced and extended a European tradition of landscape painting. As is evident in this earlier rendering of the poplars, for Monet ‘working outdoors and in situ was the key to capturing the sensation of the fleeting moment and to render not so much the object itself as a slice of nature cloaked by evanescent atmospheric effects.’ ii



    Marking a transition in Monet’s painting and personal life, the move to Giverny also marked some long-awaited financial security, and the official beginning of his relationship with Alice Hoschedé, the wife of his former patron who had lived with him in Vétheuil a few years before. Setting the scene for his final, triumphant approach to depicting the shifting surface of water in the Nymphéas. Monet’s radical vision and experimental approach have been widely accepted as establishing the foundations for modern art and 20th century abstraction. This enduring legacy has most recently been addressed in the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s recent exhibition Monet – Mitchell. Focusing primarily on Monet’s late production and these last, great works, the show brought out compelling conversations between the two artists in relation to colour, compositional structure, and energetic brushwork, and the painterly tools with which both artists distilled phenomena from the natural world. Following in the footsteps of Monet, Mitchell would also relocate to Vétheuil in 1968, finding the same creative inspiration in the abundance and vitality of the region’s natural surroundings as Monet had done nearly a century before.



    Left: Detail of the present work

    Right: Joan Mitchell, Before, Again II, 1985, Detroit Institute of Arts
    Image: © Detroit Institute of Arts/ Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Estate of Joan Mitchell 


    i Stephan Koja, Monet, exh. cat., Österreichische Galerie, Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 60

    ii Daniel Zamani, ‘Sur le motif: Monet, Impressionism, and the Practice of Painting in Nature’, in Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature, exh. cat., Denver Art Museum, 2019, p. 23

    • Provenance

      Wildenstein & Cie., Paris
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Private Collection, England (gifted from the above)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Christie's, New York, 13 November 2015, lot 1265
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Yokohama Museum of Art, 100 Years After Monet, 14 July - 24 September 2018



Paysage à Villez

oil on canvas
60.3 x 78.8 cm. (23 3/4 x 31 in.)
Painted circa 1883, this work is accompanied by an opinion letter issued by the Wildenstein Institute in 2010.

Full Cataloguing

HK$5,500,000 - 8,500,000 

Sold for HK$8,890,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023