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Artist in Focus : Claude Monet

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Claude Monet.

Early Life

Claude Monet’s name is synonymous with the impressionism movement.

Born in Paris, France to a family of grocers, Monet and his family moved to Normandy when he was only five. His father ran the  family’s thriving ship-chandlering and grocery business. It was in this coastal town that the young Monet learned to observe and came to know the sea and the changing light and reflections intimately. His aunt, a painter herself encouraged him greatly. 

Oil landscapes have formed the base for many many artworks since the 16th century. But never was a direct impression painted. It came from Monet’s own viewership and experience. It was Eugène Boudin, who introduced Monet to the uncommon practice of painting in the open air, plein air.

It was this  experience propelled Monet in the direction for the next 60 years, to concentrate on visible phenomena. Later developing on the innovation of effective methods to transmute perception into pigment. He refused to enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts. Monet frequented the haunts of several renowned advanced artists who worked at the Académie Suisse, where he met Camille Pissarro. It was this informal training that shaped his works, be fore he joined military service to serve in Algeria from 1861 to 1862.

After he returned from Africa he met artists Frédéric Bazille, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It was his discovery of Japanese prints, the pretty decorativeness and flatness strongly influenced the development of modern painting in France.

Monet, Impressionism and Impression, Sunrise

The name that started an entire art movement was perhaps not bestowed upon with the best intent. It was infact meant in a derogatory manor by the art critic Louis Leroy, who reviewed Monet’s painting. He called it ‘Impression’ owing to the clouded brush work and the obscuring of the horizon, the hazy figures of the ships, all brought together by the sun. It was a definite departure from earlier painterly styles. The painting in question was Impression, Sunrise.

“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! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.”

Claude Monet

Charting the rise of Impressionism, through his own personal earlier studies – is one of the most ambitious of Monet’s early works, remaining unfinished due to the criticism it received. It was Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1865–66; “Luncheon on the Grass”), named after Édouard Manet’s notorious painting shown in the Salon des Refusés in 1863.

Monet’s painting was a departure from Manet’s and was unprovocative and contemporary in its representation of a group of fashionably dressed picnickers in the forest of Fontainebleau.

Amongst his first impressionist paintings Monet painted a study of Camille, his wife, on the beach, these were the precursors to his later and more famous works.

Monet’s owned the method of producing works in series.  All the works representing the same motif under different light and weather conditions. It was in the 1890s that this style was popularised.  What is regarded as the primary series was executed around the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris during the winter of 1876–77. There was a complete break from the customary Impressionist subjects. The works portray the train engines belching smoke and steam in the great shed.

Among other works were The Luncheon (1868), which features Camille Doncieux and Jean Monet, and which had been previously rejected by the Paris Salon of 1870. Along with his Boulevard des Capucines, a painting of the boulevard done from the photographer Nadar’s apartment at no. 35. Which he painted twice in his characteristic style.

Legacy

In 1877, Monet and his family was living in Vetheuil, in France with Alice Hoschede and her family. Owing to Alice’s husband’s bankruptcy, the Monet family had to move out. This led him to theproperty at Giverny . Which came as a blessing for Monet and became his primary source of inspiration for the last three decades of his life. Fascinated by the artistry of Japan, he created a Japanese garden for contemplation and relaxation. This is where the pond filled with water lilies with an arched bridge too shape.

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece. I work at my garden all the time and with love. What I need most are flowers. Always. My heart is forever in Giverny, perhaps I owe it to the flowers that I became a painter.”

Monet finally found and tasted success in Giverny. He sold many of his paintings in the United States, England, and locally as well.

After the death of his wife and later owing to his losing his eyesight, Monet ceased to paint as prolifically. He died in 1926.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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