Claude Monet is widely recognized as one of the towering figures of art world. His paintings of haystacks and the gardens at Giverny continue to attract visitors to museums all over the world. Both the subjects of his paintings and his techniques are the dominant representations of the Impressionist movement.
This paper is a biographical essay of Claude Monet. The first part of the paper looks at Monet's biography, including his early training and influences. The next part then examines Monet's role in the development of the Impressionist movement, the break from classical painting and the beginnings of modernist art. In the last section, the paper looks at how Monet's contributions to Impressionism continue to influence artists decades after his death.
Claude Monet was born in Paris on November 14, 1840, although his family soon moved to the coastal town of Le Havre, where he grew up. His father was a successful businessman who earned a good living trading marine supplies. His mother, Louise Monet, died in 1850 (Spate 8).
The young Monet displayed artistic talent as a teenager, drawing caricatures of Normandy residents. Monet later switched to landscapes, under the tutelage of his early mentor Eugene Boudin, a fellow La Havre artist who specialized in painting outdoor seascapes. Because of Boudin's influence, Monet developed a tendency to depict the natural light and shadows that can only be depicted by painting outdoors. The young Monet was also influenced by the Dutch artist Johan Barthold Jongkind, whose paintings were characterized by non-traditional viewpoints and the bright color achieved through Japanese woodblock prints (Spate 11).
Monet showed an early appreciation of artists whose paintings challenged the style and subject matter that characterized classical painting. Monet was attracted to the landscape artists of the Barbizon School, which included figures like Camille Corot and Henri Rousseau (Adams 23). During the late 19th century, the Barbizon School artists caused a sensation in the French art world by painting landscapes without the religious or mythological overtones that were typical of classical paintings.
Monet moved back to Paris in 1859 to continue his training at the Atelier Suisse. While at the Atelier, Monet formed lifelong friendships with many fellow-students like Camille Pissarro, who would themselves rise to prominence in the art world (Merrill 24).
Monet's studies were interrupted by war, and like many of his contemporaries, Monet joined the military and was stationed in Algiers.
Upon returning to Paris in 1862, Monet joined a studio ran by Charles Gabriel Gleyre. Similar to the program at the Academie Suisse, this new studio encouraged students to draw from models. This approach was the direct opposite of that employed at the prevailing art academies, where students used plaster casts of Greek and Roman statues (Hodge 43).
In addition to this training, the Gleyre studio served another important function for Monet. Through Gleyre, Monet met several important artists such as Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, contemporaries who would eventually comprise the Impressionist Movement. During this time, Monet also met and befriended the wealthy Frederic Bazille, who would become Monet's benefactor.
During the late 19th century, a French artist's career depended on having works accepted by the Salon, an illustrious and powerful juried art exhibition put up by the French Academy of Fine Arts. In 1865, the Salon exhibited two of Monet's seascapes, the first public exhibition of Monet's work. Monet had an inconsistent record of acceptance from the conservative academie, though his works were praised and bought by influential buyers and critics like Emile Zola.
Despite this early success, the Salon later rejected many of Monet's later pieces. This included the massive Women in the Garden, which Monet submitted in 1866. After this rejection, Monet began to work on smaller paintings, as seen in the series of outdoor landscapes he painted with Renoir in 1869. The subject of these paintings was La Grenouillere, a fashionable bathing area along Paris' Seine River (Tucker 64). These paintings showed the beginnings of Monet's impressionist style, where daubs of fresh color were used to capture the spontaneity of the scene and the flowing water.
Monet married his wife Camille in 1870, after she had already borne him a son. When the Franco-Prussian War erupted in 1870, the Monets moved to London and later Holland, so Claude could continue his work. They eventually returned to France in 1872, settling in Agenteuil, a suburban coastal area outside Paris (Spate 56).
Camille Monet died in 1879, leading Claude to get involved with Alice Hoschede, a wife of one of his patrons. Monet eventually set up house with Hoschede and their children. His last years were plagued by failing eyesight, though he continued painting until the end of his life. An operation in 1923 removed his cataracts and enabled him to see a little better.
He died on December 5, 1926 of lung cancer (Hodge 11).
Monet and Impressionism
The term "impressionist" was originally used as a pejorative. When Monet and friends such as Renoir and Sisley held their first exhibit in 1874, a French art critic used the word "impressionist" to criticize the loose and unrefined brushstrokes of the paintings (Thomson 14).
In many ways, this attitude illustrates the radical break represented by impressionism from the prevailing classical art traditions. The paintings typically accepted at the Salon centered on moral themes, depicting subjects from mythology, history or religion. In these classical paintings, the focus was on a central group of figures. Nature was largely used as a background, often embellished to highlight the drama or action happening in the painting. Most important, classical artists carefully smoothed over their brushwork, to create a smooth finish (Thomson 17).
The Impressionist paintings, on the other hand, challenged all these traditions. Instead of focusing on heroic or religious subjects, Impressionist paintings featured middle- and working-class people in everyday scenes (Thomson 18). Monet's paintings of bathers and picnic crowds at La Grenouillere are early examples.
In addition to the everyday scenes, the Impressionists also recognized nature as a subject in its own right. Revealing his early interest in the Barbizon School, many of Monet's most famous paintings featured landscapes and nature scenes. Unlike classical painters whose paintings of nature were often tinged with idealism and altered to reflect the artist's personal beliefs, Monet and his fellow impressionists believed in capturing the scene. Monet himself often painted outdoors quickly, striving to capture the interplay of light and shadow on subjects such as the Thames River.
Since classical paintings were created indoors, the artists often used the darker palettes. Artists usually emphasized the detail of the paintings, and strived to master a lifelike effect, where the viewer could "step into" the scene (Thomson 14). Because of this, artists also took great pains to even out their brushstrokes, in order to create a smooth, finished effect.
Because of the subject matter and emphasis of his paintings, Monet had to paint quickly. After all, the Impressionists worked from live models rather than statues. Monet additionally painted outdoor subjects and had to paint quickly to capture the movement of water and the effects of sunset.
In Impression: Sunrise, which Monet painted for the first Impressionist exhibit, Monet expertly blends classical and modernist styles. Impression: Sunrise shows a balanced composition, typically required of classical style paintings with the sailboats on the busy port providing a sense of symmetry. However, the painting is also a radical departure from the smooth finishes required of classical paintings. Since he was interested in the interplay and effects of light, Monet worked from a much lighter palette than his classical predecessors. His quick dabs of color and swift strokes gave the painting a look that, at the time, was seen as "unfinished." Furthermore, Monet used mist and smoke to hide much of the scene, rendering it instead in a dreamlike and "impressionist" quality.
Monet and the Impressionists were also influenced by the technological leaps that happened during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though Monet did not specifically use any technical machinery in his work, many of the painting techniques he and other Impressionist painters employed clearly borrowed from the emerging art of photography. These include techniques such as off-center focus, foreshortening the subject and the lack of sharp detail.
The 1874 painting Woman with a Parasol, for example, highlights much of the Impressionist's break with the traditions of classical painting. First, the subject features an ordinary woman in a casual pose instead of a member of the nobility or a historical, mythological or religious figure. Second, the painting is set outdoors, rather than in a formal studio. Because the painting is set outdoors, Monet clearly used lighter hues to capture the effects of sunlight.
Though the subject is centered in the painting, both the parasol, the little boy in the background and the woman's shadow all lean towards the left. By classical standards, the painting is thus unbalanced. In addition, the sky behind the woman and the grass at her feet are recognizable mostly by…