Impressionism is perhaps one of the most significant movements in modern art history. It was the birth of light in painting. Impressionism reached France around the middle of the nineteenth century and Claude Monet was one of the revolutionary pioneers of this movement.
A life overshadowed by depression, poverty and sickness brought forth some of the greatest masterpieces of Impressionism.
Claude’s work has inspired the lovers of art to move ahead of the subject matter and realize sensations of nature. They are mostly about capturing beauty in a fleeting moment!
Claude Monet Biography
Claude Monet, one of the leading figures in Impressionism, was born on November 14, 1840, in Paris, France. Monet’s father was a grocer at first, but he later took over the family’s shipping and grocery business.
Thus, the family had to move to Normandy coast when Monet was merely 5 years old. It was this time of Monet’s life that led him on a journey of revolutionary artwork.
He spent his childhood along the beaches where he would observe the rapidly changing weather of Normandy. It seems this is how he gained a new perception of nature and the effect of light on it.
Despite being considerably good at studies, Monet repelled the idea of being confined to a classroom. He preferred to be outside and drawing seemed to come naturally to him. He would sketch people, including his teachers, in his schoolbooks.
Monet’s mother supported his art skills while his father disapproved of them. With his mother’s death in 1857 and his father’s aversion to his work, Monet suffered a great deal in the pursuing years.
Claude Monet’s first breakthrough came in when he was 15 years old. He would make caricatures of many of the town’s residents that would be sold for a decent price.
Soon, Monet met a local landscape artist, Eugene Boudin, who aroused in him the interest of ‘plein air painting’ or outdoor painting. This interest later on became the dominating subject matter of Monet’s artwork.
In 1859, Monet moved to Paris and enrolled himself as a student at the Academie Suisse. Monet had to discontinue his informal training at Academie Suisse for his military service from 1861 to 1862.
His early discharge from service is known to be due to health reasons. So, after returning to Paris, he resumed studying art under Charles Gleyre.
Two of Monet’s paintings were accepted by the Salon in 1865, an annual art show in Paris. The next year, two more paintings were selected for the Salon.
One of these paintings was a landscape while the other one was a portrait of Camille, also called Woman in Green. Camille Doncieux was Monet’s beloved who came from a humble background.
Around the birth of their first child in 1867, Monet faced great hardships due to a financial crisis. With his father’s refusal to lend any help, Monet became increasingly dejected of his situation.
His hopelessness aggravated so much that it drove him over the edge, leading to him attempting to commit suicide in 1868 by drowning himself in the Seine River.
The following year, things started to get better when Louis-Joachim Guadibert became a patron of his artwork.
Monet and Camille married in 1870, but soon due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, they had to move to England. Consequently, Paul Durand-Ruel became his first art dealer in England.
Upon his return to France in 1872, he met many great artists that left a considerable impression on his work. After Camille’s death, Monet remarried Alice in 1892.
Monet would often get frustrated with his circumstances and work. He is known to have destroyed various of his paintings. Some records suggest the number is as high as 500 works.
Due to his bouts of depression, Monet would burn, cut or kick his work in frequent outbursts.
In spite of these struggles Monet is responsible for some of the most revered impressionist paintings and artwork ever produced.
Types of Work
One of Monet’s works “Impression, Sunrise” was displayed in the society’s exhibition in 1874. It was a depiction of Le Havre’s harbor in morning fog. Critics of this new style of painting mocked such artists by calling them “Impressionists”. They went on to say that their work appeared more like sketches than complete paintings.
Although the remarks were intended to be disparaging, surprisingly the term sat so well to describe this form of art. Monet, like his fellow impressionist painters, seemed to distance himself from classical art.
The type of work that Monet produced came as a result of use of bold vibrant colors with short brushstrokes. Monet first exhibited his work with the Impressionists in 1874 and went on doing it until the 1880s.
Most of Monet’s work comprises of landscapes, structures and other scenes in different lights. He would depict several scenes and structures in dawn, noon, gray weather etc. He was immensely fascinated by the effects of light on things.
Some of the most famous pieces of artwork by Claude Monet are:
- Women in the Garden (1866-67)
- Westminster Bridge (1871)
- Boulevard des Capucines (1873)
- Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son
- Poplar Series
- Water Lilies
Subject Matter of Monet’s Work
“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.”
― Claude Monet
As expressed by Monet himself, his work was more about the surrounding atmosphere than any subject in particular. We can find domestic scenes depicting his wife, son and garden in some of his works.
Yet the aim of Monet’s work was not to paint modern life. With his paintings, Monet wanted to implement his radical view of nature. So, it is safe to say that the dominating subject matter of Monet’s work was the light of an object in a painting.
Monet can be regarded as the quintessential impressionist, yet often people confuse him with another
Monet fell prey to different diseases in his lifetime, including cataracts, which almost left him blind in both eyes. He went through surgery in 1923 for the ailment. However, diseases were not the only misery that lay heavy on Monet’s spirits. He had to constantly power through depression all through his life.
Monet expressed this suffering to one of his friends by writing him the following words:
“Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.”
At the age of 86, Claude Monet died of lung cancer on December 5, 1926. Despite living a difficult life, Monet found an extraordinary way to create inspiration in his moments of despair.
He transformed the world of painting by blurring the line between reality and art. His vision opened doors to the world of imagination and creativity for the lovers of art.