The Cliff of Aval, Etrétat
Oil on canvas
65.5 x 91.7 cm
Bequest of Marie Dabek, Paris, to the State of Israel, in memory of Jack and Mimi Dabek On permanent loan to The Israel Museum, Jerusalem from the Administrator General of the State of Israel
Accession number: L-B83.006
Claude Monet spent most of his youth in the port city of Le Havre. There he exhibited amusing depictions he had painted of local characters in the window of a framer’s shop. Eugène Boudin, who was showing his seascapes and beach scenes in the shop at the same time, recognized the young man’s talent and encouraged him to progress to serious painting. With money he had saved from the sale of his caricatures, Monet went to Paris in 1859, and began to study painting, drawing from live models at the Académie Suisse, where he met Pissarro. His studies were interrupted by a call to military service in 1861, but he was released a year later due to illness. At home in Le Havre he met the Dutch landscape painter Johann Barthold Jongkind, whom he credited with “the final education of my eye.” Both Boudin and Jongkind impressed upon him the importance of painting in the open air, before the motif. Later, when he returned to Paris, he registered at the studio of Charles Gleyre, where he met Renoir, Bazille, and Sisley.
Being a local native, Monet was familiar from childhood with the seaside villages along the coast of Normandy. He returned there frequently, both as a young and a mature artist, to paint the area’s famous cliffs and beaches. In the mid-1880s, he focused on the fishing village-turned-resort of Etretat. During the years from 1883 to 1886, he executed more works there than in any other place outside of his home in Giverny. There are some seventy-five known paintings of Etretat from this period, about fifty of which can be dated to the fall and winter of 1885–1886, among them the Israel Museum’s The Cliff of Aval, Etretat.
In earlier works painted at Sainte-Adresse and Trouville, Monet had depicted the people and environment of resort life. None of this narrative type of representation finds its way into the Etretat paintings. On the contrary, the views he chose for these works eschewed all vestiges of tourism. Instead, Monet emphasized his own personal response to the imposing natural phenomena before him by zeroing in on the cliffs alone and ignoring the buildings and visitors that reflected the changes the site had undergone. Monet’s representations of Etretat are heroically romantic; at the same time his bold, evocative brushwork and unusual compositions imbue these works with a totally modern aspect.