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Claude Monet: Life and Art of the Founder of Impressionism

Claude Monet by Nadar, 1899, WikipediaCommons.
Claude Monet portrayed by Nadar, 1899.

By Charlotte Lydia Stace

“Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment”

Claude Monet

French painter Claude Monet was recognized as one of the founders of Impressionism, as well as one of the foremost figures of French art. Across his lengthy career, he was the most important practitioner of Impressionism’s philosophy of illustrating perceptions of light and nature, especially applied to plein air painting (outdoor landscape painting). During his work as an artist, he produced many paintings and his work influenced that of countless others. 

Read on to discover more about Claude Monet’s paintings, life and legacy. 

Biography of Claude Monet

One of the most well-known contributors in the history of art, whose works can be seen in museums around the world, Claude Monet was born on November 14, 1840, in Paris. 

Early Life 

In 1845, when he was 5, Monet’s family moved to Le Havre, a port town in Normandy. He developed a love for art at an early age, filling his books with drawings and caricatures of his classmates. His mother supported his artistic endeavors but died in 1857 causing him a long period of grief. 

Later, he encountered Eugene Boudin, a local landscape artist. Following this, Monet began capturing the natural world in his work, as well as devoting more time to plein air painting, which eventually became the epicenter of Monet’s art.

Paris and Algeria 

Following his love of creating art, the artist went back to Paris in 1857. He enrolled in the Academie Suisse and during his time there met fellow artist Camille Pissarro, who became one of his oldest friends. However, he took a different route from 1861 to 1862 when he joined the military and was sent to Algeria. However, he didn’t stay long, going back to Paris for health-related reasons. Once back, he continued to study art and met several fellow artists including Auguste Renoir.  

The Salon and success 

From 1865, Claude Monet began exhibiting work at The Salon in Paris. Although his work was primarily criticized at the time as being too abstract, over the years he developed a solid reputation. One of his entries to the exhibition was Camille, which featured his future wife Camille Doncieux. After several years together and after the birth of their first son, the family began to struggle financially. This threw the artist into a great depression, leading him to attempt suicide in the Seine River. Luckily, he survived and the businessman Louis-Joachim Guadibert became his patron. 

Monet went from strength to strength, developing his impressionist techniques and avant-garde approach to art until he received another blow – Camille died in 1878 following the birth of their second son. The artist later had an affair with Alice Hoschede, who had been a friend of the Monet’s, looking after his children following Camille’s death. The pair eloped to Giverny in 1883 with their respective children. 

Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny – Later years

Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny became a major feature of his work and a place where he loved to paint. His garden, with its pond, flowers, and Japanese bridge, featured heavily in his subsequent series of works. Following the death of Alice in 1911, he was once again in a period of mourning. He continued to work, even though his health began to deteriorate.

Monet died on December 5, 1926, at his home in Giverny after having spent this last period of his life working on masterpieces such as the Water Lilies series. He is credited with opening the door to further abstraction in art, influencing later artists like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. Monet’s Giverny home has since 1980 housed the Claude Monet Foundation.

Painting style of Claude Monet

Claude Monet’s Impressionism was ground-breaking and set a new trend in the Parisian avant-garde scene. He tended to focus mainly on depicting landscapes and the leisure pursuits of Parisiens going about their activities. Monet’s artworks are mostly imbued with his unique style which used expressive brushstrokes and blurred shapes and colors to capture natural light and forms. His objective was to give the “impression” of what he saw. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of Claude Monet’s Impressionist art. 

Claude Monet’s famous paintings 

Monet’s art has inspired generations and art lovers – here are some of his most famous Impressionist artworks. 

Impression Sunrise, 1872

Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise, 1872, Musée Marmottan Monet
Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1872, Musée Marmottan Monet

Impression Sunrise depicts a port scene at Le Havre. He captured the misty harbor with dark ships and boats cast in front of an orange-yellow hue from the sun trying to shine through. In 1874, Monet exhibited this painting, alongside works from artists including Camille Pissarro, Édouard Manet, and Paul Cézanne, in a privately organized exhibition. Some visitors criticized these works as “graffiti”, yet Impression Sunrise received the most positive feedback. 

When asked for a title for the catalog, the painter realized the painting couldn’t be taken for a view of the city so simply: “Put ‘impression’.'” I didn’t know, at the time that his improvized title would soon name an artistic movement as a whole. The painting became the most famous of the show due to the criticism surrounding it by reason of both its title and its rather unfinished look. Today one of the most iconic works of modern art, Impression, Sunrise belongs to the collection of the Musée Marmottan where it was put back on display in 1991, after being stolen in 1985.

The Manneporte (Étretat), 1883

Claude Monet, The Manneporte (Étretat), 1883, The Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Claude Monet, The Manneporte (Étretat), 1883, The Metropolitan Museum, New York. 

Claude Monet’s Étretat was painted while he was staying in Étretat, a small fishing village in Normandy. He captured 20 beach scenes here, as well as extraordinary rock formations including The Manneporte shown above.

Haystack series, 1890-91

Claude Monet, Haystack Series (1899-1891), Art Institute of Chicago
Claude Monet, Haystack Series (1899-1891), Art Institute of Chicago
Claude Monet, Haystack Series (1899-1891), Art Institute of Chicago
Claude Monet, Haystack Series (1899-1891), Art Institute of Chicago

Claude Monet’s Haystacks is a series whose primary subjects are haystacks that have been left in a field after harvesting. The artist created 25 paintings between 1890 and 1891 that make up this series. Notably and masterfully illustrate Monet’s Impressionist approach to capturing light. He used repetition of the same subject to highlight his perception of light and how it changed according to the different times of day, seasons and weather. 

Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875

Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. 

Featuring his wife Camille and his eldest son, Woman with a Parasol is one of Claude Monet’s most well-loved images. He painted from below the subjects giving Camille an almost iconic feel, representing his love and admiration for her. Rather than a formal portrait, he wanted to create the feeling of a casual, carefree family day out. His vibrant use of brushstrokes was used to give a sense of this fleeting moment. He uses bright colors to represent the beams of sunlight hitting the umbrella and their clothes. 

Water Lilies

Claude Monet, The Water Lily Pond, 1899, The National Gallery, London.
Claude Monet, The Water Lily Pond, 1899, The National Gallery, London. 
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1906, The Art Institute of Chicago.
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1906, The Art Institute of Chicago. 
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914-26, MoMa, New York.
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914-26, MoMa, New York. 

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies is a series of 250 oil paintings that capture his garden in Giverny. The focal point of his work during the last 30 years of his life, this series is his most well-known and revered collection of paintings. Produced while he was suffering from cataracts in one eye lacerated by the death of his wife and his son Jean, these works depict features of the location including the Japanese bridge across the lily pond, the light rippling across the water, the changes in color of the seasons and surrounding trees and vegetation. As the series progressed his work became more abstract and impressionistic. His final paintings of the series blend brushstrokes and colors to evoke the natural beauty of his lilies. The most recognized example of this is his triptych painted during 1914-26 now at the MoMa in New York. 

Legacy of Claude Monet

Monet’s work is considered some of the greatest in art history. After dying in 1926, the artist’s work has been shown in countless exhibitions across the world. Today, some of his most important works are held in museums such as the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, The National Gallery in London, The Museum of Modern art in New York, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, amongst others. His work will live on in these spaces for all to see, for generations to come. 

Relevant sources to learn more

What might have been served at Monet’s lunch table? Read The Art of Cooking: Artists in the Kitchen

Did you know that Monet’s painting Meules (1890) was the most expensive work of art sold in 2019? Discover The Most Expensive Paintings 2010-2014 and 2015-2019

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