Monet’s earliest collected works, amassed during his his first two decades in Paris as he made a name for himself as an artist, were gifts. What is considered to be the first work is a caricature created by Charles Lhuillier, who, like Monet at the time, was selling such drawings to make money. During those early years Monet first met of the artists who would later become his close friend and colleagues, including Renoir and Manet; they would sit for one another and give each other the resulting portraits. During this period, Monet also wrote to his mentor, Boudin, and asked him to send works.
Later, Monet would be gifted more significant works, like a portrait of his family done by Manet in 1874. Caillebotte gifted the artist an oil painting, The Piano Lesson (c. 1879), and a sketch for his now-famous Paris Street. Rainy Day (1877). Monet would continue receive works as a gesture of gratitude or honor from peers and family members of artists throughout his life. He received three works by Berthe Morisot, the first from the artist herself—including The Bath (1886), now in the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute—and later, from her daughter Julie, given in her mother’s memory. He similarly acquired three works by Pissarro—two etchings and a painting. The latter, Peasant Women Planting Peasticks (1891), was a gift from the artist’s wife as thanks for financial aid that Monet had given to help the Pissarro family purchase a home.
In 1888, Monet met Rodin. The pair became colleagues, showing together with the dealer Georges Petit, and they made a friendly swap: the former’s 1886 painting of Belle-ÎÎle-en-Mer for the latter’s bronze cast of Jeune mère à la grotte (1885).
Monet’s earliest purchases were done so with great consideration, the Musée Marmottan curators have determined, indicated by the fact that these were pieces that the artist held onto for the length of his life. Among these works was Cézanne’s Picnic on a Riverbank (1873–74). As the artist would tell his biographer four decades later, it was a bargain.
“This painting cost me fifty francs, as I have the honor of telling you . . . Yes, fifty francs!,” Monet told Elder. “But that was long ago, very long ago. . . . Forty years ago a modest color merchant known as Père Martin bought some paintings from Sisley, Pissarro and myself. One day, I offered him a canvas. We agreed on a hundred francs, but he was short. . . . However, as he wished to pay me at once, he offered me fifty francs and this little Cézanne to make up the sum. I accepted.”
Another early purchase was Manet’s Woman in a Fur Coat in Profile (c. 1879), which was included in a sale at Hôtel Drouot in February 1884, where Durand-Ruel purchased it for 180 francs; Monet would purchase it from the dealer for 250 francs.
He had developed a habit of attending day sales of auctions and the exhibitions that preceded them, but never bidding. Instead, he would work with a dealer or acquaintance who would do the bidding, and he would later purchase the work from that person, thus maintaining his own privacy. Woman in a Fur Coat in Profile was the first work he had acquired this way.
Around this time, Monet also purchased Degas’s Woman Drying Herself after the Bath (or The Tub) (1876–77), from the dealers Boussod and Valadon, though there is no record of what he paid. “Whether it was Cézanne or Degas, the most surprising thing is that he did not go directly to the artists themselves, since he had known them for more than fifteen years,” the curators write in the “Monet Collectionneur” catalogue essay.