CLAUDE MONET: Leading the Impressionist Way

Claude Monet, 1920 - photo by Encyclopedia Britannica

Claude Monet: An Artist’s Early Life

Born in Paris in 1840, November 14, Claude-Oscar Monet was the second son of grocer Claude-Adolphe and singer Louise-Justine Aubrée. Monet attended the Le Havre secondary school of the arts in April of 1851. His first drawing lessons were under Jacques-Louis David’s former student Jacques-Francois Ochard. At his young age, Monet was both an artist and an entrepreneur. He would sell his charcoal drawings – of which he became known for at Le Havre – for 10 to 20 francs apiece. Monet learned how to use oil paints from fellow artist Eugène Boudin, whom he met at beaches of Normandy in around 1856 to 1857. Boudin was also the one who taught him outdoor or “en plein air” painting techniques.

The Woman in the Green Dress, Claude Monet – photo by Wikimedia Commons

Monet moved back to Paris in 1859 to study art, despite not getting a scholarship. Instead of enrolling at Ecole des Beaux-Arts and becoming a salon painter, which was customary at that time, he chose to go to Académie Suisse, an avant-garde school. Unlike most painters whom he observed copying the great masters at the Louvre, Monet would sit by a window with his paints and painted what he saw.

He was drafted into the First Regiment sent to Algeria in 1861. Having contracted typhoid, his aunt Marie-Jeanne Lecarde intervened and got him out of the army. Returning to Le Havre, Dutch landscape and marine artist Johan Jongkind gave him his “final education of the eye”. Monet left for Paris shortly after and studied under Swiss artist Charles Gleyre. It was in Gleyre’s studio that he met fellow students -and future Impressionists- Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The four found new approaches, painting with quick brushstrokes and broken colour, capturing the effect of light en plein air.

In 1866, Monet painted The Woman in the Green Dress (La Femme à la Robe Verte) also known as Monet’s Camille, brought the painter recognition. It was one of many of Monet’s works featuring Camille Doncieux, Monet’s wife. Camille was also the model for the figures in On the Bank of the Seine and The Woman in the Garden.

Monet: Pillar of Impressionism

The Thames below Westminster by Claude Monet – photo by Impressionism and Impressionists

In 1870, Monet, together with his wife and newborn son, Jean, moved to London to escape the Franco-Prussian War. Monet visited the London museums to study the works of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. The romantic naturalism of their landscapes would inspire his use of light. Monet’s Westminster Bridge (1871) was one of the many scenes he painted in London. It was also here that he met Paul Durand-Ruel who owns a modern art gallery on Bond Street. Durand-Ruel became Monet’s major supporter.

He then left London in May 1871 and lived in Zaandam, Netherlands, producing 25 paintings. Monet and his family returned to France in the last quarter of the same year. They settled in the Parisian suburb of Argenteuil. He developed his style over the course of his six-year stay in Argenteuil, recording the changes of the place in over 150 canvases. Monet’s presence attracted his Parisian friends Renoir and Manet. Monet and Manet influenced each other’s works and though the latter was a more established artist than the former, in 1874, Monet won Manet over to en plein air painting.

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet – photo by Wikipedia

Shortly after his return to Paris, Monet painted Impression, Sunrise which depicted the landscape of Le Havre. It hung together with his friend’s works in the first Impressionist exhibition held at photographer Felix Nadal’s former studio in 1874. Monet and his friends, together with Pissarro, Renoir and Degas were among the first artists to the changes in Paris. Their works featured the modernisation of Paris in a unique way, with the essence of spontaneity and intuitive feeling visible on the canvas. It was from Sunrise that the term “impressionism” arose. Art critic Louis Leroy coined the term, intending to disparage the artists, but the artists appropriated the term for themselves.

Madame Monet became ill in 1876 and the birth of their second son Michel in 1878 caused the further decline of her health. Monet’s extravagant tastes which sunk them in debt did not help their situation. They moved to Vétheuil that same year to the home of the Hoschede family. The Hoschedes were great friends with the Monets as well as a supportive patron. 1878 had not been a good year for Monet. Aside from Camille’s worsening condition, Ernest Hoschede’s business went bankrupt, and he left his family for Belgium. Monet was then left with his two sons, his sick wife, together with Alice Hoschede and her six children. Camille eventually succumbed to tuberculosis in September 1879, leaving a grief-stricken Monet. Camille remained his model until her death; Monet’s last painting of his beloved wife was on her death bed.

On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, Claude Monet, 1868 – photo by Art Institute of Chicago

Camille’s death changed Monet (he swore to no longer be mired in poverty) as well as his works. Monet’s paintings then began to focus on the fluidity of time as well as the arbitrating effects of atmosphere and personality on his subject. Monet’s best paintings were created during this time.

In looking for a home for Alice and their (combined) eight children, Monet found a property in Giverny. The house and garden enchanted Monet. They were able to rent it and later own and even expand it. This house, particularly its garden was the main inspiration for Monet’s work in the last 30 years of his life.

Moving to Giverny brought Monet great success. It was here that Monet began working on series paintings; paintings for which he will be more known for later on. These paintings often depicted the same scene but in varying light as well as weather conditions. His paintings were not only sought for locally but was quite popular in England and the United States as well. He focused more on the environment and atmosphere in his later works while focusing less on modernity. These works when exhibited in 1891 at the Galerie Durand-Ruel received critical acclaim from buyers as well as the general public. Monet also produced series paintings of Rouen Cathedral, Poplars and Mornings on the Seine. Monet also painted the water lilies in his Giverny home.

Monet: Last Years and Legacy

The Water Lily Pond By Monet – photo by Fine Art America

In his later years, Monet preferred being alone with nature and painting. From 1880 to 1890, he travelled to London, Norway, Venice and around France. He settled in his home in Giverny from 1908 to his death. Alice, whom he married in 1892, died in 1911, followed by his son Jean. With the deaths of his loved ones, the gloom brought by World War I and worsening eye cataracts, Monet eventually ceased to paint.

French statesman, Georges Clemenceau, managed to pull him out of his mourning. He encouraged Monet to paint a glorious artwork. Monet was able to create a sequence of waterscapes in an oval salon despite his cataracts, for which he had a couple of operations done.

Monet’s Water Lilies, a series of paintings can be found in the Orangerie museum. The series are displayed in two elliptical rooms, giving the viewers a feel of being in water surrounded by the lilies.

Water Lilies, Claude Monet, 1919 – photo by Wikipedia

Monet died of lung cancer at the age of 86 on December 5, 1926. Monet insisted on a simple burial. About 50 people attended his funeral, and his remains are interred at the Giverny church cemetery.

In 1966, his heirs bequeathed his Giverny home and garden with the famous lily pond to the French Academy of Fine Arts. Following refurbishment, the house and garden were opened to visitors in 1980 through Foundation Claude Monet.

Impressionism, to this day, remains to be one of the most popular art movements as proven by popular mass consumption. Reprints and replicas of Impressionist paintings, particularly that of Monet can often be seen as postcards, posters, notebook covers and calendars.