Claude Monet: A key precursor to Modernism in Art

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The Garden at Sainte-Adresse, 1967 _© Claude Monet-

Before the revival of impressionism and modernism in architecture, paintings and art subjects revolved around hierarchical distinctive personalities and biblical iconography. The theme of art was dictated primarily by the patrons, and their lavish outlook was celebrated in design and paintwork.

So, what is Impressionism? Impressionism acts as a breathing space for revolutionary painters and artists, it is a painting style that matured in the 19th century in France. The movement was initiated in 1862 through collective exhibitions of contemporary artists and diminished in 1892. It differs from Early-Renaissance and Jacobean painting styles in that it is based on lighter, unblended colours and loose brushwork. Impressionism aims to capture the spot-on frame of a scene by cleverly integrating the nature of light and portraying the fleeting behaviour of the present movement. The composition and subject are more casual, and airy,  capturing the aura of natural light. The painting’s composition is spontaneous and outdoors were infused in a framework more than stiff poses and deep backdrops.

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism hold great value in the contemporary world. It greatly impacts the space design, art composition and society’s perception of industrialisation. The movement catered to other revolutionary artists where lines, forms and colours were challenged and used more as a symbolic interpretation of feelings rather than capturing the subject’s true nature in focus. So the art became personalised and the assumption navigated the composition.

Claude Monet was a harbinger of impressionism and gave delight through light colours and flowy composition with a sense of self-identity through the use of different colour theories in the paintings of Modernism.

“One can do something if one can see and understand it…” Claude Monet

The work and composition of Claude Monet’s paintings heavily influenced artistic movements such as Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, and Abstractionism. Monet was adept at capturing the constantly changing nature of light and colour in landscapes, which inspired other artists to follow in his footsteps and to generate a feeling in their later artworks. His unique style also laid the groundwork for the modernist movement in arts and architecture. As a result, many artists frustrated with the strict boundaries of the Paris Salon looked to Monet’s work as a harbinger of the Abstract Expressionism drive in the 1960s

The text captures the objective of Claude Monet’s metamorphosis from Realism to Impressionist painter, which became groundwork for new artists. His artwork such as Impression Sunrise, Women with Parasol, and Garden at Sainte Adresse and analyses of his Impressionism applied in painting that engage the audience in his aura will be a part of this article.

My work is always better when I am alone and follow my own impressions.”
– Claude Monet

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Impression Sunrise, _© Claude Monet-

It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly. ”
– Claude Monet

Monet’s Metamorphosis from Realism to Impressionism

At the tender age of 11, Monet was introduced to the arts-oriented secondary school at Le Havre; this was done under the influence of his aunt Marie Jane who was an artist as well. The first realist painting by Monet was finished in 1858, named View at Rouelles, Le Havre, where his practice of orchestrating the landscape into art was done outdoors and in natural landscapes. It was primarily followed under the mentorship of Eugene Boudin, a local painter at school. This practice inspired him to capture variations of light and colours in his canvases. 

Unlike Romanticism, his brushstrokes were more refined in his early works due to the dominance of the Realist approach during the 19th century, however, the subjects were the bourgeoisie and nature, and daily activities and their spontaneous moments were captured in the frame in subtle hues: a replication of modern style. 

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View at Rouelles, Le Havre, 1858 by Claude Monet_©

Travelling to Louvre and influence of environment

Claude Monet spent his early teens at Louvre Museum, in Paris, this environment impacted his painting skills and approach towards art. He came across contemporary painters who were in later years developed into kinship. Although the artisans were in a museum to improve their existing skills by learning from the works of masters, this gave ample time to Claude Monet to work on his skill development and capture the beauty of landscapes faithfully.

Monet’s paintings and subject execution had an intrinsic impact on the audience. His finished work may seem like graffiti to the audience the prime example is Impression, Sunrise due to this the Paris Salon did not want to include such unfinished work composed of visible brushstrokes and texture development. His style started developing during his early twenties moving towards abstractionism where the subject’s main silhouettes are captured using rough brushwork; an infusion of subjective and symbolic content. 

Conflict with the Paris Salon

The work of Claude Monet became a stepping stone to modern art movements that target the self-expression of artists towards booming industrialisation and the class hierarchy or narrowing liberty of self-identity it carries with it. The conflict with The Academy from renowned contemporary painters such as Georges Seurat, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, and Edouard Manet, laid the foundational framework for the abstract movement in the late 1960s. 

Between the periods from April 15th to May 15th 1874, Claude Monet along with thirty contemporary artists exhibited their work as their portfolios were rejected by the Paris Salon. The constant nuisance with the Academy soured painters’ relationship with the curators. Hence, such self-defined art exhibitions paved the way for newcomer artists and developed modern art styles that were moulded into Modern art movements like Fauvism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Abstract Art. Their styles captured the true nature and outdoor environment that Modernism and Industrialisation had on people.

The prime example is George Seurat’s painting’s subject revolved around the struggles of low-income groups incorporating the technique of realism, unlike Romanticism, gaudy details were omitted; an ode to the strenuous efforts of the poor class. Claude captured the details, like Seurat’s, of light, colours, form and lines that portray the grimness and happiness associated with Modern society through impressionism.

Practise at Charles Gleyre Studio

Claude Monet serving in the military in Algiers returned to Paris to pursue his practice. During this period he joined the studio of Charles Gleyre. The company surrounding Monet was influential and fascinating, with the unorthodox practice and encouragement towards students to capture the impression of outdoor spaces providing maturity to impressionist development in Monet’s’ work.  The paintings such as Women in Green Dress and Women in Garden were composed by the Realist and Impressionist techniques. However, the Salon accepted the latter work because of its blended brushstrokes and finished canvas. 

The culture of the studio and the contemporary artists who fascinated him served as a foundation for transforming his realist impressions into modern techniques. This transformation matured in his later works. Unlike “Impression, Sunrise,” which was composed of washes and captured fleeting moments, Monet’s later works were detailed with vibrant hues and colour theories that were not immediately apparent.

The Noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding- Claude Monet

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Women in the Garden by Claude Monet_©
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Woman in the Green Dress_©

Impacts of Impressionism: Monet’s’ and Impressionists’ Contribution

Paintings Inspirational for Contemporary World:

Claude Monet’s paintings and artwork are still inspired by the youth and new generational artists. It is studied profusely to understand the Modern Art Movement and the impact it generated on social issues, arts, architecture and urban design. His paintings such as ‘Impression, Sunrise’, and ‘Water Lilies’ are part of renowned Art museums. Monet’s approach is a cornerstone for modern art movements paving the way for Fauvism, Post-Impressionism, Expressionism, and Abstract Art, why? His keen style motivated the experimental instincts of artists and aided in symbolic representation, critical thinking and analysis of their surroundings in the language of colour, lines and forms.

The Idea of Independent Art Exhibitions

The Art of the Renaissance and Illusionist era was associated with a divine and higher power. Exhibitions were held primarily at the traditional arts establishments, The Salon, where classic principles and smooth brushstrokes were promptly appreciated. The Impressionists, frustrated by the strict rules and allegations of the Salon, chose to exhibit their artwork in public exhibitions.

Exhibitions were initiated between 1874 and 1886. The total number of exhibitions was eight, curated by 58 artists, painters, sculptors and engravers on the margins of the official circuits. The financial motives and aggressive advertisements adopted by Impressionists and their art dealer, Durand-Ruel, to earn recognition by selling their artwork act as the door to modern technique. This technique, however, was rejected by the traditional arts academy. 

Due to the reasons quoted above, the Impressionists and their art dealer adopted innovative strategies to sell their artwork, including conducting independent exhibitions. This set a precedent for the art trade in the 20th century. The exhibitions were formulated through diverse participants and art forms involving paintings and sculptors, ceramics and prints accelerating the potential of the art movement’s strategy and diversity.

Claude Monet’s painting “Impression, Sunrise” immersed the crowd with its aura at exhibitions. Monet received mixed reviews; some perceived it as an unfinished work while some associated the painting with graffiti. The Impressionist’s purpose is to capture and observe nature fleeting away from the classics and the conventional nature of arts. The painting encapsulated the ephemeral nature of Sunrise at the dockyard on a misty morning. The painting represents an atmosphere of the space rather than being literal and analytical composed of washes and restrained brushwork. 

Monet’s “Sunrise” is surprisingly divergent from his work of this period and the typical characteristics of the Impressionist movement. The artwork portrays a sketch-like quality and is unfinished. Inspired by Turner’s approach, details of the dockyard and boats were minimised capturing the atmosphere’s ephemeral state, which was not done through polished composition. This transformation of Monet encapsulating the fleeting movements with the technical use of colour theories and light in his artwork challenged the viewers of France by representing nature in his language, who were prone to traditional subject-focused art.  

Monet’s artwork led to the term ‘Impressionism’.

Claude Monet’s contributions toward artwork have had an enduring effect on the future paintings and its interpretation. The term “Impressionism” was coined from the name of Monet’s painting “Impression, Sunrise”. An art critic Louis Leroy attended the exhibition of 1874, where Monet’s sketchy impression of Le Havre dockyard was displayed on canvas. Louis in his article in Le Charivari used the term “Impressionism” and he used it derisively. The group promptly adopted the term, and renowned painters like Renoir and Degas were excited to be called Impressionists.

Mass media and photography played an authentic role in mocking as well as generating an audience for the impressionists. The concept of aggressive marketing provides financial support to the Impressionists and promotes their language of self-expression towards the general public. The art became personal in terms of artists’ interpretation of nature but was also public by celebrating the work with the participation of the general public. This infusion of the idea of identity with the public’s liberty to experience a change in the period set the core concept of further arts and social movements setting a tone of expressionism and social freedom from the traditional power structure. 

Technological Impact and Cultural Context:

Role of Photography

Photography had a destructive impact on the painting’s role in society because paintings were a means of recording and capturing fleeting moments. The advent of this technology has shifted the dynamics of painting to the mode of expression and interpretation. However, photography inspired Impressionists and they were able to encapsulate the moment through the use of change techniques from Realism.

Primarily photography aids Impressionist skills in capturing light, colour, form, and ephemeral scenes through the use of loose brush strokes and vibrant colours. This is done to depict the spontaneous nature of outdoor scenes, create a sense of dynamism in its subjects and improve the impression of a scene.

This approach developed the subjective perspective of Impressionists towards their surroundings, capturing the outdoors on their canvases by displaying their presumptions and emotional responses through vibrant colours and dynamic compositions, unlike photography, which was too literal. The contemporary world was depicted in a new and intimate way, where the advent of photography shifted the focus of Impressionist painters from displaying biblical figures to capturing ordinary and everyday life inclusive of Urban landscapes, activities, city life and Railway Stations which all were harbingers of the Industrial Revolution. 

Industrial Revolution

The development in Urban life and modern approach gave Impressionists a chance to portray cityscapes as public squares and transient stations which is different from the subjects of the Jacobean paintings Advent in technology in the forms of Railways and accessible synthetic colour tubes removed the quagmire of painting in enclosed spaces and dynamic and movements allowed the contemporary artists to encapsulate different landscapes.

Claude Monet’s paintings faithfully related to industrial landscapes such as bridges and railway tracks. Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare is a series of Monet’s oil paintings in which the impression of train arrival is captured with smoke in the interior of the train station which primarily blocks the view of the painter and the observer as well. This talent and ambition existed in Monet; able to influence the audience by dragging into his aura of expressionism. Monet is talented in portraying the ambience and experience that industrialisation had on the social and urban fabric. Post-Impressionist painters such as Van Gogh were inspired by the approach of Monet to depict city life in theatre and café atmospheres. The Impressionists were inspired to capture the contemporary life of the rising Middle-income group, including their leisure activities in social spaces such as cafes, gardens, picnic grounds, and theatres.

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Claude Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare (or Interior View of the Gare Saint-Lazare, the Auteuil Line), 1877, oil on canvas, 75 x 104 cm_©Musée d’Orsay, photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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The Locomotive, 1875- by Claude Monet_©

Claude Monet’s Impact on Later Movements

Impacts on Post-Impressionism

Post-Impressionist artists drew inspiration from the colour theories of Claude Monet. Highly inspired by the use of vibrant colours artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, and Paul Gauguin incorporated the technique of encapsulating light and nature in their artwork which is profoundly based on symbolism and expression of the emotions of artists towards their subject.

Vincent Van Gogh: Colour, Light, and Brushwork

Vincent’s thick brush strokes to depict the dynamism present in nature and use of vibrant colours apart from the Realist palette are inspired by the framework of Claude Monet’s paintings. These artworks set precedence for post-impressionist artists when studying subjects and portraying them on their canvases.  They are different in terms of symbolism and use of ultra-vibrant colour palettes. 

Paul Cezanne: Development of Structure, Form, and Colour Modulation

The paintings of Claude Monet for Paul Cezanne worked as the source of developing depth and volume in shapes and forms in his subjects. Though Paul Cezanne was inspired by the Colour theories of Monet and his talent for capturing fleeting moments in nature, Cezanne used colour to explore and develop a sense of volume and depth which aided in the advent of Abstract painting styles.

Paul Gauguin: Symbolism and Simplification

Paul Gauguin’s paintings focused more on displaying emotions and symbols through bold and vibrant colours based on the principles of Claude Monet unlike to capture natural light and landscapes. Paul Gauguin’s approach forced him to work on large flat areas of colour combined with loose brushstrokes and minimal details towards its subject. This is an indication that Monet truly was a harbinger of Modernism in arts by providing the groundwork for later artists who promoted subtle and lively self-expressionism yet did everything in a calculated manner.

Monet’s Late Work; Legacy and Recognition

Monet’s last three decades of work were focused on his famous “Water lilies” series. The most striking aspect of the series is its enormous scale: each painting is six feet tall and covers entire walls, providing an immersive experience for the viewer. Celebrated artists like Monet faced criticism for this famous painting series with the advent of new art styles such as cubism and abstract expressionism.

However, his spectacular work was revived again by the efforts of North American Abstract-style artists and the advocacy of art institute students. Monet’s demise marked a period of critical and harsh criticism from art critic and historian Lionello Venturi who was more inspired by the works of Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, for a longer period “Water Lilies” remained unfashionable and lifeless in a warehouse.

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Photo of Claude Monet Working on Water Lilies (Claude Monet’s Water lilies n.d.)_©
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Water Lilies, 1916 by Claude Monet_©
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Water Lilies Agapanthus, 1914-1917 by Claude Monet_©
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Water Lilies, Green Harmony, 1914-1917 by Claude Monet_©

1952 marked a period of recognition of Claude Monet’s paintings. The visionary art director of the Museum of Modern Arts Alfred H. Barr Jr. made an effort to sketch an outline of the origin of Abstract art. Claude Monet’s name was not included in the list, he designated an art exhibition of Monet’s Late Masterpieces which gave him recognition in Paris and New York and Barr was hailed by the North American Abstract-style artists for his fascination with Monet’s work.

An Abstract-Expressionist in the late ’60s named Louis Finkelstein correlated the techniques of Monet with the contemporary style. She drew similarities between abstraction and Impressionism, highlighting the interplay of light, space and air. These efforts of Abstract painting artists and the advocacy of the Kansas City Art Institute students provide an edge and recognition to the late Masterpieces of Claude Monet. The new generation of artists set his work as precedence when studying the subject of Abstraction in paintings and architecture.

It is evident from his legacy that Monet’s paintings had an impact on later art movements such as Post-Impressionism, Abstractionism and Fauvism. His artwork had the power to engage and inspire a new generation of artists, which is based on the self-identity and expressionism of artists on canvases in the form of capturing fleeting moments of life and changing our perspective on the world around us. His transformation from Realism to Impressionism provided a groundwork for the modern generation of artists to break free from conventional constraints and explore the world of self-expressionism in arts. Through his unconventional approach, Monet really acted as a harbinger of Impressionism, forever changing and challenging the definition of art. 

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Heinrich, C. and Monet, C. (2015). Claude Monet : 1840-1926 : capturing the ever-changing face of reality. Köln: Taschen.

Oxford Art Online (2024). Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. [online] Oxford Art Online. Available at:

Selvin, C. (2020). Monet’s Magical Nuances: How the Impressionist Became a Worldwide Star. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 May 2024].

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Writer, C. (2023). From Forgotten to Famous: Monet’s Late Work and its Lasting Legacy. [online] KC STUDIO. Available at: [Accessed 17 May 2024]. (n.d.). Claude Monet: 100 Paintings Analysis & Complete Works. [online] Available at: (n.d.). The eight Impressionist exhibitions (1874-1886). [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 May 2024].