"It's on the strength
of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly."
Born in Paris in 1840, Claude Oscar Monet revolutionized
the way art is made and looked at. He gives us one of the lessons that I always stress; paint what you really see, not what
you ought to see. His interest in light, nature, and brushwork is evident in his paintings. In his youth, he resisted attending
a formal school and was more interested in drawing caricatures of the kids at the school than the "academic work." In school
he was called "the Dandy," due to his well-dressed appearance. One of his first drawing teachers was François-Charles Ochard. Monet had little formal education and went off
to create. Meeting and working along side artists in the field was common, and Monet was greatly influenced by Eugène Boudin. "I consider Boudin as my
Master…I owe everything to [him] and I attribute my success to him." He went to Paris to paint under Thomas Couture, but ended up attending the Académie Suisse.
Around 1860-1861 he was chosen to serve in the French National Service, where he was stationed in Northern Africa. His Aunt
Sophie paid his release from the remaining five years of military service. So in those early years, he was back in Paris in
the studio of Charles Gleyre. This brief training
in an academic studio was great to help develop his skills, but maybe even more importantly, he had an opportunity to meet
with other art students; Pierre Auguste Renoir, Frederic Bazille,
Alfred Sisley, and James Whistler. Monet's last formal teacher was a driving force behind the idea of Impressionism,
Johan Jongkind, who Monet said, "it was him that I owed the final education of my eye." As he became
known, he was being confused with the famous Édouard Manet,
who said, "Who is this Monet whose name sounds just like mine and who is taking advantage of my notoriety?" When they met,
they become very close friends. Later in life, Monet was asked to teach a class, but said, "No. I have, myself, too much to learn for any such amusement as that." Monet's best
lesson is his example.
At this time in history, in Paris, the
only way to gain true success as a painter was through having ones work selected and displayed in the official French Salon.
At the beginning he had a lot of success, having two paintings accepted in the 1865 and 1866 shows. This led to several important
commissioned works and got him credibility with the rich art collectors. But as the years progressed, his art changed and
he was rejected from the salon year after year. In the late 1960’s and 1870’s he was on the run from his creditors
and bill collectors. In 1867 his girlfriend of two years, Camille Doncieux, gave birth to a son, Jean. This was an added strain on the finances, but they scraped by, barely. When they started to get ahead, it got worse; like
in 1868 Monet had five works in a show at the International Maritime Exhibit and was awarded a silver medal, but creditors
seized the award ad all of the paintings. Camille and Claude were married on June 28, 1870, and a month later the Franco-Prussian
War erupts. In the war, his great painting friend, Frederic Bazille, is killed in battle. During the war, the family moved back and forth between London, England; France;
and Holland. It was at this time he converted a boat into his floating studio.
In April of 1874 an exhibition opened in Paris that featured the works of Monet, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Frederic Sisley,
and others. A Monet painting, Impression: Sunrise, caught the eye of art critic Leuis Leroy.
Louis Leroy (1812-1885) was a landscape painter and critic that studied under François-Edouard Bertin . Leroy was writing about this show in "Le Charivari."
He said that this was the most fitting title to this artwork. It was not a sunrise, it was an impression of one, just like
Monet is not a painter, he was doing an impression of one. "It's unheard of,
dreadful! It's going to give me a stroke!" Mr. Leroy though that "Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more labored than this seascape [Impression:
Sunrise]!" But the name, the Impressionists,
caught on and soon was worn like a badge of honor.
Monet was working on some 100 paintings in London, all at the same time. One of
those was Impression: Sunrise. The work, not only the title, was very recognized then as it is now and propelled Monet to
be the unofficial leader of the Impressionists. This helped him gain some critical acclaim, social clout, and monetary gains.
Monet and many of the others began their own exhibitions. The first took place in studio of notable photographer Félix Nadar . This first exhibition of the Impressionists
featured thirty artists that created 165 artworks in 1874 that could be viewed from 10am until 6pm, and re-opened from 8pm
until 10pm. They wanted to showcase their work in a free exhibition that was without jury and awards. The group would hold
the exhibition eight times, the last took place on May 15,1886, without Monet’s participation.
1872. Oil on Canvas. 18.8 X 24.8 in. Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris, France.
Camille was very ill. She had an abortion in 1876 that caused her a lot of infection. Camille then gave birth to their
second son, Michel, on March 17, 1878. It was around this time that financial strain once again strained the Monet family.
They moved in with the family of Ernest Hoschedé, a wealthy department store owner, at Vétheuil. They would stay here for
over three years. Camille died on September 5th of 1879, leaving Claude with the charge of caring for his two young
sons. Ernest’s wife, Alice, was caring for their six kids and now Monet’s two. It is thought there was a strong
connection between Claude and Alice, even before Camille died, because it wasn’t long before Monet was becoming intimate
with Alice. He chose to move to Poissy and was by Alice with her children, against her husband’s wishes. Many think
an artist needs to lived in the city, and what better city to live in at this time for an artist than Paris? But Monet hated
Paris. He hated the harassment of the snobs of the city. He much preferred the slower life of painting in the gardens with
his cigar in hand. Living in the country, Monet was once again able to focus on his work. One of Monet’s art dealers,
Charles Durand-Ruel, found some prosperity in selling Monet’s works in a new market: exporting them to the United States.
Monet hated the idea. "I’ve never been particularly in favor of the American venture." He hated it so much that when
he died he gave all his art to the French government so it would not leave the country.
Traveling to new locations was an important component in Monet’s
work. On one occasion he was out painting The Mannerportre near Etretat: "I was hard at work beneath the cliff, well sheltered from the wind…convinced the tide was drawing
out I took no notice of the waves which came and fell a few feet away from me. In short, absorbed as I was, I didn’t
see a huge wave coming; it threw me against the cliff and I was tossed about in its wake along with all my materials! My immediate
thought was that I was done for, as the water dragged me down, but in the end I managed to clamber out on all fours, but Lord,
what a state I was in! My boots, my thick stockings and my coat were all soaked through; the palette which I had kept a grip
on had been knocked over my face and my beard was covered in blue, yellow etc."
He and Alice moved with the kids to Giverny in 1883, where they rent a house (that they would eventually buy). Soon after
moving, he was a pallbearer at Manet’s funeral. The loss
of his good friend was hard for him, but I believe it inspired him to work. In the 1890’s he worked in Giverny and Rouen. His time in Rouen is most recognized by his nearly forty paintings of the cities Gothic cathedral. An example of these paintings is The Rouen Cathedral. He painted the works from a little
curiosity shop called Au Caprice. "The souvenir merchant at whose place I‘m
working has just asked me not to come in the afternoon in the future, as it puts off passing customers; I didn’t hide
my desperation at the news and offered him one, and then two thousand francs, which is what he wanted and he‘s agreed
to put up with me for a few more days, but I can see it‘s disturbing him..." His process
is well documented. He was up before six each day and would leave his hotel room in the early morning. He was working by seven
each morning; standing at his easel as he documented the changing light and color effects as the sun came up and into the
evening hours (about 7) each day. This observation had to be first hand. He worked around a set of paints, multiple easels
and canvases in varied stages of completion. As the light changes, he would change his focus to another canvas, literally
working on about a dozen painting in one morning. Preferring to block in the general colors, wait, add some detail, wait,
and so on until the work was completed, working as long as a half an hour on one before moving to another. This was a painting
process that took several days with ideal conditions to capture an image to his satisfaction. It is also said the he would
do some minor touchups in the studio, although there are some that he spent years perfecting. "Every single
one of my paintings is in need of some kind of revision and the finishing touches must be done with care, and this will mean
much more than a day's work." He was not an accomplished drawer, but would occasionally sketch the contour out in charcoal before beginning to paint. "I never draw except with a brush and paint and I’ve always refused
requests even from friends to employ a technique I know nothing about…I've never liked
to separate drawing from color. That's my way of seeing; it's not a theory." Many would
snicker at the artist walking out to paint with his wheelbarrow filled with supplies. He first worked in this way painting
the haystacks around his home (Monet called them Grain Stakes). But as he worked throughout his life, he worked in bursts. When in the mood he worked nonstop without allowing any distractions,
but would also go weeks without touching a paint brush.
1894. Oil on Canvas. 89½ x 25 inches. Musée d'Orsay,
Like all artists, Monet had works that he was frustrated with and thought unsatisfactory. He had a set of works that he
was laboring off and on for about three years. Each painting was valued at about $100,000. Friends and critics who had seen
them said that they were maybe his finest works ever and the work was going to be in a huge Paris exhibition the next week,
but at the last moment as he looked at the work he was angered at their quality. With a paintbrush and a knife he destroyed
every one of those works despite the protest of those that witnessed his act of rage.
When Ernest, Alice’s husband, died in 1891, it opened
the door for Claude and Alice to make their relationship official. They were married on July 16, 1892. He now wanted to settle
down in a home with his wife. This is when they bought additional land to begin building the water-lily garden. Monet could
now work and study color without extended traveling, he only had to move from one end of his property to the other. Monet
enjoyed his wealth in his old age. Much of his late work revolves around his garden. The lily pond, flowerbeds, Japanese style
bridge, trellises, and walking paths gave him plenty to see and spark his creative impulses. "These landscapes
of water and reflections have become an obsession." He even diverted a small river through the pond to help his rare
plant collection prosper.
Monet had suffered some health problems. He collapsed due
to over exhaustion in 1901, and his health an eye sight steadily declined until 1912. Alice had died the year before and his
friends and family finally talked him into going to see a doctor. He had double cataracts, but refused surgery. In 1914, his
oldest son died and his son's wife, Blanche (who was also Alice’s daughter) was “hired” as his maid and
confidante. His work was harder to do each year due to his declining eyesight. Monet’s last large series of work was
Les Nymphéas. This was a series of huge canvases that were installed in the Orangerie, in two large
rooms with curved walls. With this he could create a virtual panorama of his paintings. He lived to see this to completion.
Monet had cataracts removed from his eyes in 1923, but soon became ill and was confined to his bed. “I
was thinking of preparing my palette and brushes to resume work.” He had just received a shipment of lily bulbs
from Japan and was making plans for the garden. Monet was asked "Are you suffering?" He quietly replied "No." and then he died at noon at his home in Giverny, only months before
his water lilies would be dedicated at the Orangerie.