In the summer of 1878, Monet moved with his family to Vétheuil. His stay there of three-and-a-half years was a period in his life full of tragic adversity. Beginning with the birth of their second son, his wife's condition increasingly worsened, and until her death in September 1879, all their money went to doctors and medicines. Due to financial pressure, they shared a household with the family of Monet's friend and patron, Ernest Hoschedé. Overcoming a profound professional crisis and personal difficulty, the period spent in Vétheuil was ultimately a crucial period in Monet's artistic development: its culmination was experimentation pursued that rendered perceptible atmospheric luminous phenomena, which he had commenced in Argenteuil. Prior to his arrival in Vétheuil, Monet had made a name for himself as a painter of modern life - and the urban everyday. Upon moving to the small
town on the Seine, it was rather the peaceful rural landscape that interested him, and he focused on the subtle transitions of light and colour found in the landscape. He rendered numerous vistas of the immediate environs of his residence, the orchards surrounding the house and of the town from the riverbank. His Flowering Plum Trees, painted in the spring of 1879, was also made in the vicinity of the painter's house. Between the boughs of the fruit trees, a part of Vétheuil can be seen, as well as the hill of Ch?nay in the background. Monet devotes all his attention to the direct study of nature, reducing the presence of man to the minimum, while anecdotal details are completely absent. Nothing can be felt of his tribulations, the gaiety of his paintings from the period contradicting his hopeless family circumstances. Everything pulsates in the painting; every point comes to life. The picture is a masterful example of the optical blending of colours, the breaking down of natural colours to their elementary units. The eye perceives these separated units as the infinite subtle nuances of tone. The brushstrokes practically trace the undulations of the breeze between the trees, up to the softly inclining crest of the hill. The conscious activation of the viewer's gaze heightens the illusion of motion in the picture, and the sun-kissed landscape is permeated with vibrating vividness.
Contrary to the beliefs surrounding the Impressionists, the choice of details featuring in the picture from the natural scene demonstrates thorough planning. The final version of the scene is born through preparatory studies and compositional experimentation. It was during these years that Monet began to record in groupings colour and atmospheric variations observed in the same location at various times, also experimenting with variations in format, dimension or composition.
The picture was most probably put on public view for the first time in 1880 at the gallery of the journal, La Vie Moderne. This exhibition signified a turning point in Monet's life and artistic career. The interest of critics and collectors once again focused on him, and art criticism began to recognise the value of the artworks that seemed not to be completely "finished", and Monet's rare talent for landscape painting, as well as his technical proficiency.
Text: © FERENC TÓTH