Sunday, June 6th 2021

by Géraldine Lefebvre

The city of DIeppe by Claude Monet, 1882
The city of DIeppe by Claude Monet, 1882

In 1882, Claude Monet spent several very prolific weeks in Dieppe, Pourville and Varengeville during which time he made about one hundred paintings, including ninety seascapes. Over the course of his first and last stay in Dieppe (February 5-15, 1882), the artist painted only two pictures, including City of Dieppe which is being put on the auction block today. At the time, Monet was a forty-two year old widower - his wife Camille had died in 1879 - and father of two young boys. The artist had many financial difficulties and his income chiefly depended on the sale of his works by his art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. Monet crisscrossed Dieppe and its surroundings to the point of exhaustion; he struggled to find a motif and sought to escape all vestiges of city life. He finally stopped on a flat spot located high above the city, behind the old castle; the view from there was magnificent and embraced the whole city, from the sea to the west to the Arques valley to the east. This place was frequented by painters and lithographers who provided illustrations for travel guides. Publications such as La Normandie pittoresque et monumentale by Taylor and Nodier or La Normandie illustrée published by Charpentier in Nantes suggested panoramic spots from which solo hikers could enjoy nature’s beauty. Monet freed himself from this legacy and created a landscape bathed in the most subtle variations of light, a powerful work of art with striking topographical shortcuts.

Fig.1- D’après Charles François Daubigny et Morel-Fatio, Vue du
quai Henri IV et de l’Hôtel Victoria, gravure sur bois, reproduite
dans Jules Janin, Itinéraire du chemin de fer de Paris à Dieppe,
Paris, Librairie L. Hachette et Cie, 1847, p. 101.

Fig.2- J. Yzard, Hôtel de la Reine Victoria (ancien Hôtel du Roi
d’Angleterre), gravure reproduite dans Itinéraire de Paris à la mer
par le chemin de fer de Dieppe. Paris, Rouen, Dieppe, Dieppe,
E. Delevoye, 1849, p. 83.

Fig.3- Georges Marchand, Quai Henri IV, prise de la poissonnerie
de détail, photographie, 10 x 9,5 cm. Médiathèque Jean Renoir -
Fonds photographique Georges Marchand (1877-1964) Cote
GM1229. A gauche, l’Hôtel de Londres reconnaissable avec ses
deux niches sculptées et à côté, les bâtiments de l’Hôtel Victoria.

Monet and Dieppe

On February 5, 1882, Claude Monet left Poissy “at first light” but missed his connection in Mantes, reaching Dieppe by local train via Rouen. Between 1880 and 1882, the city of Dieppe had undertaken improvement works and nearly three million francs had been spent on its sanitation and the renewal of its pavement, allowing visitors to walk on clean streets lined with asphalt sidewalks. Upon his arrival in the early afternoon, the artist moved into the Grand Hôtel du Nord et Victoria, which was spread over four buildings (Numbers 9, 11, 13 and 15) on Quai Henri-IV. Formerly known as the Hôtel du Roi d'Angleterre (fig.1), this hotel offered board and accommodation for 20 francs per day, an amount deemed by Monet as very high for a place that suited him only moderately. But the hotel was centrally located, near the train station and opposite the pier where liners crossing the Channel to the English port of Newhaven docked, and a short walk to the western pier, the beach and the old castle. The Hotel Victoria was next door to the Hotel de Londres in an area filled with cafés and restaurants on Quai Henri IV (fig. 2 and fig. 3). But Monet was dissatisfied and told his significant other Alice Hoschedé: "When the night comes and I have to either retire to my dreadful hotel room or go to a café among a bunch of provincial guys, I find it exhausting and prefer to stay on my own" (fig.4). Evenings thus find him torn between his anguish of the solitary hotel room and that of the provincial coffee room.

Fig.4- Lettre de Claude Monet à Alice Hoschedé, Dieppe, mercredi
8 février 1882. Paris, Archives Durand-Ruel.

But Monet rebounds energetically as there is "a lot to do" and he intends to "bring back many things". He notices that the sea is fabulous but the cliffs seem less beautiful than those in Fécamp. Eager to get out of Dieppe where he feels too much "downtown", he travels "all over the country, on every path... on top and at the bottom of the cliffs", in search of new subjects. In Dieppe, Monet makes two drawings and two paintings. Unlike Camille Pissarro in 1901, he is not interested in any specific building but favors general views of the city. In his two drawings “Dieppe as seen from the Pollet district” (D 228) and “The Outer-harbor and the Saint-Jacques Church” (D 232), housed in Musée Marmottan in Paris, Monet shows his interest for the city as seen from the harbor and the dock basins. He captures the vertical lines of the ships' masts, the horizontal lines of the quays and the design of the main buildings. He paints a large picture, “The Port of Dieppe at Night” (Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN) (fig. 5) from the same vantage point. In this painting, the city can be seen at sunset from the Pollet district with its basins and house lined quays dominated by the bulky Saint-Jacques church.

Fig.5- Claude Monet, Port de Dieppe, le soir, 1882, huile sur toile,
69 x 73 cm. Memphis (États-Unis), Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

The painting location

For this “City of Dieppe”, Monet posted himself on the Citadel’s plaza located south of the Medieval castle. From there, the view over the city is uninterrupted. The castle, built on the edge of the cliff; about 30 meters above sea level, dominates the Normand city with its fortified mass. Until 1789, it had been the seat of royal power and hosted the garrison in charge of the city’s defense. Its military purpose appears in a J.A. Lewis based on an 1850 drawing by Clarckson F. Stanfield (fig.6). But by the end of the 19th century, it had become a large green plaza inviting walking and contemplation. The artist took the path “going behind the castle and leading to the cliff” that was recommended by travel guides to people looking to enjoy a beautiful viewpoint over the city and the sea. A photograph by Georges Marchand (1877-1964), a Dieppe photographer and postcard editor, shows the castle, its walls, and the deep moat surrounding it, as well as the plaza leading west to the cliff (fig. 7). The highest point on the left of the photograph is exactly where Monet set up his easel to make his painting. His gaze turned towards the south walls of the castle and the ruins of the old Saint-Rémy church, easily identifiable with its 14th century fortress-like square tower, which was later connected to the castle enclosure, and its windowless lancet arches attesting to its primary function as a church. On the left of the painting, a pointy slate steeple is peaking out of the fog. It is that of the new Saint-Rémy church, built in the town heart in the 15th century to replace the old church. In the center of the painting, one can see the Saint-Jacques church with its high bell tower decorated in the flamboyant style specific to the times.

Fig.6- Georges Marchand, La Tour Saint-Rémy, prise du Château,
négatif sur plaque de verre, 18 x 13 cm. Médiathèque Jean Renoir
– Fonds photographique Georges Marchand (1877-1964) – Cote

Monet likes the medieval town, which he identifies with its three oldest religious buildings. He doesn’t bother with depicting the entanglement of rooftops, the housing density or the contemporary buildings that make Dieppe a fashionable seaside town. Monet stayed away from the modern city; he chose not to represent the tourist facilities, such as the casino and the bath houses located along the plaza. Instead, he painted a picturesque and bucolic view of Dieppe. In the background, the city is purposefully erased, dissolved in a myriad of small green and blue paint strokes that suggest the gurgling ocean as well as the surrounding countryside.

An original viewpoint over Dieppe

In the foreground, Monet placed a lone hiker akin to the artist looking at the scenery. This is a common device used in engravings and travel guide literature. In his “Dieppe, general view of the town and castle” (fig. 8), painter and lithograph Isidore Deroy (1797-1886) offers a general view of the town from a viewpoint quite similar to the one chosen by Monet. In the foreground, Deroy placed a few characters looking down on the town from a green hillside. But he makes a point of precisely depicting the smallest details of the architecture and urban density that are deliberately forgotten by Monet. Although he does not suppress the identity of the town, which can be recognized thanks to its three main religious buildings, he does erase the house rooftops. The artist’s vision does not claim to be descriptive, let alone realistic, but tries to give an impression of a certain aspect of nature at a specific time. In so doing, it also contradicts the view offered by travel guides such as those of Adolphe Joanne (1813-1881), which were illustrated with small lithographed thumbnails showing a very precise viewpoint easily recognizable by travelers arriving at the clifftop.

Fig.7- D’après un dessin de Clarkson F. Stanfield (1793-1867),
Château et tour Saint-Rémy, vers 1850, gravé sur bois par J.A.
Lewis. Médiathèque Jean Renoir - Fonds ancien – Cote 03_02_11.
Fig. 6

The tiny character in the foreground, be it an anonymous hiker or a representation of the artist, accentuates the greatness of the architecture and progressively leads the viewer’s gaze into the distance. This character as well as the tree located on the right hand side of the painting are used as “repellents” meant to show the scale as well as the distance between the foreground and the background. Similar to many paintings made on the Normand coast in 1882, Monet reduced his field of vision and created a vertiginous effect by placing his character on the edge of the hill, an effect that becomes obvious when one places themselves exactly where the painter was located, whether in Dieppe or on the Pourville cliffs. This process allows the viewer to get a better sense of the distance while having the feeling of being suspended in the air. Furthermore, the large diagonal of the lawn in the foreground foretells the composition of paintings that were made in Pourville during the summer 1882 (W709 and W710).

A collectors’ story

Fig.8- Deroy, Dieppe, vue générale de la Ville et du Château, vers 1845, dessiné et lithographié par Deroy, n°39 de la collection
« La France ». Médiathèque Jean Renoir - Fonds ancien – Cote 01_01_39.

The painting remained in Claude Monet's house until 1926, when his son Michel inherited it. He sold it to the André Weil Gallery in January 1940. On the centenary of Monet’s death, the Parisian gallery organized an exhibition benefitting the Care packages for the military charity. Solicited by André Weil, members of the Monet family loaned some artwork from their own collections. Michel proved especially generous, thus honoring the memory of his father who never hesitated to donate artwork for the benefit of war victims. Although the “City of Dieppe” is not mentioned in the exhibition catalogue, it was displayed and did enter André Weil’s personal collection at that time. The Nazi regime soon forced the gallery to close its doors and André Weil to flee France together with this painting and others. In August 1941, Weil sought refuge in the Unites States where he opened a new gallery. In January 1945, this painting was sold for $ 2,000 to the Knoedler and Co. Gallery in New York City which sold it in turn to Mrs. Charles V. Campbell (1910-1995) five months later. Born Isabel Cranfill, she had married Texan financier Charles V. Campbell in 1933. An active volunteer with many charities, Isabel Cranfill Campbell was most notably President of the Dallas Junior League in 1944-1945, of the Saint Matthew’s Foundation for Children in 1954-1955, and of the Dallas Daycare Association. After her death, the Christie’s auction house was charged with selling the Monet painting, which has remained in private hands ever since.

Géraldine Lefebvre
PhD in Art History - Independent Curator
In charge of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute critical catalogue of Claude Monet’s drawings.
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