Claude Monet was a founder of the French Impressionist movement in which artists attempted to paint their immediate perceptions of a thing instead of the thing itself.
Monet was born in France on November 14, 1840. He began art school when he was eleven years old. People got to know him because he sold charcoal caricatures around town. He studied art from a series of skilled mentors. Eugene Boudin, for example, helped Monet master oil paints and the “plein air” techniques that artists used when painting outside.
In 1857, Monet left school to live with his aunt in Paris. He met many other artists while he was there. During a visit to the Louvre museum, other students copied the work of famous artists. Instead of studying the styles of other painters, Monet sat by the window and painted the view.
Monet enlisted in the French military’s First Regiment of African Light Cavalry. He was stationed in Algeria for two years before he got sick and came home. To get out of the army, he agreed to complete a course at art school. Thanks to his studies, Monet met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frederic Bazille and Alfred Sisley. The artists shared their ideas about painting and taught each other to paint light en plein air with broken color and rapid brushstrokes. Their shared style later came to be known as Impressionism.
After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Monet and his wife found safety in England. While there, he studied the works of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner. Their landscapes inspired Monet’s use of color. He honed his skills during trips to Holland and an eventual return to France.
Monet’s work was refused by the Royal Academy of Art but, in 1872, he painted Impression, Sunrise. From the painting’s title, an art critic coined the term “Impressionism.” He meant the word as an insult, but the Impressionists liked it and used it as their name.
After the death of his wife, a grief-stricken Monet created some of his best paintings. He documented the French countryside in a series of landscapes and seascapes. He and his family eventually moved to Giverny. Monet designed a large garden there with water lilies, a pond, and a bridge. He enjoyed painting nature in controlled environments. So, he adjusted the garden frequently so that he would always have something new to paint.
The colors of Monet’s paintings changed in the final years of his life. They became reddish when he suffered from cataracts in his eyes, then they became much bluer after eye surgery enabled him to see more ultraviolet colors than most people can perceive.
Claude Monet died in 1926. A retrospective of his work toured the world and established his public appeal. His epic scale and stylistic innovation inspired Abstract Expressionist painters like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Monet is still one of the most important figures in the modern art world. He offered this bit of wisdom for future artists: “I would advise young artists… to paint as they can, as long as they can, without being afraid of painting badly.”
Portrait drawn by yours truly.