This austere and gloomy landscape depicts the thawing of a huge freeze by the Seine in the region of Vétheuil, west of Paris, in early January 1880. It is one of a series of eighteen works executed by Monet at this location that represent his visual response to this brutal event. The icy beauty of this wintry landscape, interpreted at different times of the day and subject to changes in light and perspective, is the central subject of the set of paintings, which vary between landscapes in which the devastation is more evident, such as this one, and gentler depictions
With little colour and only superficial definition in the broken ice’s incipient solidity and the devastated trees, this work is the result of careful, direct and systematic observation of elements sketched in the open air, and it was undoubtedly finished in the studio. By resorting to broad, intersecting and inventive brushstrokes, Monet mixes essential Impressionist principles in this composition – spontaneity, pure sensation and the effect of fleeting movement – with the formal thoroughness of a lucid, complex and ordered spatial structure.