Claude Oscar Monet, November 14, 1840 (Paris, France); died December 5, 1926 (Giverny, France)
Colorful landscape and figurative paintings observed from nature; compositions inspired by Japanese woodcuts; broken brushwork
Claude Monet was born in Paris, although his family moved to Le Havre when he was five years old. It was a move that was to have a great impact on his future work, for Monet's childhood was spent exploring the Normandy coastline and countryside and watching the effects of the rapidly changing weather on the sea and the land. Furthermore, the technique of local artist Eugene Boudin was to influence Monet's approach to painting for life. Boudin introduced him to the concept of plein-air painting, done outdoors directly from observation. At the age of twenty-two, Monet joined the Paris studio of academic painter Charles Gleyre, where he met fellow future impressionists Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Frederic Bazille. Monet enjoyed limited success with a number of landscapes, seascapes, and portraits that were accepted for exhibition at the annual Salons, but his large-scale, more challenging works were refused. The bitter disappointment of the rejection of works such as Woman in the Garden (1866) prompted Monet to join with Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Renoir, and others in establishing the Societe Anonyme des Artistes. The group held its first independent exhibition in 1874. One of Monet's submissions to the exhibition was Impression, Sunrise (c. 1873). The work drew scorn from the critics for its apparently unfinished appearance. Critic Louis Leroy borrowed the painting's title for his damning review of the show, mockingly describing it as "The Exhibition of the Impressionists". Yet far from being dishearted, the artists embraced the derisory term "impressionist"; they determined to take their lead from the accusation and forged a new, highly successful way of working. Monet was never at a loss for subject matter, usually seeking to capture the people and places he knew best. Both his wives served as models, and he drew inspiration from the gardens and buildings of Paris, the Normandy coastline and countryside, and his beloved garden in Giverny. This idyllic setting became a magnet for Monet's friends, such as Manet and Renoir, providing them with a tranquil break from the hustle and bustle of Paris. Monet continued the practice of the Barbizon school of painters from the early nineteenth century, observing his subject matter directly from life. Yet unlike the Barbizon artists who painted only their preliminary sketches outdoors, Monet worked more extensively out of doors, even on his large-scale canvases. Monet's desire to capture nature as freshly as possible turned him away from the traditions of western landscape painting toward oriental art, most notably Japanese woodcuts. His fascination with the perceptual process and how it changed according to the time of the day or season reached new heights in his series paintings: Haystacks (1888-1889), Poplars (1892), and Rouen Cathedral (1892 - 1894), which depict versions of a given scene at various different times of day. The works are a landmark in the history of painting because light and shadow appear as tangible as solid matter. The latter period of Monet's career was focused on the waterlily ponds at Giverny. The works take the form of outsize, mural-like canvases. Plants and water merge into abstract visions of color, and differentiated texture is created using crisscross strokes of impastoed paint. Shortly after Monet's death, the French government installed his last waterlily series in a specially commissioned gallery, the Musee de l'Orangeries des Tuileries.
To know: Monet's Impression, Sunrise (1873) gave the impressionist artistic movement its name. The work's subject is the harbor of Le Havre in France. The painting is evocative and atmospheric, with Monet employing loose, gestural brushwork to convey how the bright orange sun emerges through the wispy sea mist, and reflects its light off the surface of the water below. When Parisian newspaper Le Charivari's art critic, Louis Leroy, saw the painting in the independent impressionists exhibition of 1874, he exclaimed, "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". The impressionists remained undaunted by such a reception. Later in life, Monet explained how he came to title his now famous sunrise painting: "Landscape is nothing but an impression, and an instantaneous one, hence this label that was given us, by the way because of me. I had sent a thing done in Le Havre, from my window, sun in the mist and a few masts of boats sticking up in the foreground.... They asked me for a title for the catalogue, it couldn't really be taken for a view of Le Havre, and I said, 'Put Impression'".