Claude Monet
1840 - 1926


Monet violated one traditional artistic convention after another in the interest of direct artistic expression. His experiments in rendering outdoor sunlight with a direct, sketchlike application of bright color became more and more daring, and he seemed to cut himself off from the possibility of a successful career as a conventional painter supported by the art establishment. To Monet's page
In 1874 Monet and his colleagues decided to appeal directly to the public by organizing their own exhibition. They called themselves independents, but the press soon derisively labeled them impressionists because their work seemed sketchy and unfinished (like a first impression) and because one of Monet's paintings had borne the title Impression: Sunrise.

Monet was born on November 14, 1840, in Paris, but he spent most of his childhood in Le Havre. There, in his teens, he studied drawing. By 1859 Monet had committed himself to a career as an artist and began to spend as much time in Paris as possible. During the 1860s he was associated with the preimpressionist painter Edouard Manet, and with other aspiring French painters destined to form the impressionist school—Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. Working outside, Monet painted simple landscapes and scenes of contemporary middle-class society, and he began to have some success at official exhibitions.

Monet's compositions from the time of the first Imprerssionists exhibition are extremely loosely structured, and the color was applied in strong, distinct strokes as if no reworking of the pigment had been attempted. This technique was calculated to suggest that the artist had indeed captured a spontaneous impression of nature. During the 1870s and 1880s Monet gradually refined this technique, and he made many trips to scenic areas of France, especially the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, to study the most brilliant effects of light and color possible.

By the mid-1880s Monet, generally regarded as the leader of the impressionist school, had achieved significant recognition and financial security. Despite the boldness of his color and the extreme simplicity of his compositions, he was recognized as a master of meticulous observation, an artist who sacrificed neither the true complexities of nature nor the intensity of his own feelings.

In 1890 he was able to purchase some property in the village of Giverny, not far from Paris, and there he began to construct a water garden (now open to the public, a lily pond arched with a Japanese bridge and overhung with willows and clumps of bamboo.

Beginning in 1906, paintings of the pond and the water lilies occupied him for the remainder of his life. Throughout these years he also worked on his other celebrated "series" paintings, groups of works representing the same subject—haystacks, poplars, Rouen Cathedral, the river Seine—seen in varying light, at different times of the day or seasons of the year. Despite failing eyesight, Monet continued to paint almost up to the time of his death, on December 5, 1926, at Giverny.

Sources: Encarta 1997 Encyclopedia.

At the bedside of his dead wife

"After the death of his first wife, less than thirty years of age, Monet reacted as a painter.
Finding myself at the bedside of a dead woman who had been very dear to me and who was always very dear, to my surprise I kept staring at the tragic temple while mechanically looking for the sequence, the appropriation of the color degradation which death had just left on the motionless face. Blue, yellow, gray tones, and goodness knows what else. That is what I had come to.
The organic automatism trembled at first from the shock of the color, and in spite of myself the reflexes committed me into an operation of unconsciousness in which the daily course of my life resumed its flow, like an animal turning round his millstone."
Camille Monet's life had been nothing more than a long struggle against poverty. In 1878 Monet wrote to Zola, "We don't have a sou in the house, today nothing to boil the pot. With all that my wife in ill-health and in need of much care, for perhaps you are aware that she happily gave birth to a superb baby boy. Would you lend me two or three louis [twenty-franc pieces], or even one? "
A year later, Camille dead, he begged a friend "to withdraw from the municipal credit office the medallion whose pawn ticket I am sending you. It is the only souvenir my wife was able to keep and before I leave I should like to place it on her neck."

Source: Impressionism; by the editors of Réalités; Chartwell Books, Inc.

Impressionism Gallery