"Path with Firs at Varengeville", 1882 By Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926)
oil on canvas; 73 x 60 cm Private Collection Place of creation: Varengeville-sur-Mer, west of Dieppe, Normandy, France
'Path with Firs at Varengeville' from 1882, a year in which Claude Monet made two campaigns to the Norman coast near his own home, Le Havre. These two trips, the first made alone and the second with his and Alice Hoschedé’s families, resulted in a series of exquisite landscapes, many of which are now in prestigious museum collections throughout the world.
Monet had visited the coast of Normandy in the two years prior; indeed, it would become a key inspiration during the 1880s. In 1881, he had created a group of landscapes at Fécamp, which had met with immediate success in terms of sales; in 1883, the year after La côte de Varengeville was painted, he would visit Étretat, creating some of his most iconic views.
His 1882 campaigns in Normandy are often seen as pivotal moments of release, as Monet began to create brighter, more vivid, more joyous landscapes. This is sometimes seen in relation to his coming to terms with his bereavement three years earlier, when his wife Camille had died in Vétheuil. By the time he visited Normandy in 1882, he had finally left Vétheuil and had instead set up home with Alice Hoschedé and their respective children in Poissy.
This was a tense time in domestic terms: the unmarried couple had looked respectable when they were living in Vétheuil, as Alice appeared to be helping the widowed Monet with his children; however, establishing a household together had led to some disapproval.
It was against this backdrop of tension that Monet travelled to Dieppe in search of motifs to paint; at the same time, the popularity of the Fécamp paintings inspired him to carry on creating his Marines. However, initially on his arrival in Dieppe in 1882, Monet was uninspired by his surroundings. Soon, though, he discovered Varengeville and Pourville. He soon moved from Dieppe to the hotel in the casino in Pourville, which was run by a kindly man from Alsace, Paul Graff, and his wife.
Monet was visiting an out-of-the-way resort off season, and so was heartily welcomed by Graff, who would come to feature in one of his portraits. Monet’s enchantment with Pourville was immediately transparent, as is evident from his correspondence with Alice: ‘The countryside is very beautiful and I am very sorry I did not come here earlier instead of wasting my time in Dieppe. One could not be any closer to the sea than I am, on the shingle itself, and the waves beat at the foot of the house'.
During his second trip to Pourville, when he returned with Alice and their children, renting the Villa Juliette, Monet would paint the church from below, looking up at the building as it crested the cliffs