Claude Monet (November 14, 1840 – December 5, 1926) was a French painter who is widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time. He was one of the founders of Impressionism and he remained faithful to the movement throughout his long career. While in his teens, Monet was influenced by the French landscape painter Eugene Boudin. It was Boudin who encouraged Monet to paint outdoors, or en plein air. This was a revolutionary idea at that time, when nearly all artists painted in studios. Moreover, Boudin instilled in Monet an appreciation of the various effects of natural light. Painting en plein air and accurate depiction of light later became the hallmarks of the Impressionist movement.
In 1862, Monet started studying art at the studio of Swiss painter Charles Gleyre. Here he met like minded artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frederic Bazille and Alfred Sisley. He became particularly close to Renoir. In 1869, the two artists began sketching beside the water at La Grenouillère, a boating and bathing resort on the Seine River, outside Paris. This was a watershed moment in art history as the two developed several of the theories, techniques and practices that would give rise to Impressionism. Apart from painting outdoors, their use of broad, loose brushstrokes and bright colors would become the language of the Impressionists.
The state sponsored Salon was the best way for an artist to be recognized in France at the time. However, once Monet and Renoir started experimenting with new techniques, their paintings were repeatedly rejected by the Salon. In 1874, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissaro, Degas, Morisot and others decided to organize an independent exhibition alongside the Salon. The rebelling artists chose the former studio of photographer Nadar to display some 200 works of art. Most of the critics lambasted their works. Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise was at the heart of one critic’s ridicule as he wrote: “Impression I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it — and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.” The rebels took the criticism in their stride and named their movement Impressionism on Monet’s painting.
With time, the art critics started to recognize the Impressionist technique as an innovative and groundbreaking style. Moreover, thousands of people started visiting the exhibitions they organized. The Impressionists held eight exhibits from 1874 to 1886 and Monet participated in most of those. While the Impressionists didn’t have a declared leader, Monet was an outspoken advocate of their style. He, unlike most others in the group, continued to paint in the Impressionist style for the rest of his life. Moreover, the act of portraying one’s perception of a scene rather than exact details, which is a quintessential characteristic of Impressionism, is a common motif in the paintings of Monet. Here are 5 Impressionist paintings to know more about Monet’s contribution to the movement.
#1 Women in the Garden
|Location:||Musee d’Orsay, Paris|
This painting is regarded the first work of Monet to capture the interplay of light and atmosphere, which was to become his signature style. The painting was primarily created en plein air, or outdoors. Monet used a large canvas to capture this scene of four women in the garden of a property he was renting. The model for each of the four figures was Monet’s companion and future wife, Camille Doncieux. Monet submitted the painting to the 1867 Paris Salon but it was rejected. Among the reasons for its rejection were the heavy brushstrokes and lack of a monumental theme, which would later become hallmarks of Impressionism. The rejection of Women in the Garden was one of the reasons which led to Monet joining with others to form the group which would later be known as the Impressionists. In 1921, Monet received 200,000 francs for the one rejected work.
#2 Impression, Sunrise
|Location:||Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris|
Monet’s painting on which Impressionism is named is celebrated as an exemplary example of the movement. It depicts the port of Le Havre in north-western France at dawn. There are several details in the painting which makes it characteristically Impressionist. Short, thick brushstrokes are used by Monet to capture the essence of the subject, a technique intrinsic to Impressionism. The choice of subject, painting plein-air and the distinct application of color are other factors in the artwork in keeping with the Impressionist movement. The heavy emphasis on natural light was also a common feature in Impressionist works. This can be detected in the works of Monet throughout his career including the sunlight reflection in this particular artwork.
#3 The Parc Monceau
|Location:||The MET, New York City|
Parc Monceau is a public park situated in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, France. Monet painted six views of the urban garden: three in 1876 and three in 1878. This version is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The subtle interplay between light and shadow, which became an essential aspect of Monet’s Impressionism, may be clearly observed in this artwork. Moreover, the painting, like its companions, anticipate the overall telescoping of space which may be seen in Monet’s artworks in the 1880s and 1890s.
#4 Rouen Cathedral Series
|Years:||1892 – 1894|
Monet is know for his series paintings in which he captured the same scene again and again at different times of the day. This reached its peak in the 1890s when such series dominated his output. His most famous series paintings from the time include Haystacks (1891), Poplars (1892) and the Rouen Cathedral Series. The series consists of 31 canvases showing the facade of the cathedral under different light and weather conditions. Though the cathedral had been painted by numerous artists before Monet, he captured it in a very different way. He stripped it from its symbolism making it devoid of religious conviction and national glory. The paintings seem to propose that the cathedral is merely a configuration of elements despite all its fame. The Rouen Cathedral Series has been called “the climax of Impressionism”.
#5 Water Lilies Series
|Years:||1897 – 1926|
The Water Lilies Series, the most renowned work of Claude Monet, are regarded as “the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism”. In 1883, Monet discovered Giverny, a village northwest of Paris that became his home for 43 years. Here he first rented and then bought a house on which he created a beautiful natural environment for his artworks. For 30 years, between 1897 and his death in 1926, he produced more than 250 oil paintings of his lily ponds and his Japanese bridge, executed in different sunlight and at different times of the day. In the early paintings of the series (1897–99), he captures the pond environment with its plants, bridge and trees neatly divided by a fixed horizon. However, with time, he became less concerned with conventional pictorial space and the late paintings of the series combine Impressionism with Expressionism and are on the verge of being abstract.
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