Monet’s Letters: Fishing Boats (Bateaux De Pêche)

During his time in Étretat, as well as many other periods in his life, Claude Monet’s greatest enemy was himself. Despite the physical challenges presented by the cold winter weather in the seaside village on the Normandy Coast, the plein-air painter’s most difficult challenge to overcome was his persistent fear of a lackluster career and overall artistic failure.

In a letter written to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, while on his first sojourn in Étretat in 1883, Monet describes a series of sleepless nights when thoughts of hopelessness seemed to never end. But the discovery of a new painting location in the annex of his hotel which captures the picturesque cliffs and fishing boats lining the shore brings Monet renewed creative inspiration.

This audio recording is paired with Monet’s painting, “Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche),” on the free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat at the Seattle Art Museum through October 17. Tune in when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), 1883

“… I am so worried that I can’t sleep anymore; tonight too, consumed with thinking about this damned exhibition, I listened to the lashing rain and felt hopeless. However, I didn’t waste my day. I was able to install myself in an annex of the hotel from which you have a superb view of the cliff and the boats. So I worked all morning from this window, regretting I hadn’t done it sooner because I would have been able to quietly create some superb things. Anyway, there are always calamities.” February 10, 1883.

– Claude Monet

Image: Fishing Boats (Bateaux de pêche), 1883, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 × 36 1/2 in., Denver Art Museum: Frederic C. Hamilton Collection, 2020.568, image courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

Monet’s Letters: Boats on the Beach at Étretat

Claude Monet traveled to the small fishing village of Étretat twice to paint the setting’s spectacular natural landscape. Both voyages—one in 1883 and another in 1885—took place in the winter season. Despite consistently cold weather and an unpredictable sea, Monet found these months of uninterrupted solitude and pure engagement with nature to be the most fruitful in his artistic endeavors.

Listen to excerpts of three letters Claude Monet wrote to his companion, Alice Hoschedé, while in Étretat in 1885. Written across five days, these letters express a combination of artistic inspiration and frustration. An unexpected period of good weather and the sight of local fisherman lining the shore each morning left Monet feeling both grateful for the beauty that surrounded him and raging at his inability to capture it all on his easels. With his time in Étretat soon coming to a close, Monet wondered whether he would ever be satisfied with his work.

This audio recording is part of a free smartphone tour of Monet at Étretat and accompanies the painting Boats on the Beach at Étretat, on view at the Seattle Art Museum through October 17. Take the tour when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

Boats on the Beach at Étretat, 1885

“. . . Etretat is becoming more and more amazing; it’s at its best now, the beach with all these fine boats, it’s superb and I rage at my inability to express it all better. You’d need to use both hands and cover hundreds of canvases.” October 20, 1885.

“For three days it’s been superb weather and I’m taking advantage of it, I can tell you; the boats are getting ready for the herring, the beach is transformed—very animated, so interesting.” October 21, 1885.

“I’ve begun quite a few things here, repetitions, in the hope of being able to work every day, but it doesn’t go quickly. It is true that with several good sessions the canvases can quickly take shape; I have returned to some canvases and I don’t really know how I will get it all.” October 24, 1885.

– Claude Monet

Image: Boats on the Beach at Étretat, 1885, oil on canvas, Claude Monet, French, 1840–1926, 26 × 32 7/16 in., Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1947.95, photo: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY

Conservation & Color: Monet’s Fishing Boats at Étretat

Take a close look at Monet’s 1885 painting Fishing Boats at Étretat with Nicholas Dorman, SAM’s Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator. Dorman shares about the canvas, the colors, and the layers of revisions that makes SAM’s single Monet painting sing. As the inspiration for the current Monet at Étretat exhibition at Seattle Art Museum, Fishing Boats at Étretat was closely examined and conserved, revealing much about the context of Monet’s artistic development at this pivotal moment in his career. Learn all about advances in paint and the cumbersome process of plein air painting in 19th-century France in this video.

One of the Monet at Étretat galleries is dedicated to Monet’s process and features an easel similar to one Monet would have used, as well as the backs of two paintings. This demonstrates the physically demanding process Monet embarked on in painting outside, and the materials available to work with at the time. The exhibition features 10 paintings created by Monet and 12 works by other artists of his era, as well as other materials addressing the artist’s engagement with the fishing village of Étretat on the Normandy Coast of France in the mid-1880s. Get your tickets today to see Monet at Étretat on view at Seattle Art Museum through October 17.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM’s Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

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