Renoir spent a significant part of the late summer in 1879 and 1880 with his patron Paul Berard and Berard’s family at their château at Wargemont in Normandy. The estate lies in farming country east of Dieppe and inland, but at no great distance from the Manche (English Channel). When the artist was not painting portraits of family members (The Met 61.101.15
) or flowers and fruit (The Met 56.218
), from time to time he turned his attention to the surrounding landscape. Here, farm buildings lie in a sheltered cleft above the steep cliffs that characterize long stretches of the wind-swept coast. The trees are in leaf, and the fields have turned yellow. Far out on the unruffled water, which fades from blue to turquoise in the shallows, there are small boats with red sails. Through a V-shaped indentation in the rock to the right, a wave, heavily impasted in white, tumbles toward the (invisible) shore. The small canvas would have been portable, and it is likely that Renoir began work on it in the fields before the motif—seeking to capture the light of the moment—and, in a temporary studio or in Paris, finished it later. While passages of sea and sky are transparent, others are thick with patterns of varicolored hatchings.The Painting:
The views Renoir painted while at Wargemont were for his own pleasure or intended for the art market. None belonged to Berard (who, however, did own a view of Venice by Renoir). The artist retained this one, which was not exhibited in his lifetime, nor published until 1967. There are related signed and dated works from the previous summer (1879), including Road at Wargemont
(Toledo Museum of Art, 1957.33), in which a road winds down a steep slope and slanting beams of light fall over a field and distant woods. The larger Toledo canvas, seemingly left as it was sketched outdoors, displays small dark blobs and blurred skeins of pale tone that read like watercolor. In terms of finish, Wheatfields
(Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan to the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, CTB 1961.11), also of 1879, lies between the Toledo picture and The Met’s: blurring in the distance is combined with layering and hatch marks in the field in the foreground. All three landscapes are without figures. Only someone who had lived nearby would have recognized the precise location of any of them. Ours, a more conventional composition and more highly finished, differs in suggesting the windy conditions that prevail near the coast. A pattern of diagonal strokes in the sky contributes to the effect.
Katharine Baetjer 2021