Monet Art Prints Home > Claude Monet Biography
Claude Monet was born in Paris on November 14, 1840. His father was a grocer who moved the family to Le Havre, on the Seine estuary, when Monet was five years old.
Monet's early experience along the Channel and the Seine estuary was perhaps the singularly most profound influence on his artistic career. His first youthful paintings of the shore, of the harbors and of small sailing craft record his love and perception. Here, sun and storm can both appear in the same sky, reflected in the sea. Monet learned to appreciate nature's forces and acquired a deep sensitivity to the weather.
As a young child, Monet hated to remain in school. He passed the time drawing caricatures of his teachers in his copybooks. When he could, Monet avoided school and spent his time along the cliffs, beaches and jetties. Monet later said of the sea, "I should like to be always near it or on it, and when I die, to be buried in a buoy."
By the time his was sixteen, in 1856, most of the traits that were to make Monet a great painter were evident. He was not religious and had little faith in anything that was not drawn from direct experience. He was persistent, had small need for social approval and was stimulated by both hostility and diversity. It was said that he ate like four men. The young Monet's talent for drawing caricature portraits brought him twenty francs a sitting in the marketplace in his hometown of Le Havre.
It was at this time that Monet found his first mentor in a local painter, Louis Eugene Boudin. Boudin was the son of a sailor and loved the sea as well as Monet. Boudin pursued an unorthodox course of completing his canvases out-of-doors. This was rarely attempted at the time. Most artists, like Corot, Constable, and Courbet made oil studies out-of-doors, but finished them in the studio.
Monet later confessed that the first time he had seen Boudin's nature studies displayed in the same shop window as his own caricature portraits, "His painting inspired me with an intense aversion and, without knowing the man, I hated him." After they met, Boudin induced Monet to try outdoor painting. Boudin set up his easel and palette and began to work. Monet said, "Suddenly a veil was torn away. I had understood - I had realized what painting could be. By the single example of this painter devoted to his art with such independence, my destiny as a painter opened out to me."
Boudin's notebooks of the time reveal a pursuit of a "perfection" of fleeting color and light that he always felt eluded his technical grasp. He felt it was essential to retain "one's first impression" and believed that "everything that is painted directly and on the spot always has a force, a power, a vivacity of touch that cannot be re-created in the studio." Monet absorbed the basic tenets of what would later be called Impressionism from Boudin.
In 1859, at the age of 19, Monet went to Paris. That year he visited the Salon several times. Although his parents wished for him to learn from the established masters at the École des Beaux-Arts. However, Monet began instead at the Atélier Suisse, where Gustave Courbet had worked and where he sometimes saw Camille Pissarro.
From 1860 to 1862, Monet was called up for military service and chose to serve in Algeria because he was attracted to the sky. The southern light and color he experienced in Africa excited him and remained an inspiration throughout his life. After he was sent home on sick leave, his sympathetic aunt bought a substitute to complete the remaining five years of his service for him.
The first time Monet submitted to the Salon, in 1865, two of his seascapes were admitted. A reviewer declared: "The two marines of M. Monet are unquestionably the best in the exhibition. The tone is frank, the breeze penetrating as that on the high seas, and the treatment is naïve and young." The next year, Monet completed, in four days, a portrait of his mistress Camille Doncieus, was exhibited at the Salon. This was accepted, described by the writer Émile Zola as full of energy and life, and praised by many other reviewers. Monet only exhibited in the Salon twice more during his lifetime.
In 1867, Monet was in acute financial difficulties. His friend Bazille bought Women in the Garden, an enormously challenging piece painted entirely out-of-doors. So that Monet would have an income, Bazille arranged to pay for it in installments over four years. Even this did not help, for the picture was rejected at the Salon and Camille was expecting a child.
Monet was obliged to return home for the summer, leaving Camille in Paris, where she gave birth to Jean Monet. In June, 1870, just before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, Monet married Camille. After serving in the war, Monet returned to France to settle with his little family in Argenteuil, on the Seine near Paris. It was a particularly happy period of time for Monet and his paintings at Argenteuil display a joyous spontaneity.
Monet was largely responsible for the first group show of the Impressionists, held in Paris in 1874. Monet's painting Impression: Sunrise, 1872, gave a focal point to shrill ridicule by the reviewers who sarcastically gave its name to the Impressionist movement. For the next three years, the group of Impressionist painters including Renoir, Sisley, Monet and Degas, remained closely knit.
Monet's advice to an American woman painter encapsulates his artistic theories: "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 naïve impression of the scene before you."
The year 1878 was a difficult one for Monet and his family. Once again, money was tight, his second son Michel was born, and Camille was ill. Into this troubled state, the family were joined by Mme. Hoschedé and her six children. Monet, the two women and the eight children moved into a rented house outside Paris, in Vetheuil. Although there are many sunny paintings of the Seine, the village and its church, the overall mood of Monet's painting during this period remains somber. Camille died the following year. After Camille's death, Alice, Mme. Hoschedé, remained with Monet, taking care of the household and his sons along with her children. The couple finally married in 1892.
Monet's devotion to the tenets of Impressionism required that he paint from nature without inventing or adding to the landscape. As his career progressed, Monet recognized the need for a landscape that was both challenging to his skill as a painter and that lent itself to beautiful composition. In order to accomplish this, Monet built a water lily pond in 1891 by diverting a tributary of the Epte River.
Considered by many to be Monet's masterworks, Monet's paintings of the water lilies in his Giverny garden were concerned solely with the light, color and space of his lily pond. During this time, Monet wrote about his return to painting things "impossible to do: water with grass that undulates below the surface." The water landscape theme that Monet explored grew from his endless fascination with the play of light, water and reflections and with the enchantment that he beheld when he, as a strict realist, saw the water truly.
The summer of 1899 marked the beginning of the twenty-seven-year cycle of Water Landscapes at Giverny. That autumn, Monet began the Thames series from the Savoy Hotel in London. For the next few years, Monet worked both on his water landscapes and his London series. When he was not outdoors, he often painted his London landscapes from memory.
In 1908, Monet became enchanted with Venice and painted with renewed enthusiasm. On May 19, 1911, Mme. Monet died, leaving Monet disconsolate. From that day on, he rarely left his house and gardens. He worked on his Venice paintings from memory.
From this time on, although Monet became reclusive and saw almost no one, he continued to paint outdoors and on his water lily murals when he was able.
Monet's final task was to paint a cycle of paintings in two oval rooms in the Orangerie of the Tuileries devoted to the beauty of the nympheas. Monet said about his art, "I am simply expending my efforts upon a maximum of appearances in close correlation with unknown realities. When one is on the plane of concordant appearances one cannot be far from reality, or at least from what we can know of it
Your effort is to wish to reduce the world to your measure, whereas, by enlarging your knowledge of things, you will find your knowledge of self enlarged." The paintings, twenty-two panels, were given as a gift to France to celebrate Victory Day, the Armistice of World War I in November, 1918.
The final years of Monet's life were spent working on the Grandes Décorations, as he called the murals. Monet intended these paintings to offer the experience of being surrounded by his water garden. In spite of failing eyesight and health, Monet worked on these final paintings whenever he was able. New glasses helped restore his confidence and enthusiasm for his painting in 1925.
In the summer of 1926, realizing that he would not live much longer, Monet asked his step-daughter Blanche to help him destroy some sixty canvases which were stored in his studio. Before his death in December, Monet told his family that he wanted a simple funeral, with no religious service and no flowers. He said, "Bury me as if I were a local man. And you, my relatives, only you shall walk behind my coffin... Above all, remember I want neither flowers nor wreaths. Those are vain honors. It would be a sacrilege to plunder the flowers of my garden for an occasion such as this."
On December 5, 1926, Monet died. He was buried in the Hoschedé family tomb in the Giverny churchyard next to Alice. A simple sheaf of wheat was placed on his coffin.
The Grandes Décorations were installed in the Orangerie the following spring. According to Monet's instructions, the canvases were removed from their stretchers and affixed directly to the curving walls. Throughout his life, Monet defined his art as a means to express his harmony with the natural world. "All I did," he said, "was to look at what the universe showed me, to let my brush bear witness to it."
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