Monet's 'Mornings on the Seine' painting to be offered in London with an estimate of US$15m

"I am pursuing the impossible," Claude Monet once said. "Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat. I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house, and the boat are to be found – the beauty of the air around them, and that is nothing less than the impossible."

Painting up until his death at the well-weathered age of 86, the Impressionist master devoted more than half of his lifetime to studying nature and portraying nuanced shifts in the atmosphere and sweep of light across the landscape. 

In the Matinée sur la Seine (Morning on the Seine) series, the artist captures the enchanting tranquillity of early mornings on a quiet stretch of the river near his home at Giverny, completing a total of 21 canvases, each focusing on the same view of the waterway. 

Later this week, one version in this series, unseen in the market for 46 years, will be offered for sale at Christie's London, with an estimate between £12 and 18 million (US$15 and 23 million).

Lot 15 | Claude Monet (1840-1926) | Matinée sur la Seine, temps net, Oil on canvas
Painted in Giverny in 1897
81.6 x 92.4 cm

  • Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist on 27 November 1901
  • Galerie Durand-Ruel, New York, transferred by the above in December 1901
  • Frederic Amory, Massachusetts, by whom acquired from the above on 28 March 1905
  • Anonymous sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 17 May 1978, lot 43
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owners

Estimate: £12,000,000 - 18,000,000 (US$15,000,000 - 23,000,000)

Auction House: Christie's London
Sale: 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale
Date and Time: 7 March 2024 | 5 pm (London local time)

Monet was born in Paris in 1840, and apart from a brief spell in London three decades later – while the Franco-Prussian War was being waged in his homeland – he lived exclusively by the Seine. It was an enduring source of inspiration for him.

"I have painted the Seine all my life, at all hours of the day, and in every season," Monet once said. "I have never been bored with it. To me it is always different."

In the early days of his career, when based in or near Paris, Monet was drawn toward contemporary subjects, commonly depicting the recreation and industry that the river sustained. Over time, however, his interest in human presence waned, and his focus shifted solely to nature. 

Claude Monet

Early in his forties, Monet moved to Giverny, the village which he called home from 1883 until his death in 1926. While located at the confluence of the River Seine and the Epte, it was unlike scores of other settlements dotted along the Seine, having remained untouched by encroaching modernization. 

Before getting fully immersed in the "Giverny Garden" – the horticultural oasis Monet carefully cultivated and the birthplace of his renowned Water Lillies series – in his first years in the village, Monet would set out with his canvases at dawn almost daily, walking over hills and through valleys, constantly seeking and painting fresh subjects. 

As writer Guy de Maupassant described, Monet was "not a painter actually, but a hunter"; he would stalk his landscape scenes, "lying in wait for the sun and shadows", only starting a canvas once the visual effects were to his liking.

For this Matinée sur la Seine, temps net (1897), Monet chose a quiet, protected backwater where the Epte tributary fed into the Seine, rather than painting a wide-open expanse of the river, as he often had before. 

Edouard Manet | Monet Painting on His Studio Boat | Collection of Neue
Pinakothek, Munich

Between 1886 and 1887, the Impressionist master painted a total of 21 canvases on the same view, working from his famous bateau-atelier (studio-boat) in the middle of the river, recording the delicate effects of the rising sun on his chosen location. 

The journalist Maurice Guillemot, who visited and interviewed Monet during the summer of 1897, described the process that the artist undertook to paint this series:

"The crack of dawn, in August, 3:30 a.m. His torso snug in a white woollen hand-knit, his feet in a pair of sturdy hunting boots with thick, dew-proof soles, his head covered by a picturesque, battered, brown felt hat, with the brim turned up to keep off the sun, a cigarette in his mouth...

[Monet] pushes open the door, walks down the steps, follows the central path through his garden... and comes to the river. There he unties his rowboat moored in the reeds along the bank, and with a few strokes reaches the large punt at anchor which serves as his studio.

Claude Monet | The Seine at Giverny, Morning Mists (1897) | The North Carolina Museum of Art

Claude Monet | Morning on the Seine near Giverny (1897) | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

Across those canvases, Monet captures specific instants as the sun passes over the scene, from the first rays of light at dawn, to the full brilliance of the sun at mid-morning, and every nuanced moment in between.

To record that fleeting light effect, he had to work on multiple canvases at a time, quickly switching from one canvas to the next, at most working on no less than fourteen at the same time.

In the canvases painted earliest in the morning, such as the one in the collection of The North Carolina Museum of Art, light has not yet penetrated the scene, and mist still hangs heavily over the river, reducing the distant forms of trees to soft shapes in the background. 

As the sun began to rise, as captured in the Met one, the artist rendered the sky bathed in a warm orange glow, but the banks of the river were still slightly in shadow, with light catches on the tops of the foliage. 

Claude Monet | Matinée sur la Seine, temps net (1897) | The present lot 

Claude Monet | Matinée sur la Seine (1896) | Sold: US$20.55 million, Sotheby's New York, 2018

Here, in the present lot, the sun has yet to fully rise. Deep purples blanket the foliage and the overhanging branches of the surrounding trees, which form sweeping arabesques that frame the pale sky. The gradually brightening light, a soft blue glows in contrast to the still-dark land. 

The work was last seen on the auction block back in 1978 when it sold for US$330,000 to an American collector.

Another example in the series, which is dated 1896 and depicts the spot under a clear morning sky, fetched US$20.55 million at Sotheby's New York in 2018.