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Study of rocks, the Creuse: 'Le Bloc'

Claude Monet

Royal Collection Trust, UK

Royal Collection Trust, UK

A rugged hillside studded with rocks and crags covers most of the canvas; above left some branches can be seen against a blue sky, with a few clouds.

The French Impressionist painter Claude Monet's famous series paintings of the 1890s (of subjects such as haystacks, poplars and Rouen Cathedral) were anticipated by the group of twenty-four canvases he produced between March and May 1889 while staying in the village of Fresselines in central France. Although the main subject of the series is the nearby confluence of two sources of the river Creuse, this view shows the rocky outcrop that rises above the convergence of the rivers. The uncompromising composition is dominated by the massive rock, whose colours and textures are explored in brilliant sunlight. Many of Monet's letters survive from his stay at Fresselines. He described the wintry landscape of the area as lugubrious and his promising start to the series was soon interrupted by severe weather. As the season changed, his fears that the appearance of spring greenery would change the colours of his 'sombre and sinister' subjects were well founded. He paid a local landowner to have new leaves removed from an oak tree that was the focus of a group of paintings in order to maintain its earlier wintry appearance. The present painting, along with thirteen others of the same series, was exhibited at a joint exhibition with Auguste Rodin at Georges Petit's gallery in Paris in June 1889. It is of great importance in the artist's ouevre, given its priceless inspirational value in forming a symbolic link with his great friend Georges Clemenceau. By 1899 Monet had given it to this great statesman. Clemenceau provided the nickname 'Le Bloc' (The Rock) which was to be the title of a political journal he was to establish. It is one of a small but important group of modern paintings in the collection of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, which also includes works by Henri Fantin-Latour, Walter Sickert and Paul Nash.

Gerald Kelly produced a copy of the painting in 1939, now in a private collection.

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