Considered the founder of French Impressionism, Claude Monet was central to the movement's philosophy of presenting and interpreting one's own perception through nature. His works consisted mainly of en-plein-air landscapes and his painting entitled “Impression, Sunrise” is the origin of the term Impressionism.
Born in 1840 in Paris, Monet grew up in Normandy. He studied art at secondary school in Le Havre and started selling charcoal caricatures for 10–20 francs a piece. He began drawing under the tutelage of Jacques-François Ochard, who was himself a student of Jacques-Louis David. In the mid 1850s, Monet encountered contemporary Eugène Boudin in Normandy. Boudin would mentor him, especially in techniques of outdoor (en plein air) oil painting.
Having left school, Monet traveled to Paris to discover The Louvre, catching his first glimpse of the old masters. He preferred, though, to paint what he saw from his windows. Subsequently he would stay in Paris for many years, becoming a close friend of Édouard Manet.
From 1861, Monet served for two years in Algeria in the First Regiment of the African Light Cavalry. His commitment of seven years was aborted by a case of typhoid and the intervention of his aunt who ensured that he studied art at university instead.
Back in Paris he met Frédéric Bazille, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, with whom he shared a desire for a new approach to art. His technique by now had solidified into a style of en plain air using rapid strokes and broken colors.
During the second half of the 1860s, Monet created some of the first works to bring him recognition. These included "Camille" (1866), a portrait of Camille Doncieux, who would later become his wife.
When the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, Monet moved to England, where he studied the paintings of landscape specialists J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, which would influence his use of color.
Having failed to secure an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in early 1871, Monet moved next to Zaandam in the Netherlands, visiting Amsterdam. In a short space of time, he painted 25 new works, before returning to France in the late fall of 1871. He stayed in Argenteuil, close to Paris, for the next seven years, producing some of his most famous works.
“Impression, Sunrise,” a depiction of the landscape in Le Havre, was painted in 1872–73 and displayed at the first exhibition of Impressionism in 1874. The artists picked up the term from art critic Louis Leroy's supposedly derogatory description of Monet's painting. The work is now at the Musée Marmottan-Monet in Paris.
In the following decade, Monet began a series of works depicting France’s countryside. He moved to Giverny in Normandy in 1883 after spotting it from a train. Monet had begun to prosper by this time, thanks to his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, buying his own house, gardens and studio.
Until his death in 1926, Monet continued working on painting in series, choosing subjects to capture in varying conditions of weather, season and light, beginning with “Haystacks,” exhibited in 1891. Other series included “Mornings on the Seine,” “Rouen Cathedral,” “Poplars,” and perhaps his most famous, “Water Lilies.” He also took the time to paint in Venice and London, capturing Parliament and Charing Cross Bridge.
Monet died of lung cancer aged 86. He is buried at Giverny church cemetery. His home and beautiful gardens are now the property of the French Academy of Fine Arts and open to the public.
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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
Oct 19, 2013 - Feb 9, 2014