Though well known for his oil paintings, Monet also worked in other materials such as pastels. . Measuring 39 cm by 23 cm, it is one of his larger pastel drawings.
This dreamy, mesmeric depiction of a coastal scene is highly Impressionistic in its rich use of colour and emotional and dynamic effect.
It was in 1874 that the term Impressionism had, thanks to Monet, begun to be used to describe the school of art to which he belonged. Thus, Etretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d'Aval can definitely be categorised as an example of Impressionism.
Etretat is a real place on the Normandy coast line, and the Needle Rock of the art work's title can clearly be seen just off the centre of the paper.
The fact that Monet was capturing a real spot in France in Etretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d'Aval is very much typical of his work. Like the other key Impressionists, Money preferred to paint and draw in the en plein aire style - this meant carrying a portable easel and artist's materials and creating works of art out in the open air right in front of the natural features or other objects that he was depicting.
Painting in this way also enabled Monet to take what was almost a snapshot of particular times and seasons in particular places, and in so doing he paid particular attention to the way that light worked. All of this can be seen in Etretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d'Aval, which is a moody and yet energetic piece of work.
The emphasis placed on the solidity and opacity of the rock in the foreground are balanced against the metallic hues of the sea and sky, all of which almost enable us to feel the atmosphere of the piece - it seems to be a cold yet quite calm day at sea.
By the time that he came to paint Etretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d'Aval, Monet's career had significantly shifted. In the previous decade, he had focused on painting urban subjects and modern themes. Then, he turned his attention to a new category of art works: those that depicted natural phenomena, often as part of a series of works of the same phenomena at different times of day and year and from different angles.
Etretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d'Aval belongs firmly to this second category of art works. It depicts a natural scene, and it was one of several depictions of Etretat and the Porte d'Aval that Monet completed in his life time. Unlike the piece currently being discussed, however, most of these other works were executed using his more usual method of oil on canvas.
So, Etretat, the Needle Rock and Porte d'Aval both stands out from and fits in to the series of pieces that he created in this area.