Claude Monet is one of the most famous French artists and became a leading figure of the Impressionist movement due to his swift yet incisive brushstrokes and his undying desire to grasp and represent one's fleeting perceptions before nature. Claude Monet became one of the most important and influential artists of Western art history through his method of loose brushstrokes, use of vibrant colors, and innovative compositions. In his later production, Monet's artworks increasingly approached abstraction, becoming a key artist in the further development of Modern art.
When the young artist was five years old, he moved with his family to the coast of Normandy near Le Havre, where his father recently took over the family's successful grocery and chandlering business. By that time, Monet would already display a predisposition towards becoming an artist.
This event's importance surpassed the merely biographical value, for it was essential to understand Monet's artistic development. During his childhood, the young artist would spend much of his time along the Norman beaches, which created an intimate and keen perception of nature, from the sea to the rapidly changing weather. All these elements would be later be embodied on canvases.
Monet's first breakthrough in his artistic development was by his fifteen years of age, by selling well-drawn and carefully observed caricatures. During these years, he also produced pencil sketches depicting sailing ships with almost technical qualities. Monet's aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecarde, was an amateur painter, and probably because of her encouragement, the aspiring artist went to study drawing under a local artist.
However, Monet's life as a painter only began when he met fellow artist Eugene Boudin, who became his mentor and taught the artist to paint in oil, presenting the practice of painting outdoors, or en plein air, which at the time, was a rather uncommon practice. This moment would set in motion more than 60 years of artistic development around the momentaneous perception of nature and its phenomena and transferring it into pigment on canvas. Although oil landscape paintings were already produced long before, they were mainly produced in a studio, often using only the recollections instead of applying the direct perceptions of nature observation.
His earliest visit back to his hometown was around 1859 when he came to known the artworks of the Barbizon School painters, such as Constant Troyon and Charles Daubigny. The Barbizon School was a movement that made a significant contribution to the development of French landscape painting during the mid-19th-century. It was also a movement inclined towards Naturalism in art, concepts that encompassed Monet's ideas.
To the vexation of his parents, Monet refused to enroll at the distinguished École des Beaux-Arts. He would rather frequent the meeting places of prominent artists while working at the distinguished Academie Suisse, where he met fellow painter Camille Pissarro.
This rather informal training was discontinued by a convocation to military service. Monet served in Algeria between 1861 and 1862, where he became quite impressed with the African colors and light. Scholars suggest that perhaps the choice to serve in Algeria was an admiration of the artworks by Eugene Delacroix, who produced exquisite coloristic paintings inspired by a trip to Morocco.
Monet returned to Le Havre in 1862, again painting along the seashore with his friend Boudin. During this period, the artist also met the marine painter Johan Barthold Jongkind. Soon, Monet went back to study in Paris, now under Charles Gleyre in his studio, where he came to meet the artists Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Following a disagreement with Gleyre, the group of artists left together to the village of Chailly-en-Biere, near the town of Barbizon and the Fontainebleau forest. Also, Monet was exposed to Japanese prints around this period, a medium that became quite influential on the development of French painting.
Monet's production between 1865 and 1870 attests to the artist's exceptional development during his early career before he began to execute his compositions using fragmented brushstrokes, which became the main characteristic of his mature production. One of the most aspiring artistic projects of his early career is Le Dejeuner Sur l' Herbe A Chailly, named after the Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (The Picnic), a notorious painting by Edouard Manet. In his artwork, Claude Monet, as opposed to Manet, created a significantly contemporary yet unprovocative depiction of a group of picnickers elegantly dressed in the Fontainebleau forest. However, Monet and Manet shared the same preoccupation with representing actual scenes of contemporary life, deprived of contrived romantic, fanciful, or historical subjects.
During this period, Monet's most common subjects were about domestic life, depicting his garden, son, and his wife Camille, whose presence can be noted in artworks by Renoir and Manet as well. However, the aforementioned subjects were not the main focus of Monet's artistic production. He was more preoccupied with developing pictorial means to execute his raw view of nature. In The Beach at Sainte-Adresse and On the Bank of Seine Bennecourt, one can perceive the early stages of his Impressionist style. His paintings made between 1865 and 1867 clearly shows that the artist was not trying to recreate the scene faithfully but rather depict the momentary, fleeting perception of the subject, what is perceived rather than what is known. Whether the real object being represented was heavy or light, they were all created using light and swift brushstrokes.
During the 1860s, Monet's life was itinerant and quite precarious. Although several of his artworks were accepted in the yearly Paris Salon, the artist seldom sold any of them. By the end of the decade, before passing through Honfleur, Chailly, Le Havre, and other terminals between Paris and the coast, Monet ended in a resort known as La Grenouillere. There, Monet worked for the first time with Renoir. During this time, their paintings were considerably similar in style, executed with dynamic notations of bathers, rowboats, and special attention to the scintillating water reflections. Although Monet regarded this production as "bad sketches", they were the stepping stones to the evolution of the Impressionist style. The main focus of this production was interpreting the movement and light using short yet intense brushstrokes, improvised only by the sheer perception of the moment. Until then, these pictorial experiences were not yet applied to a canvas in such a prominent manner.
By the early 1870s, Monet continues to pursue the representation of natural phenomena. Avoiding to serve in the Franco-Prussian War, which broke out in 1870, the artist fled to London, leaving behind his son and his newly married wife, Camille. There, he met Camille Pissarro, who accompanied him on visits to British museums, where they became impressed with artworks by British landscape painters such as J. M. W. Turner and John Constable. By observing the artists mentioned above, Monet and Pissarro became convinced that their method of painting in open air enabled the most authentic representation of light and atmosphere, which was, according to them, impossible to achieve in a studio.
During 1871 and 1872, Monet painted windmills, boats, and canals in the Netherlands before returning to Le Havre. On his way back, the artist rented a house in the city of Argenteuil, by the Seine River. During this period, the Impressionist movement was at its peak. Soon, Monet bought a small boat, which he equipped to become a floating studio. From the boat, the artist produced several landscapes, also painting portraits of Manet and his wife. In 1874, Monet exhibited his Impression Sunrise, which motivated the journalist Louis Leroy to name Monet and his group as the Impressionists.
Between 1876 and 1877, Monet produced an impressive series comprised of 12 canvases depicting the Gare Saint-Lazare train station. Said production was quite different from the customary Impressionist motifs, moving away from elements of nature, now representing train engines that vigorously expelled steam in a great shed filled with agitated moving passengers. This method of exploring the same subjects under different weather and light conditions, which Monet became quite celebrated for, would be fully implemented only by the 1890s.
Around 1881, the original group of Impressionists would begin to disintegrate, subsequently holding two more exhibitions. The last exhibition, which Monet was absent, was held in 1886 after the emerging of the Neo-Impressionist movement. Only Monet would continue to scrutinize nature so passionately. During the 1880s, the most notable places Monet chose to depict were Fecamp, Varangeville, Pourville, and Etretat, in the region of Normandy; the isolated and rugged scenery of the island of Belle-Ile; the Creuse River valley; Antibes and Menton, in Le Midi; and the city of Bordighera, Italy.
In 1883, Monet moved along with his family to the city of Giverny. There, the artist bought a farmhouse circumscribed by an orchard, which became his home until his passing, and today is a French national monument. Following the extensive travels mentioned before, Monet would spend much of the 1890s at Giverny or its adjacencies, focusing on series subsequently. By 1893, the artist had purchased an additional plot of land and began an audacious landscaping project. Many species of water lilies were cultivated along with along the water meadow, resulting in a striking range of colors. The project also included a Japanese bridge over the water. All these elements, along with the everchanging light and mirror-like reflections, led to the next 20 years of Monet's life exploring these motifs, also probably becoming his best-known artworks today.
By the turn of the century, Monet began two quite ambitious projects, both away from Giverny, setting a new change of motifs in his artworks. Between 1899 and 1904, the artist made at least three visits to London to execute multiple series depicting the Waterloo and the Charing Cross bridges, the House of Parliament, and the Thames River. Due to its mysterious mood and exotic coloration, these artworks recall artworks by artists such as James McNeil Whistler and Turner. In these artworks, the artist's main focus was to explore the particularities of the atmosphere rather than the architectural precision. The bridges and buildings are somewhat less tangible than the very mist surrounding them.
Last of Monet's architectural subjects was the palaces and canals of Venice. Although he worked on this series between 1908 and 1909, he continued exploring these subjects when he was back at Giverny. Towards the end of his life, the French painter began developing cataracts. However, he continued to paint. By 1915, he started to produce a series of huge murals depicting his water lilies to be installed at the Musee de l'Orangerie. Later, the painter Andre Masson described these artworks as the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism. Oscar-Claude Monet passed away on December 5, 1926, in Giverny, France.
Claude Monet consolidated his name as one of the most pivotal and famous artists of Western art history. Partly inspired by Edouard Manet, Claude Monet's denied the established norm of clearly representing forms and linear perspective. Instead, he focused his production on experimenting with loose brushstrokes, bold use of color, and rather unconventional compositions. These elements, allied with his interest in rendering his immediate perceptions, were key to the development of modern painting.
Later, his depictions of the same subjects under lighting and atmospheric conditions, exemplified by his series of San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk, were an inspiration for artists that explored reproduction in their creative process, such as Andy Warhol. Monet's creation of broad fields of color, executed with small brushstrokes, was a pivotal influence for the Abstract Expressionists.
"Every day I discover more and more beautiful things. It's enough to drive one mad. I have such a desire to do everything, my head is bursting with it."
"Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment."
"My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece."
"Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love."
― Claude Monet