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The Break-up of the Ice (La Débâcle or Les Glaçons)

Claude Monet

Artwork Details

The Break-up of the Ice (La Débâcle or Les Glaçons)
Claude Monet
oil on canvas
23 ¾ in x 39 3/10 in (60.33 cm x 99.85 cm);32 ½ in x 48 in x 2 ¾ in (82.55 cm x 121.92 cm x 6.99 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Russell B. Stearns (LS&A, 1916), and his wife Andree B. Stearns, Dedham, Massachusetts


March 28 2009
The winter of 1879–80 was one of Europe’s coldest on record and Monet, who was living in the small town of Vétheuil, witnessed first hand the devastation when the frozen Seine river thawed, dislodging large ice floes that inundated the countryside and damaged bridges. In this painting, Monet explores two contrasting aspects of painting: spatial recession and surface patterning. As the Seine recedes at the left, Monet’s vertical reflections and horizontal floes superimpose a painterly grid that brings the eye constantly back to the surface of the canvas. The exploration of this tension between depth and surface was one of the defining concerns of his career.
This debacle of the Seine was the subject of about twenty paintings that Monet worked on into the early spring of 1880. These paintings of ice floes chart Monet’s early fascination with capturing the same motif under differing conditions of light and at different times of day. They were produced over a period of months, while Monet’s later series such as those of haystacks, poplar trees, and Rouen cathedral, were extended investigations of the ephemeral effects of light on a motif during ever-narrower time frames—some as brief as fifteen minutes in duration.

Physical Description:

A sweeping winter river scene opens up from the foreground and sweeps away towards the left. Ice floes dot the river surface and snowy hills frame trees that stand along the riverbank in the middle distance. The palette of this painting is restricted to mauves, blues, greens, and whites.

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