Monet and Auburtin at Étretat: L'Aiguille, Porte d’Aval, and Porte d’Amont

Renowned for its natural beauty and esteemed for its transformation from a fishing port to a fashionable seaside resort in the 19th century, Étretat was a favorite spot for artists

The Cliffs at Etretat (1885) by Claude MonetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Attracted by the changing light and the majestic cliffs of the Côte d'Albâtre, Claude Monet and Jean Francis Auburtin each created a very personal vision of a place that has become legendary. This exhibit is the first of a series of four illustrations on Normandy places painted by Monet and Auburtin.

Portrait of Monet (1888/1890) by Theodore RobinsonMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Having grown up in Le Havre, Claude Monet (1840–1926) came regularly to paint the cliffs of the nearby Pays de Caux. He discovered Étretat in 1864 and returned four years later. Between 1883 and 1885, Monet regularly stayed in the small seaside town. There, he painted around 90 canvases, becoming attached to the motifs of the Porte d’Aval and l’Aiguille, the Porte d’Amont, the Manneporte, and the fishing boats on the beach.

Auburtin with his Painting Materials on the Normandy Coast (1889) by AnonymousMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Jean Francis Auburtin (1866–1930) discovered Normandy in the mid-1880s during extended family holidays in the seaside town of Houlgate. In 1898, Étretat inspired the painter to create a series of watercolor and gouache landscapes. From then on, he returned regularly, particularly in 1899, 1900, 1901, and 1902.

Étretat, the Porte d’Aval, and the NeedleMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Monet produced more than 90 paintings of Étretat. Now scattered among private and public collections around the world, these works show the famous natural site at different times of the day. Together, they illustrate the variations of light and climate on the white rocks of the cliffs of Pays de Caux.
During the winter of 1868–69, Monet stayed in Étretat for the first time, accompanied by his wife Camille and their son Jean.

The Cliff, Étretat, Sunset (1882 - 1883) by Claude MonetNorth Carolina Museum of Art

When he returned to Étretat, in January and February of 1883, Monet created a series of canvases of the Aval cliff at sunset. It's the only work to portray the orange globe of the sun setting on the horizon.
According to research carried out by the American astrophysicist Don Olson and his team, Monet must have painted this canvas between February 3 and 7, 1883.

The Needle Rock and the Porte d'Aval (1883) by Claude MonetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Monet returned to Étretat at the end of January 1883 for a three-week stay. He started 25 canvases that he hoped to complete for art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel's exhibition, scheduled for March. But, given the bad weather, Monet left Étretat on February 21, extremely disappointed with his productivity.
Monet, however, managed to paint some canvases from the Blanquet hotel located on Le Perrey beach, including "La Falaise et la porte d’Aval" (The Cliff and the Porte d'Aval). The rock needle (L'Aiguille) is barely visible, partly hidden by the Porte d’Aval.

Rough Sea at Etretat (1883) by Claude MonetMusée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

This painting, acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon in 1902 from the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris, belongs to the same series as the previous one. Here Monet depicts the turbulent sea against the face of the Aval cliff.

In the foreground, on the shingle, two men near a boat contemplate the waves.

Yellow Boats in Étretat by Jean Francis AuburtinMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

A few years later, Auburtin found himself at the same sites as Monet. In April 1898, Étretat inspired the painter to create a series of watercolor and gouache landscapes. He depicted the rock needle (L'Aiguille) and the Porte d’Aval, the Manneporte, and the Porte d’Amont.

Etretat (1884) by Claude MonetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

In 1884, Monet returned to Étretat for a short stay that was very unproductive due to persistent bad weather.
That is where Monet stood outside the Blanquet hotel and depicted boats docked on the beach and others boats grounded on the shingle shore. The Amont cliffs appear in the distance.

Study of Boats on the Beach at Etretat (1885) by Claude MonetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

On November 25, 1885, Monet was delighted to have been able to "portray boats setting sail with the motif of 'caloges' (traditional boats with thatched roofs) in the foreground" (Daniel Wildenstein, "Claude Monet: Biographie et catalogue raisonné" (Claude Monet: Biography and Comprehensive Annotated Catalog), Volume II, 1882–86, Lausanne, Paris, Arts Library, 1979, no. 629, p. 268). The subject interested the artist so much that he would dedicate several canvases to it. He animatedly depicted fishing boats grounded on the shingle shores, the restlessness of the waves, and people out for a stroll.
In this study, Monet tightly framed two boats closest to the water. The very simple composition is structured around three horizontals punctuated by the two colored diagonals of the boats.

Boats in Étretat (1902) by Jean Francis AuburtinMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Like Monet and Eugène Boudin before him, Auburtin painted the boats lined up on the beach of Étretat. They are sometimes punctuated by the slender silhouette of a fisherman.
In this work, parallels can be drawn between Auburtin and the Nabi painters, with his use of black to outline the motif and large areas of flat colors. His art, which was developed at the crossroads of different influences, stemmed from his admiration for the great masters of Japanese printmaking.

Étretat, the Needle, and the Porte d’AvalMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Monet returned to Étretat with his family in September 1885.
He hurriedly started on 51 canvases, many of which would be completed at his Giverny workshop. Twenty-four depicted the Porte d’Aval and the rock needle (L'Aiguille), six depicted the Porte d'Amont, and ten were of boats on the beach. A further six were of the Manneporte, one of Antifer, and four of hinterland landscapes.
Monet also produced canvases that had been started during previous stays. He returned, for the last time, for a few days in February 1886.

The Cliffs at Etretat (1885) by Claude MonetMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

In 1886, in an article entitled "La vie d’un paysagiste", writer Guy de Maupassant introduced Monet to readers of the periodical Gil Blas. He described the artist just as he had met him—on the cliffs of Étretat one year earlier, capturing "in a few brush strokes, the falling sunbeams or the passing cloud.[…] I saw him catching a glittering fall of light on the white cliff and painting it with a flow of yellow tones that were strangely giving an amazing and fleeting impression of that elusive and blinding dazzle. In truth, he was no longer a painter, but a hunter." (Guy de Maupassant, "La vie d’un paysagiste," in "Gil Blas," September 28, 1886, p. 1).

The Étretat Needle, Red Sky (c. 1898-1900) by Jean Francis AuburtinMusée des impressionnismes Giverny

Auburtin followed in Monet's footsteps, choosing similar sites in Normandy. He depicted the cliffs of Étretat with the same efficiency and decisiveness in his choice of framing and motif.
The series depicting the needle (L'Aiguille) and the Porte d’Aval place him amongst the best representatives of Japanism in France.

Credits: Story

The exhibition “Monet/Auburtin. An Artistic Encounter' is grateful for the support of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Francine and Michel Quentin, and the Association Les Amis et les descendants de Jean Francis Auburtin.

Marie-Claire et Christian Blanckaert, Katherine Bourguignon, François Doury, Elizabeth Glassman, Elizabeth Hopkins, François-Xavier Labarraque, Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond, Annick Le Ciclé, François Le Ciclé, Hannah McAulay, Franck Medioni, Philippe Piguet, Francine et Michel Quentin, Cathy Ricciardelli, Francesca Rose

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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