Claude Monet: Life And Works

Claude Monet: Life and Works

Oscar-Claude Monet (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) was a founder of French Impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term “Impressionism” is derived from the title of his painting Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), which was exhibited in 1874 in the first of the independent exhibitions mounted by Monet and his associates as an alternative to the Salon de Paris.

Monet’s ambition of documenting the French countryside led him to adopt a method of painting the same scene many times in order to capture the changing of light and the passing of the seasons. From 1883 Monet lived in Giverny, where he purchased a house and property, and began a vast landscaping project which included lily ponds that would become the subjects of his best-known works. In 1899 he began painting the water lilies, first in vertical views with a Japanese bridge as a central feature, and later in the series of large-scale paintings that was to occupy him continuously for the next 20 years of his life.


Claude Monet biography

Claude Monet art

Claude Monet facts

Claude Monet paintings

Claude Monet quotes

Claude Monet biography

The French painter Claude Monet was the leading figure in the growth of impressionism, a movement in which painters looked to nature for inspiration and used vibrant light and color rather than the solemn browns and blacks of previous paintings.

Background and early influences

Claude Monet was born in Paris, France, on November 14, 1840. His father, Adolphe Monet, was a grocer. In 1845 the family moved to Le Havre, France, where Monet’s father and uncle ran a business selling supplies for ships. By the time he was fifteen Monet had become popular as a caricaturist (one who makes exaggerated portraits of people). Through an exhibition of his drawings at a local frame shop in 1858, Monet met Eugène Boudin, a landscape painter who became a great influence on the young artist. Boudin introduced Monet to outdoor painting, an activity that soon became his life’s work.

By 1859 Monet was determined to pursue an artistic career. He worked at the free Académie Suisse in Paris, and he frequented the Brasserie des Martyrs, a gathering place for Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) and other French painters of the 1850s.

Early period

Monet’s studies were interrupted by military service in Algeria (1860–62). In 1862 he entered the studio of Charles Gleyre in Paris and met Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), Alfred Sisley (1839–1899), and Jean Frédéric Bazille (1841–1870). During 1863 and 1864 he often worked in the forest at Fontainebleau, France, with other artists including Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867) and Jean François Millet (1814–1875). At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Monet traveled to London, England, where he met the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. The following year Monet and his wife, Camille, whom he had married in 1870, settled at Argenteuil, France, which became his home for the next six years.
Monet’s constant movements during this period were directly related to his artistic ambitions. He was interested in natural light, atmosphere, and color, and he tried to record them in his paintings as accurately as possible. A striking example of his early style is the Terrace at the Seaside, Sainte-Adresse (1866), which contains a shining mixture of bright, natural colors. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, he was often short of money and destroyed his own paintings rather than have them taken away by creditors (those to whom money is owed).

Monet and impressionism

As William Seitz wrote, “The landscapes Monet painted at Argenteuil between 1872 and 1877 are his best-known, most popular works, and it was during these years that impressionism most closely approached a group style.” Monet exhibited regularly in the impressionist group shows, the first of which took place in 1874. On that occasion his painting Impression: Sunrise (1872) inspired a newspaper critic to call all the artists “impressionists,” and the name stuck. Monet and the impressionists discovered that even the darkest shadows and the gloomiest days contain a wide variety of colors. However, Monet learned that he had to paint quickly and to use short brushstrokes loaded with individual colors.

During the 1880s the impressionists began to drift apart, although individual members continued to see one another and occasionally work together. Monet gradually gained critical and financial (relating to money) success during the late 1880s and the 1890s. This was due mainly to the efforts of Durand-Ruel, who sponsored one-man exhibitions of Monet’s work as early as 1883 and who, in 1886, also organized the first large-scale impressionist group show to take place in the United States.

Late work

Monet’s wife died in 1879; in 1892 he married Alice Hoschedé. During the 1890s he devoted his energy to paintings of haystacks (1891) and the facade (front) of Rouen Cathedral (1892–94). In these works Monet painted his subjects from the same physical position, allowing only the light and weather conditions to vary from picture to picture. By 1899 he began work on his famous paintings of the many water lilies in his gardens at Giverny, France. Monet’s late years were very difficult. His health declined rapidly, and by the 1920s he was almost blind.

In addition to Monet’s physical ailments, he struggled with the problems of his art. In 1920 he began work on twelve large canvases (each fourteen feet wide) of water lilies, which he planned to give to the state. To complete them, he fought against his own failing eyesight and the fact that he had no experience in creating large-scale mural art. In effect, the task required him to learn a new kind of painting at the age of eighty. The paintings are characterized by a broad, sweeping style and depend almost entirely on color. Monet worked on the water lily paintings until his death on December 5, 1926.

Claude Monet art

Claude Monet was among the leaders of the French Impressionist movement of the 1870s and 1880s. His 1873 painting Impression, Sunrise gave the style its name, and as an inspirational talent and a personality, he was crucial in bringing its adherents together. Inspired in the 1860s by the Realists’ interest in painting in the open air, Monet would later bring the technique to one of its most famous pinnacles with his so-called series paintings, in which his observations of the same subject, viewed at various times of the day, were captured in numerous sequences of paintings. Masterful as a colorist and as a painter of light and atmosphere, his later work often achieved a remarkable degree of abstraction, and this has recommended him to subsequent generations of abstract painters.

Key Ideas

Monet’s early work is indebted to the Realists’ interests in depicting contemporary subject matter, without idealization, and in painting outdoors in order to capture the fleeting qualities of nature.
Inspired in part by Edouard Manet, Monet gradually began to develop a distinctive style of his own in the late 1860s. He departed from the clear depiction of forms and linear perspective, which were prescribed by the established art of the time, and he experimented with loose handling, bold color, and strikingly unconventional compositions. The emphasis in his pictures shifted from figures to the qualities of light and the atmosphere in the scene, and, as he matured, he became ever more attentive to light and color.

In his later years, Monet also became increasingly sensitive to the decorative qualities of color and form. He began to apply paint in smaller strokes, building it up in broad fields of color, and, in the 1880s, he began to explore the possibilities of a decorative paint surface and harmonies and contrasts of color. The effects that he achieved, particularly in the series paintings of the 1890s, represent a remarkable advance towards abstraction and towards a modern painting focused purely on surface effects.

An inspiration and a leader among the Impressionists, he was crucial in attracting Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Edouard Manet and Camille Pissarro to work alongside each other in the Parisian suburb of Argenteuil in the 1870s. He was also important in establishing the exhibition society that would showcase the group’s work between 1874 and 1886.

Most Important Art

Women in the Garden (1866-67)

Women in the Garden
Artwork description & Analysis: Women in the Garden was painted at Ville d’Avray using his wife Camille as the only model. The goal of this large-scale work, while meticulously composed, was to render the effects of true outdoor light, rather than regard conventions of modeling or drapery. From the flickers of sunlight that pierce the foliage of the trees to delicate shadows and the warm flesh tones that can be seen through her sleeve, Monet details the behavior of natural light in the scene. In January 1867, his friend Bazille purchased the work for the sum of 2,500 francs in order to help Monet out of the extreme debt that forced him to slash over 200 canvases to avoid them being taken by his creditors.
Oil on canvas – Louvre, Paris

Westminster Bridge (aka The Thames below Westminster) (1871)

Westminster Bridge (aka The Thames below Westminster)
Artwork description & Analysis: Painted on the Embankment in London, Monet’s Westminster Bridge is one of the finest examples of his work during the time he and his family were in wartime refuge. This simple, asymmetrical composition is balanced by the horizontal bridge, the boats floating upon the waves with the vertical wharf and ladder in the foreground. The entire scene is dominated by a layer of mist containing violet, gold, pink, and green, creating a dense atmosphere that renders the architecture in distant, blurred shapes.
Oil on canvas – The National Gallery, London

Boulevard des Capucines (1873)

Boulevard des Capucines
Boulevard des Capucines captures a scene of the hustle and bustle of Parisian life from the studio of Monet’s friend, the photographer Felix Nadar. Applying very little detail, Monet uses short, quick brushstrokes to create the “impression” of people in the city alive with movement. Critic Leroy was not pleased with these abstracted crowds, describing them as “black tongue-lickings.” Monet painted two views from this location, with this one looking towards the Place de l’Opera. The first Impressionist exhibition was held in Nadar’s studio, and perhaps in a show of respect to his supporter, Monet included this piece.
Oil on canvas – Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City

Lady with a Parasol (1886)

Lady with a Parasol
Artwork description & Analysis: One of Monet’s most popular figure paintings, Lady with a Parasol showcases the parasol, one of his longstanding themes. The parasol itself makes many appearances in his work, primarily because when painting from real life outdoors, most women would use one to protect their skin and eyes. But it also creates a contrast of light and shadows on the figure’s face and clothing, indicating which direction the actual light is coming from. Having already explored this scene in an earlier, more detailed version, On the Cliff (1875), in this work from Giverny, Monet pays little attention to the model’s features, letting them fade into the shadow beneath the parasol.
Oil on canvas – Louvre, Paris

Water Lilies (1916)

Water Lilies
Artwork description & Analysis: Water Lilies is a part of Monet’s water landscape group that was most likely conceived in 1909, but which he did not begin until after several personal traumas that occurred in the early 1910s. He worked in secret on dozens of canvases creating a panorama of water, lilies and sky in his studio within and inspired by his Giverny garden. While he painted from the constructed nature around him, due to his failing eyesight and the flower’s strictly summer bloom, much was painted from his rich memory. The brushstrokes and palettes utilized were varied from earlier works, almost appearing expressionistic.
Oil on canvas – The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

Claude Monet facts

1. His Name Isn’t Actually Claude

The Monet’s were a strong Catholic family. They very much instilled the Catholic doctrine in Monet from an early age. Part of that tradition came with the early baptism. Monet was baptized and given the official name of Oscar-Claude. His parents always called him Oscar. Part of the reason for this was because Monet’s father was also named Claude, so it served to set the two men apart. Monet would become famous without the Oscar name attached, however, but to some he will always be Oscar instead of Claude.

2. He Was an Atheist

Despite being born into a Catholic family, Monet found himself not believing in God at all. Later on in life, he officially renounced the church and decided to become an atheist. The reasons behind the change aren’t really known, but there is a certain power in Monet’s work that some might contribute to the fact that Monet had found himself and filled his spiritual life with something that he had finally found to be meaningful.

3. His Father Hated the Creativity

Monet was drawing by the age of 5. His first drawings tended to be caricatures of the teachers that he had in school. He was known to fill entire school books with drawings instead of the assignments that were due. Over time, after his family moved to the community of Le Havre, Monet became famous in his own right for the drawings he would create of the town’s residents. His father hated all of the drawing and creativity. His goal was to have his son join in on the grocery business. His mother, however, completed supported every artistic endeavor Monet attempted.

4. Typhoid and Art, Forever Linked

At the age of 17, Monet’s mother passed away and so he went to live with his aunt so that he could pursue an art education in Paris. Despite the opportunity to study art, Money decided to join the military in 1859. It was a 7 year assignment that he had agreed to serve, but in his second year of service, he contracted a bad case of typhoid fever. At the pleadings of his aunt, Monet was released from the military on one condition – he had to complete an art course at an accredited school.

5. Monet Hated Modern Art

One of the biggest struggles that Monet always faced was the fact that he had no love for the modern art at the time. The traditional techniques seemed bland and boring. For this reason, Monet decided to apprentice under Charles Gleyre, a Swiss artist who wanted to experiment with new techniques. Over time, Money would run into other artists that felt the same way he did about traditional art. The group of artists would meet regularly to discuss what changes could impact the art world and those discussions eventually went on to become the foundation of Impressionism.

6. He Loved To Paint His Wife

Monet was a family man above anything else. He enjoyed painting, but he enjoyed painting his family more. That’s one of the reasons why his wife is the model in many of the paintings that brought him acclaim over the years. There’s probably another hidden fact in here: that Monet may not have had the money available to hire models to pose for a painting. Monet’s wife is featured in paintings like Women in the Garden and On the Bank of the Seine.

7. An Intense Painting

Monet and his wife had two sons together, but when their second son was born in 1878, her health was not good. She was already suffering from tuberculosis and then she was diagnosed a little later on with uterine cancer. She passed away just a year later and Money painted his wife while she was on her deathbed. It may have been well over a century ago, but it is still one of the most intense paintings that anyone will ever see.

8. A Critic’s Scorn Brought Fame

A view from his window of the harbor was called Sunrise, but it was initially called Impression because the goal was to create the suggestion of a harbor instead of defining the full characteristics of the shapes that were seen. A critic scorned the painting, saying that it wasn’t even as good as some wallpaper that someone put up in their home. The title of the article was “The Exhibition of the Impressionists.” That’s how the movement got its name and eventually its popularity. Even music and literature began taking on features of the artistic impressionists.

9. 30 Years of Amazing Work

Although Monet’s early work is fascinating, it is his later work in life that tends to be displayed in museums and is considered the best work of his life. Over his last 30 years, Monet painted about 250 oil paintings. What is remarkable about this accomplishment is the fact that Monet had a severe cataract that limited his vision tremendously. He could barely see what he was painting, yet the details in the paintings are tremendously accurate.

10. He Really Loved the Houses of Parliament

Monet was particularly stricken by the Gothic spires that were part of the Houses of Parliament in London. He loved it so much that over the course of 4 years, he would paint the exact same scene 4 different times, but with different environmental conditions to lend to new forms of Impressionism. His first painting depicts the iconic buildings in the fog. There’s also sunrise, sunset, and a stormy night that all feature the same buildings from the perspective.

11. He Designed His Own Gardens

Monet didn’t get his hands dirty with gardening, but he didn’t have a problem designing the overall layout of his garden. He hired several gardens to implement his plans, but it was his designs that would be followed by the hired hands. Many of his masterpieces were from designs that he saw in his gardens at Giverny, including the famous water lilies that are considered his lifetime masterpiece that was put onto canvas.

12. He Was Just a Regular Guy

Monet is a celebrated figure in art today, but the reality is that he was just an average guy who wanted to earn a decent living for his family. He saw his fair share of tragedies over the years. Monet was a widower twice. His stepdaughter helped to take care of him for the final 12 years of his life because of the severe cataracts. His oldest son died in 1914, a full 12 years before he succumbed to lung cancer. The fact that one of his paintings sold for $40 million in 2008 would have completed surprised him. What Monet’s work ethic proves is that a little hard work and ambition can take anyone anywhere.

13. Monet Was Fascinated With Death

One of the common themes that were found in Monet’s paintings was the exploration of death. Namely, his own death. At one point, the artist even tried to kill himself by drowning in the Seine because he couldn’t pay all of his bills. Because his home and grounds were bequeathed to the French government and there’s a foundation in his name, many believe that Monet was the typical rich French artists that received major endowments for his work so that he could live comfortably and paint. That is far from the truth with Monet.

14. There’s a Second Monet

Many of the canvasses that Monet used actually had a different painting on them. When he wasn’t satisfied with how a painting was turning out, he would simply paint over the existing canvas. There’s a good chance that several of his most famous paintings have more than one draft of them buried underneath the layers of oil paint that is on display. We’ll probably never know what those early draft paintings looked like, which is much like the mysteries that make up the man himself.

Claude Monet was just an average guy, coming from an average family, looking for a way to express himself creatively. He created a large portfolio of work that is treasured today and many of his works are on display in museums around the world. If you get the chance to see one of his paintings in person, look at the depths of emotion that are there before you. Claude Monet changed art forever and the evidence is in every brush stroke.

Claude Monet quotes

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.”

“I would advise young artists . . . to paint as they can, as long as they can, without being afraid of painting badly . . . . If their painting doesn’t improve by itself, it means that nothing can be done – and I wouldn’t do anything!”

“It took me time to understand my water lilies. I had planted them for the pleasure of it; I grew them without ever thinking of painting them.”

“We’re having marvelous weather and I wish I could send you a little of the sunshine. I am slaving away on six paintings a day. I’m giving myself a hard time over it as I haven’t yet managed to capture the color of this landscape, there are moments when I’m appalled at the colors I’m having to use, I’m afraid what I’m doing is just dreadful and yet I really am understating it; the light is simply terrifying.”

“No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition.”

“For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.”

“I am completely absorbed by my work. These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession. They are beyond the strength of an old man, and yet I am determined to set down what I feel. I have destroyed some…I have begun others over again…and I hope that something will come of so much effort.”

“I know that to paint the sea really well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place so that you can understand its way in that particular spot; and that is why I am working on the same motifs over and over again, four or six times even.”

“I am following Nature without being able to grasp her… I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”

“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”

References and useful Resources

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