Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Of the Impressionists, Claude Monet carried the color method the furthest. He called color his

daylong obsession, joy and torment.

His response to lighting and atmospheric conditions in terms of color, which he dabbed on the canvas surface with thick strokes, caused the surface of the painting to shimmer. Color was used to dominate the work with the glow of the sun low on the horizon, bouncing off clouds in the sky and streaming across rippling water to reflect back up onto a symphony of grays, brown, and golds on the side of the rocks. The eye feels bathed in light that seems to come from the painting itself. Lila Cabot Perry, a student of Monet's late in his career, described his approach as

I remember his once saying to me: "When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you--a tree, a house, a field, or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives your own naive impression of the scene before you." He said he wished he had been born blind and then suddenly gained his sight so that he could have begun to paint in this way without knowing what the objects were that he saw before him

As a child Monet was considered to be undisciplined and, not likely to make a success of his life. He displayed no interest in inheriting his father's wholesale grocery. The only subject which seemed to spark any interest in the child was painting and developed a decent reputation in school for the caricatures he was fond of creating. So much so that by the age of fifteen, he was receiving commissions for his work.

Early influences of Euégne Boudin are evident in his works. Boudin was determined in his ideas of painting outdoors or en plein air. The two painters met in 1856 at Le Havre and formed a lifelong friendship. In 1859, Monet left for Paris, but became quickly disillusioned and rejected the formal art training. Three years later Monet was called to duty with the prestigious regiment: les Chaussures d'Afrique. His later landscapes and colors of Algeria presented an entirely different perspective of the world and profoundly affected the art world for years. He contracted a case of typhoid during his service and his aunt Madame Lecadre took charge of his health and insisted that he repay her by returning to Paris and making a serious attempt at completing a formal artistic tuition course.

Determined to contradict the more traditional artist Monet joined the studio of the Swiss-born Charles Gleyre.

Remembering his own poverty as a student artist, Gleyre charged very little, only 10 francs for models and the studio. This leniency attracted a large number of artists. The student body, such as it existed, was extremely diverse: young, old; rich, poor; good, bad, etc. Among them all, however, Monet was to meet three very close and influential friends: Frédéric Bazille, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. This subcategory of Gleyre's students was representative of the studio's diverse constitution. While all three of these painters were talented, they came from very different social backgrounds. Noticeably, Renoir was considerably less well off then his fellow artists. The unifying force that was to bind the group for so long, however, was the commitment and intense dedication to their new approach to art. One which was eventually to be labeled --impressionism .

Monet soon set his sights upon appeasing the traditionalists of the Académie. Painting many indoor paintings that were "broadly handled with a loaded brush, giving a rough surface texture and clearly visible brushstrokes, and sacrificing detail to overall effect." he met with moderate success. However, once he began to endeavor away from the traditional he was met with criticism and rejection.

"His last entry, The Woman in the Green Dress (reportedly painted in four days), bought both recognition and introduction to his mistress, Camille Doncieux. Monet, desperate to achieve complete success, immersed himself in his next project and entry to the Salon for the following year: Women in the Garden. This painting took a very long time to finish because Monet would only paint when the light was falling correctly on every aspect of the painting's subject-matter. In order to complete the top of his canvas, Monet dug himself a ditch so that he could continue to paint the scene from the same perspective (other painters simply stood upon a ladder). Despite these many arduous efforts, the Salon rejected the painting when it was finally entered for the following season."

When Camille became pregnant they had little money and this began Monet's more itinerant days, moving to London in the 1870's avoiding the Franco-Prussian War, there he was exposed to the influential works of landscapists John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner Moving back to Paris began the culmination of the height of the Impressionistic movement. There Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet put together an exhibition which has been vastly talked about in the history books but was, unfortunately, a contemporary disaster.

Camille died in 1882, and Monet at last moved to Giverny where he remained until his death. Marrying in Alice Hoschede 1892, with whom he had an affair with during his marriage to Camille, unlike most artists he never became morose or discouraged as he continued to commit himself to his unique style of painting. He began to paint his series of the Rouen Cathedral at this point in his life noticing how each detail of the scene changed in accordance with the changing light. Finally, with gaining popularity Monet spent the last part of his life gardening and exclusively devoting his time to his last work The Water Lily Pool until his death in 1926.

The most remarkable reason for Monet's outstanding position as an Impressionist.... if one compared his paintings over a short period with the paintings of his contemporaries, that while the others painted within a restricted range of ideas and even of feelings, so that the Renoir’s of the period 1873-76 are characterized by the joyousness in a collective world of recreation , Monet, with his powerful, ever alert eye, was able to paint at the same time brilliant pictures and also rather grayed ones in neutral tones. He was more reactive, he had more of that quality that psychologists of that time called Impressionability. That is to say, he was open to more varied stimuli from the common world that for these painters was the evident source of the subjects of their paintings. The Impressionist emphasis on the basic reality of the senses as an understanding of nature of the world was paralleled in the work of contemporary scientists, philosophers of science, and psychologists who asserted that reality is a sensation and the knowledge could be based solely on the analysis of these sensations. Indeed, Austrian physicist Ernst Mach believed that the only reality was sensation and all the laws and principles of physics are only a type of shorthand related to complex linkages of the data of sense. Modern experimental psychology began at this point to measure the senses of experience and the artists who shared their beliefs that a single accepted model of unchanging optical truth no longer existed--just as a standard of seeing cannot be mandated--considered nature, in the broadest sense of whatever the world reveals, to be the genesis of all sensation.

Selected References

Claude Monet:

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

The Life of Claude Monet: