Art has always been, and will always be, the precursor of change in civilizations and, these are brought about by the artists who create small changes that lead to movements marking bigger differences. Claude Oscar Monet, a French painter, was one such artist who, along with a few of his colleagues, ushered the Impressionist movement into the world. But what makes him different and accentuates his legacy is that he was the only painter who dedicated his entire life to this movement. He passionately spent his time and efforts visualizing nature’s impressions on the canvas before him.

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Claude Oscar Monet – 1899 ©wiki/Claude_Monet
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Cliff Walk at Pourville – by Claude Oscar Monet (1882) ©Photos.com/Thinkstock

Early Life of Claude Monet 

Claude Oscar Monet was the eldest son of his parents and when he was five years old the family moved to the Normandy coast, near Le Havre, a port in northern France. As a child, Monet was always curious and interested in art, and being brought up near the beaches, he developed a strong connection with the sea and the rapidly shifting climate of the Normandy coast. 

At a very early age itself, Monet learned to respect and appreciate nature and its timeless beauty. His journey as an artist started at the age of fifteen with the sale of his hand-drawn caricatures which often involves seaside pencil sketches of sailing ships and other activities. 

His aunt, being an amateur painter herself, encouraged Monet’s skills with the pencil and urged him to train under a local artist. Thereafter, Monet came across Eugéne Boudin, who introduced him to the art of painting and to the then uncommon practice of painting in the open air. This was a turning point in Claude Monet’s life, as from there on he continued this practice of visualizing the present in the form of brush strokes.

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Woman in shawl – by Claude Oscar Monet (1868) ©Giraudon/Art Resource, New York

Practicing art as an artist 

Monet was never formally trained as an artist in an art school, all his initial works were a product of his observation and talent of being able to work with pencils and brush strokes under the guidance of some local artists.

In 1859, Monet visited Paris and was instantly impressed by the work of the Barbizon- school painters Constant Troyon and Charles Daubigny. His family urged him to enroll himself in the École des Beaux-Arts but Monet refused to do so and continued his journey of acquaintance under established artists. While other painters painted replicas of the paintings done before them, Monet chose to paint outdoor sceneries in front of him.

In the years that followed, Monet continued traveling between Le Havre and Paris, and several experiences during this period led Claude Monet to meet Pierre Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Armand Guillaumin, and Freédéric Bazille – who became his close colleagues and agreed with his way of thought in painting live scenes.

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Poppies – by Claude Oscar Monet (1873) ©Giraudon/Art Resource, New York

The Impressionist movement and style of work

Throughout history, art movements have been marked as milestones of change and evolution. One such milestone was the Impressionist movement, known to have taken place between the late 19th century and early 20th century. This movement was initiated by Claude and his colleagues in the early 1870s, when they compiled their paintings, natural landscapes, and river scenes, into an exhibition. They opted against using the common muted color palette of greens, browns, or greys, and instead passionately chose brighter shades of colors to paint their sceneries. 

Monet’s painting named Impression: Sunrise earned them the tag of ‘Impressionists’ from the journalist Louis Leroy’s writing in the magazine Le Charivari. This name went on to become the precursor for the impressionist movement.

Artists who started practicing painting visual realities in terms of transient effects of light and color began calling themselves impressionists. Their artwork depicted forms that lacked clear outlines, emphasizing that the painting was meant to drive focus into the scene as a whole instead of the details. The highlights of paintings were the choice of colors used to represent daylighting and weather conditions. 

The impressionists started catching impressions in the form of truthful expression of nature but extended their interests and expertise towards depicting houses, urban street scenes, and railroad stations as well. All this led to a revolution in the history of art and paved the way for a new era wherein artists could practice the freedom of choosing their interests in terms of subjects for painting, unlike the traditional techniques and approaches which were then popular.

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Arrival of the Normandy train – by Claude Oscar Monet (1877) ©The Art Institute of Chicago

The Career of Claude Monet – His work Philosophy 

By the mid-1880s, the Impressionist group slowly began to disintegrate as each artist started pursuing their own aesthetical interests and principles. However, Claude Monet lived by the standards of the movement he initiated and continued to choose impressions from nature over other picturesque subjects. He did justice to the Impressionist style through his fragmented brushstrokes which went on to become the hallmark of this movement.

Monet practiced a painting style that involved a faithful attempt at recording on the spot impressions of the scene before him. All his paintings were an attempt at interpreting the light and movement of outdoor life in nature. He passionately documented boats, buildings, the pebbled beach, incidental figures with his swift strokes, which were constantly improvised with changing perceptions, and flat color patterns weighing attention on the scene as a whole.

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The Beach at Sainte-Adresse – by Claude Oscar Monet (1867) ©The Art Institute of Chicago

Life Dedicated to Impressionism

Monet dedicated his youthful years to traveling and painting scenes in Paris, Le Havre, Chailly, Honfleur, Trouville, Fécamp, and all other stations between Paris and the Normandy coast. He did anything and everything to continue his pursuit of understanding natural phenomena through his paintings, even if it meant leaving his family behind for a while and traveling to places such as London and the Netherlands. 

He was most appreciated for his skill in producing works in series, every time rendering the same motif under different light and weather conditions. Every painting in the series held a different emotion for Monet and he was determined to carry this form of rendering ahead in life.

Even going through a period of constant turmoil in life, of not being able to sell enough paintings, running into debt, and losing his wife to an illness, Monet never left his interest in viewing nature through the lens of an impressionist style. 

In 1883, Monet got settled at Giverny, 84 km from Paris, along the tiny Epte River, with his family. There he bought a farmhouse surrounded by an orchard, which later went on to become his home until his death. In 1893, Monet purchased a strip of marshland near his farmhouse and built a water lily garden, thereby diverting a small stream flowing from the Epte. 

This garden became his new canvas with the clusters of lily pads and blossoms floating in the quiet water and the bamboo that grew around the pool. A Japanese bridge across this pool served as the right backdrop to this new canvas and Monet exploited this opportunity to capture the play of light over during different hours of the day for over 30 years. All these attempts made by him stand testimony to his perseverance as an Impressionist.

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Water lily pond – by Claude Oscar Monet (1900) © The Art Institute of Chicago
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Water lily pond – by Claude Oscar Monet (1906) ©The Art Institute of Chicago
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Water lily pond – by Claude Oscar Monet (1919) ©Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City

Recognition after death – the Impression of an Impressionist

Although he wasn’t duly recognized or appreciated enough for his works during his life, the world couldn’t turn a blind eye towards this mastermind of an artist post his death. Monet had earned his name amongst Americans who discovered his work in the 1880s, and post his death, on December 5th, 1926, his famous house and garden with its water lily pond were passed on to the French Academy of Fine Arts in 1966. The home is now one of the two main attractions at Giverny, attracting people from all over the world.

After his death, his works influenced contemporaries such as Vincent van Gogh, Emile Bernard, Henri Matisse, and Maurice de Vlaminck. This recognition was accentuated by the money the sales of his series of paintings made. Several artworks were auctioned for more than 20 million USD and along with these sales, the impressions captured by Claude Oscar Monet on his canvases continue to create impressions in the minds of its benefactors.

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Claude Monet’s home at Giverny ©Adam & Chelsey Parrott-Sheffer

References

Gautami Menon
Author

Gautami Menon is a final year student at the Institute of Architecture and Planning, Nirma University. As an aspiring architect, she is passionate about expressing design through the written medium. She believes that architectural design is a platform where intellect meets art and her designs are an attempt at justifying the same.

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