1840-1926 | French
Inscribed, signed and dated lower left: à mon ami Dermit / O. Monet / Havre.59.
Black chalk and white chalk on blue paper
Claude Monet holds the distinction of one of the most beloved artists of our time and a pioneer of the Impressionist movement. His earliest successes provide the rare opportunity to see the raw talent of the young man who would one day be known as a master. In his 1859 chalk on paper L'ami dermit, a young Claude Monet captures an intimate caricature bursting with the same technical skill and sensitivity that would come to mark the artist's monumental career.
Working with measured strokes of pastels and chalk, Monet’s effusive work breathes life into his friend Dermit. The subject stands with his hands in the pockets of his trousers, leaning in a sort of modern contrapposto with a comically small body and oversized head. Monet masterfully captures the glistening eyes of his friend, who gazes away from the viewer with his contemplative expression. With his casual pose and the lit cigarette loosely held in his lips, Dermit appears pensive and lost in thought. At once jovial and tender, the portrait Monet captures exudes a true-to-life quality, even with its amusing exaggerations.
Monet’s explorations in caricature coincide with his attendance at the Le Havre school, where he studied drawing under Francois-Charles Ochard. Of this early period in his artistic development, Monet later recalled: “I drew garlands in the margins of my books and covered the blue paper of my exercise books with the most fantastical ornaments, which included highly irreverent drawings of my masters, full-face or profile, with maximum distortion.” Looking at his application of pastel and chalk to the very same blue schoolbook paper in L’ami Dermit, the playfulness of the young artist is clear. Monet began to gift these satirical images to his classmates, eventually garnering enough praise to sell them for a profit — about 20 francs — per portrait. This success led him to exhibit these caricatures at Gravier’s, the framer’s shop in Le Havre. Monet once described watching the passerby gather at the window to smile and laugh at his drawings and said, “I was just bursting with pride.” Only 19 years old when he sketched L’ami Dermit, Monet had no way to know that these exhibitions and small sales would be the first of many in his illustrious career, with auction records now reaching over $100,000,000.
World-class museums around the globe have collected these desirable and humorous caricatures, from the Louvre in Paris to the Art Institute of Chicago, which has amassed a particularly impressive collection. The images’ lasting humor speaks to a sort of artistic brotherhood— and continually finds favor among collectors worldwide. Fewer than one hundred of these caricatures survive today, and the overwhelming majority of these are in museums. Our drawing has the distinction of bearing the desirable signature “O. Monet,” a rare occurrence as the artist only went by his formal name Oscar-Claude Monet during the beginning of his career. L’ami Dermit was so beloved by Monet that he kept it himself, and it remained with Monet’s son Michel until four decades after his father’s death.
Unframed: 22 1/4" high x 14 3/4" wide
Framed: 32 1/8" high x 25" wide
Possibly presented by the artist to the subject, M. Dermit, Le Havre
Michel Monet, Giverny
Nathan Leeb (acquired c. 1962); by descent to a
Private collection; sale (Paris, Christie’s, December 3, 2007, lot 44, illus. in cat.[color])
M.S. Rau, New Orleans
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet: catalogue raisonné, V, Supplément aux peintures,dessins, pastels…, Lausanne, 1991, p. 143, no. D 486.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, and Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and FrancineClark Art Institute, The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings (cat. by J.A. Ganz and R. Kendall), 2007, pp. 46, 280, notes 10, 39.
S. Le Men, Monet, Paris, 2010, pp. 34, and 429, note 29.