Monet in View
Le Pont de bois (1872), an important early painting by the leading Impressionist painter and one of modern art’s most celebrated artists, Claude Monet, is now on view at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). The painting, generously lent by a friend to the Gallery, complements in a significant way the Gallery’s permanent holdings of works by Claude Monet (1840-1926), which comprise four paintings dating from around 1884 through 1903. It will also join another private collection work on loan, Rain, Pourville (1896), currently on view in the galleries.
Acquired recently, Le Pont de bois was previously in the collection of Gustav Rau, the celebrated collector and philanthropist. Prior to entering Dr. Rau’s collection, the painting had a storied provenance: its first owner was the painter Edouard Manet, it was briefly with the Galerie Durand-Ruel, and in the 1960s was purchased by the famed Californian collector Norton Simon.
“We are delighted to see a picture of such quality enter a Canadian collection,” said National Gallery of Canada Director, Marc Mayer, “Thanks to this generous loan, we are honoured to make it available for the public to enjoy over the next decade. Le Pont de bois is an outstanding early work by one of the world’s most beloved painters. For the period of this loan, this painting will fill an important gap in the story Canada’s national collection can tell about the transition from Realism to Impressionism.”
Le Pont de bois: documenting an historical episode
Le Pont de bois was painted the very same year as Monet’s Impression, soleil levant (1872), from which the burgeoning Impressionist movement derived its name. Monet lived in Argenteuil between 1871 and 1878, and Le Pont de bois is part of a major corpus of paintings of bridges in the growing bedroom community outside of Paris. The scaffolding and beams framing our view of the river beyond stand in for an important historical event: just months prior to Monet’s painting, the bridge was destroyed by retreating French troops in the Franco-Prussian War. The conflict had affected Monet and his family directly; they had moved to London in 1870 in order to evade the combat. The bridge’s reconstruction shortly after the crushing defeat stood as a testament to France’s will to rebuild in the face of adversity.
A Painting of Modern Life
More than documenting this historical episode, the painting is resolutely a picture of modern life: Monet shows steam billowing from a passing boat, and silhouetted figures, horses and carriages travelling across the top of the bridge in the waning hours of the day. These omnibuses ferried workers from Paris to their homes in Argenteuil each morning and evening. Formally, Le Pont de bois also references similar subjects in Japanese woodblock prints, which Monet knew well and greatly admired.