I would like to paint as the bird sings.
laude Monet has emerged in the recent literature as a different historical figure from the courageous, penniless and misunderstood revolutionary portrayed in John Rewald's History of Impressionism (1946). In fact, Virginia Spate (The Colour of Time, 1992) had characterized Monet as a self-centered artist, a spendthrift with dandy tendencies rather than a sympathetic or generous person, even to friends of family, and as a perennial manipulator. Although he indeed experienced bad years, especially in the late 1860s and late '70s, it turns out that he was actually rather well-to-do for most of his life.
All in all, it would seem that Monet had a higher standard of living than the average Parisian doctor, and beginning in the 1890s he became downright wealthy. If he had been sometimes short of cash, it was because he liked to live in big houses, eat good food and drink good wine. Later on he was far more affluent, partly because of the high prices his work commanded, partly because - not what you might expect of a misty, nature-loving Impressionist, this - he played the stock exchange.
If Monet talked a lot about money, it was, in the words of the biographer Spate, because he was "obsessed by it, chronically mean but a huge spender, and even when he was very rich, irrationally fearful of losing everything".
However, income aside, it would be misleading to forget how non-conformist Monet was for his times: he fathered his first child out of wedlock, avoided wartime military responsibilities, setup a household (after the death of his first wife) with a married woman and disavowed religion to say nothing of his revolutionary approach to painting which left the 20th century a lasting legacy." (1)
Monet was born on November 14, 1840 on the fifth floor of 45 rue Laffitte, in the ninth arrondissement of Paris. He was the second son of Claude-Adolphe and Louise-Justine Aubrée Monet, both, second-generation Parisians. He later described the Parisian atmosphere of his home as “entirely concerned with commerce, where everyone professed a contemptuous disdain for art.” In reality, Oscar’s mother Louise-Justine was an elegant woman and trained soprano who loved to paint and write poetry. "Mme Monet was a consummate hostess who filled their ornately decorated home with music and cultured guests. On May 20, 1841, he was baptized into the local church parish, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette as Oscar-Claude."(2)
The young Monet spent his childhood in the Normandy coastal town of Le Havre , where his father prospered as a grocer and ship chandler. This event has more than biographical significance, for it was Monet's childhood, spent along the beaches, and the intimate knowledge he gained of the sea and the rapidly shifting Norman weather, that would one day give rise to his fresh vision of nature. The sea thus became the constant background of his whole childhood, and he spent more time roaming the beaches than in the schoolroom. He wrote of himself:
"I was born undisciplined. Never, even as a child, could I be made to obey a set rule. What little I know I learned at home. School was always like a prison to me, I could never bring myself to stay there, even four hours a day, when the sun was shining and the sea was so tempting, and it was such fun scrambling over cliffs and paddling in the shallows. Such, to the great despair of my parents, was the unruly but healthy life I lived until I was fourteen or fifteen. In the meantime I somehow picked up the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic, with a smattering of spelling. And there my schooling ended. It never worried me very much because I always had plenty of amusements on the side. I doodled in the margins of my books, I decorated our blue copy paper with ultra-fantastic drawings, and I drew the faces and profiles of my schoolmasters as outrageously as I could, distorting them out of all recognition."
Although his father urged his son to dedicate himself to the family grocery store business, Monet wanted to become an artist. Perhaps the musical inclinations of his mother had had played a part of the aesthetic background of Monet's childhood.
Monet drew feverishly as a child. In these early years he executed pencil sketches of sailing ships, which were almost technical in their clear descriptiveness. A document detailing this activity emerged recently with the discovery of a book-length journal that had belonged to Théophile Beguin Billecocq, a friend of the Monet family who was himself an amateur draftsman. Billecocq encouraged the young Monet taking him on holiday outings observing him and encouraging him by giving him money and buying pictures from him. Billecocq describes going on picnics where the Monet handed everyone sketchbooks for drawing competitions that he would always win. "His sketches, whether in crayon or pencil, were always excellent, even if they were rapidly executed," Billecocq wrote in his journal. "He knew how to capture the essential characteristics of a scene."
On 1 April, 1851 Monet entered the Le Havre "college communal" which provided him with a "classical" foundation: Latin and Greek. The college also housed a school of commerce and municipal drawing school. Luckily, the school was on Rue de la Maillereaye, near Claude's home, so he could sleep at home. There were two class sessions, a little over two hours each: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Fifty years later he was to say: "The school always felt like a prison, I could never resign myself to living there, even four hours a day."
Although few documents remain to give information about Monet’s youth, his sketchbook from the months of February to October of 1857 survives. Michel Monet, Claude Monet’s younger son, eventually inherited it and first showed the early drawings to academics in the mid-1960s. The sketchbook is an important record of Monet’s artistic development.
This sketchbook consisted of 55 pages, each approximately 20 by 30 centimeters. It was probably too big to carry with him daily. His mother is known to have carried a pocket-sized book for drawing, and at this stage it is likely that the young artists did the same. Unfortunately none of these smaller sketchbooks from his teenage years have survived. The pages of this larger album were of different colors, a common feature of the commercially sold sketchbooks of the time. The paper colors were primarily ivory, gray, warm gray and buff. Monet seems to have preferred different colors for different types of drawings, generally using the colored paper for landscapes, which comprised about half of the book, and using the ivory paper for boats and caricatures.
On 28 January 1857 Monet's mother died when he was just 16 years old. That year he left school and was taken in by his widowed childless aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre. With his aunt's support he spent a year in Paris in 1859-1860, because she, unlike Monet's father, sympathized with his artistic interests and allowed him to continue his drawing lessons. By the time he was 17 or 18, he had dropped out of school for good. Although he was a bit rebellious as young artists often are, his artistic ambitions were clear from the beginning.
Monet first became known locally in Le Havre for his charcoal caricatures which he would sell for a tidy sum making the best of his vogue. He exhibited his caricatures at Gravier's, stationer, framer and ironmonger shop. Every Sunday new caricatures would go up.
"I started selling my portraits. Sizing up my customer, I charged ten or twenty francs a caricature, and it worked like a charm. Within a month my clientele had doubled. Had I gone on like that I'd be a millionaire today. Soon I was looked up to in the town, I was 'somebody'. In the shop-window of the one and only framemaker who could eke out a livelihood in Le Havre, my caricatures were impudently displayed, five or six abreast, in beaded frames or behind glass like very fine works of art, and when I saw troops of bystanders gazing at them in admiration, pointing at them and crying 'Why, that's so-and-so!', I was just bursting with pride."
Unfortunately, less than hundred original works have survived.
Monet's caricatures were displayed alongside the paining's of Eugène Boudin, a former partner of the store keeper. Monet soon met Boudin who was deeply impressed with the young man’s talent. Boudin was a dedicated landscape painter who was to exert a permanent influence on the budding artist. "If I become a painter", Monet told Jean-Aubry, "it is to Eugène Boudin that I owe the fact."
Boudin introduced Monet to outdoor painting, an activity which he entered reluctantly but which soon became the touchstone for his life's work. He undertook his first drawing lessons from Jacques-François Ochard, a former student of the revered classicist Jacques-Louis David.
How Monet made the exceptional transition from a cartoonist to a brilliant artist is not known. In one of a very few sketches that can be dated, in this case to 1857, the artist's fascination with light is already perceptible - the view of a Cliff at Sainte-Adress in pencil and white chalk conveys the shimmer of afternoon sunshine. Other drawings, almost topographical in their precision, reveal a side to Monet's art that is best forgotten.
It is curious to note that Monet in his later career played down the importance of drawing in his concept of art even though many of his are drawings are simply superb. He always strove to furnish an image of himself through the newspapers as an artist who painted directly from nature and avoided that his drawings "cloud" his public image as an artist since he deemed it little old-fashioned. Perhaps he felt that they undercut the spontaneity of his paintings.
In any case, Monet stated that an artist could work through color alone, aligning himself with Delacroix in the great critical debate that took place in French art between the "line" of Ingres and the "color" of Delacroix.
Furthermore, Monet's pastels and drawings are dispersed in small numbers in museums and private collections throughout the world, so there is no single important collection of Monet's works on paper to remind us of the important role drawing played in his creative process. His caricatures also benefited him financially. The sales of his first caricatures afforded the young artist the means to pay his way to Paris in 1860, where his first published work was a caricature. The influence of Daumier on Monet's graphics works and caricatures are immediately apparent. Even while he pursued this commercial venue of art Monet was nonetheless determined to survive as an artist and above all he knew that he didn't want to be a hack painter.
At that time France had a lottery system which determined who was called up for seven years of military service. If your family had the resources, you could pay for someone to take your place. One account has it that Monet's father offered to pay for a substitute if his son came to work for him, an offer rejected because Monet wanted to study art in Paris.
In any case, Monet was elected for military service and in June of 1861 he joined the Chasseurs d'Afrique (First Regiment of African Light Cavalry) in Algeria for two years of a seven-year military commitment. Whatever the reason enrolled, it is known that he succeeded in getting himself drafted into the Zouaves. He landed in Algiers undergoing military and horsemanship training. Not surprisingly, he found military life "tiresome" but nonetheless found time to sketch and paint. Drawing was one of his principal occupations during his periods of freedom. He distracted his companions in the garrison by making caricatures of their seniors and of his friends.
But upon contracting typhoid Monet was shipped home. His aunt Marie-Jeanne intervened to get him out of the army for good (for which she paid a tidy sum) if he agreed to complete an art course at a qualified academy.
Some historians believe that Monet's choice of Algiers for service had been a result of his admiration for the Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, whose coloristic work had been influenced by a visit to Morocco in 1832. The landscapes and colors of Algeria had presented an entirely different perspective of the world, one which was to inspire him for many years to come. One consequence of his time spent in Algeria was that, because of ridicule, he stopped using his first name, Oscar, and swapped to his second, Claude, instead.
Determined to pursue a career as an artist, and despite his first negative impressions, Monet moved back to Paris and, with the help of his family, enrolled in the academy of artist Charles Gleyre.
Monet did not enroll in l’Ecole des Artistes. Although a renowned institution, it was controlled by traditionalists. Remembering his own poverty as a student, Gleyre charged only ten francs for models and the studio. This leniency attracted a large number of artists. Among them, Monet was to meet three very close and influential friends: Frederic Bazille , Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. While all these three painters were talented , they came from very different social backgrounds.The unifying force that was to bind the group for so long , however , was the commitment and intense dedication to their new approach to art. One which was eventually to be labeled impressionism. Monet remained at Gleyre’s studio for approximately two years.
At the time, among the established artists, teachers, and critics in Europe’s highly political art world, an Academic Classical approach to art, that placed emphasis on the idealized depiction of Classical subjects that were meant most importantly to have a symbolic message or story, was considered to be the only way to make “real art.” Artistic motifs that were drawn from contemporary life and the actual experiences of the artist, and which were not consciously intended to convey any deep philosophical message or story but were simply an artist’s direct depiction of the world he saw around him, were looked upon as vulgar and below the true role of a fine artist. Gleyre attempted to guide Monet towards that academic approach to painting. But Monet encountered his friends at Gleyre's academy, among them Renoir and Pissaro.
Monet and Renoir became great friends during the Impressionist years. From the first days in the studio of the academic Gleyre the two often studied each others’ techniques, methods, and paintings in order to improve their art. On many occasions, in fact, they painted the same scene at the same point in time.
Monet remained in Paris for several years and tightened his relationship with the now-legendary painters who would become friends and fellow Impressionists.
From the beginning, Monet’s interest in nature was evident from his earliest sketchbooks filled with meticulous drawings of trees and countryside scenes. He first studied in Le Havre with Eugène Boudin, who was 16 years older than Monet. Boudin was an accomplished landscapist who extolled him the virtue of painting en plein air (from nature), contrary to traditional practice that had endured for centuries whereby landscapes were painted entirely within the confines of the artist's studio with auxiliary aid of a few sketches made from life. Boudin advised Monet to focus his efforts on landscape. Monet clearly valued Boudin’s words, describing his penchant for landscape in an 1861 letter to a friend in which he wrote, “it is essential to think only about nature; it is by dint of observation and by reflection that you make discoveries.”
Working en plien air had not been entirely an invention of the Impressionists. "It has long been a tradition among English artists to use watercolor as a way of documenting specific landscapes, buildings, and city scenes. Even today many painters travel the globe to record exotic locations or architectural monuments. Beginning in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, watercolorists journeyed throughout England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, and Egypt, bringing back sketchbooks full of tinted drawings of the people, architecture, and landscape that interested English collectors. "(3)
However, there was a substantial difference in both intentions and end results of the two schools of painting. "Despite this emphasis on visual accuracy, the English always strived for a feeling of romanticism, nostalgia, or morality in their watercolors. Those sentiments were often conveyed with the addition of dark or agitated skies, ancient ruins, or small foreground figures tending their herds or contemplating their fate."(4)
On the other hand, Impressionists favored, at least theoretically, an impartial rendering of the optical event which had more in commoner with the social-economic environment of their times than the ideals of Romanticism.
Most of what we know about Monet in the 1860s comes from his letters to his artist friend Frédéric Bazille, whom he met in 1863 in Gleyre’s studio. Bazille, the son of a wealthy Montpellier family, was in Paris to start his medical career but studied painting on the side. When the two met, Monet had been painting for four years, while Bazille, one year younger, had been primarily occupied by his medical training, thus Monet was the more dominant artistic figure.
Monet’s words convey his passion for nature as well as his indifference towards any other subject, such as the human figure or still life. However, his desire to become a “serious” painter led him to doubt his estimation of the landscape genre, which had been for centuries considered secondary subject matter in respects to "history painting" which featured motifs drawn from the Bible or classical literature. Monet did not yet trust his instincts. For example, while working on his Déjeuner he wrote to Bazille, “I would like your opinion on the choice of landscape for my figures. Sometimes I’m afraid of making a mistake.” This sort of self-doubt seems uncharacteristic of the supremely confident Monet, but when placed in the context of his “serious” aspirations, it is more comprehensible. His anxiety also demonstrates the importance he attached to the landscape genre, even at this early stage: it mattered as much as, if not more than, the figures.
Le Dejeuner Sur, L'Herbe was never seen by the public and the subsequent story of the picture is sad. Monet kept it for years, then in 1878 had to leave it behind in Argenteuil, with a landlord to whom he owed rent. It was now rolled up, and by the time he could retrieve it six years later, parts had been ruined by damp. He cut out two fragments- the central group and the standing figures on the extreme left. After his death the central group was again cut down, for photographs of it hanging in Monet's studio at Giverny. The painting was based on the sketch, which Monet subsequently reworked, signing and dating it 1866.
Monet kept paintings that were unfinished and unsigned for years. He kept paintings of Camille and family for him to remember and treasure. Some he never showed to the public, some he never sold. Jean on his Mechanical Horse is a very private painting, a canvas that he kept all his life, never exhibiting it. Paul Stuckey states in his book in regards to the painting The Red Cape that Monet kept it his entire life, never putting it before the public.
During the early years of their friendship, Monet and Bazille posed for each another, painted side by side, and helped each other with practical matters, such as shipping and storing canvases, finding frames and patrons, and planning for exhibitions. In 1864 the two went to Sainte-Adresse, on the coast of Normandy, where they worked together, staying with Monet’s family and painting seascapes. Bazille often lent to Monet, as artists-in-training copy works of the masters, demonstrating the former’s high regard for the latter’s work. A year after the two met Bazille decided to abandon medicine and devote himself entirely to painting. Starting in January 1865, the two shared a studio on rue de Furstenberg in Paris, with two bedrooms allowing them to live there.
Throughout their time together, Bazille often helped Monet financially.
In the summer of 1863, Monet made his first trip to the Forest of Fontainebleau and frequently painted there and on the Channel coast, around Le Havre and Honfleur. Inspired by the possibilities of painting in nature, rather than in the studio, artists traveled to the rugged Forest of Fontainebleau near Paris from the early 1820s to the mid-1870s forging innovations in art that would resonate for generations to follow. There, among the rural villages and the vast and varied wilderness, they laid the groundwork for Impressionism, influenced the development of landscape photography, and raised early advocacy for nature conservancy.
The Forest of Fontainebleau is located about 35 miles southeast of Paris. At about 50,000 acres, it is not only France’s largest forest, but its most topographically diverse with dramatic stands of centuries-old oak trees, rocky plateaus and gorges, and desolate, arid spaces. Corot was among the first artists to begin making regular visits to the forest in the early 1820s. Others soon joined him in experimenting with open-air painting and the challenge of capturing light, shadow, weather, and seasons in this “natural studio.” Those years quietly marked the beginning of a revolution in landscape painting in France that would spread throughout Europe and the United States.
By the 1830s, an informal artists’ colony was established in Barbizon, one of several villages situated along the perimeter of the forest, favored because it had the best accommodations.
Following in the path of the Barbizon painters, Monet adopted and deepened their commitment to first hand observation and naturalistic representation. Whereas the Barbizon artists painted only preliminary sketches en plein air, unable to entirely break with conventional practice, Monet often worked directly on large-scale canvases out of doors, then reworked and completed them in his studio. His quest to capture nature more accurately also prompted him to reject European conventions governing composition, color, and perspective. Influenced by Japanese woodblock prints, his asymmetrical arrangements emphasized the two-dimensional pictorial surface all but eliminating linear perspective and abandoning accepted three-dimensional modeling. He brought a vibrant chromatic richness to his works by using pure color, adding strong coloring (instead of the traditional brown or gray monochrome) to his shadows. He prepared canvases with light-colored primers instead of the dark grounds used in traditional landscape paintings in order to accentuate the chromatic intensity of his pigments.
In a sense, Impressionism grew and flourished in cafes, of which there were at least 24,000 in the Paris area. If Impressionism could be said to have a birthplace, the Café Guerbois on Batignolles Street was it. As Monet later recalled, "Nothing could have been more stimulating than the regular discussions which we used to have there, with their constant clashes of opinion. They kept our wits sharpened, and supplied us with a stock of enthusiasm which lasted us for weeks, and kept us going until the final realization of an idea was accomplished. From them we emerged with a stronger determination and with our thoughts clearer and more sharply defined." During this period, Monet was a frequenter of the legendary Café Guerbois, in Paris. Writers and art lovers gathered to discuss art and society (the bohèmes or bohemians as they were called), strongly contrasting with the bourgeois. Centered around Édouard Manet, the group met at the café usually on Sundays and Thursdays.
Émile Zola, Frédéric Bazille, Louis Edmond Duranty, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley regularly joined in the discussions. Sometimes Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro also joined in. The group is sometimes called The Batignolles Group. Conversations there were often animated. On one evening in February 1870, things became so heated that Manet, insulted by a review that Duranty wrote, wounded Duranty in a duel. The injury was not fatal, and the two remained friends.
Despite some success in 1865, when two of his works were exhibited at the Salon, by 1867 financial difficulties forced Monet to return to his family in Le Havre, leaving his pregnant companion, Camille-Léonie Doncieux, in Paris, where she gave birth to their first son, Jean. The couple were married in 1870; soon after, in response to the Franco-Prussian War, they left for London.
In the summer of 1870, at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Monet fled to England; there he remained until the following year, returning to France by way of Holland. He was attracted by the landscape of the low countries and the picturesque Dutch windmills, which appear frequently in the paintings made during his stay in Holland. He was also intrigued by the reflections of light on water, a recurrent theme in early Impressionist paintings, He painted the shimmering surface of the canal with the same substantial brush strokes he employed in the gabled buildings.
Returning to France, Monet moved first to Argenteuil, just fifteen minutes from Paris by train, then west to Vétheuil, Poissy. His homes and gardens became gathering places for friends, including Manet and Renoir, who often painted alongside their host. Yet Monet's paintings cast a surprisingly objective eye on these scenes, which include few signs of domestic relations.
In the spring of 1867 Monet was granted official permission to install himself and his easel in an east end balcony of the Louvre. The resulting paintings are Monet's earliest images of Paris: the Quai du Louvre, Jardin de l'Infante, painted from nearly the same viewpoint; and St. Germain-l'Auxerrois. These works belong to a critical moment within Monet's formation of an idiom for painting modern life. Previously, Monet's most ambitious paintings - Déjeuner sur l'Herbe or Woman in the Garden (both 1866) - had focused on the individual comportment and dress of middle-class men and women taking their leisure in intimate, outdoor settings. The Paris views multiply and disperse these figures within a broad expanse of space and atmospheric phenomena, amidst a wide variety of incident, movement, and activity.
Throughout his life Monet found subjects in his immediate surroundings and he preferred to paint the people and places he knew best and since his art depends on observation of his environment, it is always autobiographical to some extent. His first wife, Camille, and his second wife, Alice, frequently served as models. His landscapes chart journeys around the north of France and to London.
Camille Donieux was still in her teens when Monet met her around 1865. Although she was of humble origins and worked as a model, she was an attractive, intelligent girl with dark hair and wonderful eyes. Camille was seven years younger than Monet who was just a poor painter at that time. Camille became his girlfriend, mistress and model. Unfortunately, the couple lived in depressing poverty. Right up to her death she sat for him regularly, appearing frequently as a female figure in a rural landscape. Some of these canvases are among Monet's finest masterpieces.
Shortly before leaving Paris for Trouville, Camille and Claude were married in a civil ceremony performed at the town hall of the eighth arrondissement. The rebellious French painter Gustave Courbet was one of the witnesses. Camille's parents were present, and the affair was conducted with proper formality. All that marred the occasion was the absence of Monet's farther and aunt, who regarded the union as a disastrous misalliance. The Doncieux family had the foresight to insist on a marriage settlement that allowed their daughter to retain control of her own small dowry, an insurance against the prodigal instincts of their future son-in-law.
Monet spent the summer of 1867 in Sainte-Adresse, a small town on the Channel coast of Normandy just north of Le Havre. Among the works painted that summer were The Beach at Sainte-Adresse and Garden at Sainte-Adresse. On June 25, Monet reported to fellow painter and friend Frédéric Bazille that all was well: "I have been here for fifteen days, happy and as well as can be expected. Everyone is charming and admires every stroke of my brush." Undoubtedly his admirers included the figures depicted here: the artist's cousin Jeanne-Marguerite Lecadre, standing beside an unidentified gentleman in the middle ground; Monet's aunt, Madame Lecadre; and his father Adolphe, seated in the foreground.
With the Salon deadline looming and in desperate need of money, Monet quickly completed a full length formal portrait of Camille entitled Woman in a Green Dress, finishing it in only four days. He did finish it in time and it was accepted into the Salon where it was met with much public admiration and Arsène Houssaye purchased it for a sum of 800 francs, an unbelievable amount for such a young, unestablished artist. Monet was thereafter commissioned to make the portrait of Madame Gaudibert of Le Havre.
Riding on his success (and his earnings) from Woman in a Green Dress, Monet quickly launched into his next major work: Women in the Garden. He planned to execute this project on a canvas that measured over eight feet in height, attempting to capture the effect of light falling through trees on a group of women enjoying a leafy, sun-filled garden. Camille again served as his model, posing for all four figures that appear in the painting, and as a result they all bear a strong resemblance to each other. Despite Monet’s effort, the Salon’s jury rejected Women in the Garden which he submitted in 1867. This was not a total surprise for Monet, though, as the Salon looked with disfavor on art that was outside of the academic standards of the time, which Monet’s clearly was: The figures are not part of any historical, literary, religious, or social message – they have no story line – they simply exist. The piece, like all of Monet’s work, was not intended to convey any deep symbolic message but was created solely to give pleasure and delight to the viewer – and this goal was considered unworthy of a “true” artist.
After the failure of Women in the Garden, again on the brink of economic ruin, and with Camille pregnant, Monet had to return home to Le Havre to make peace with his family, who were threatening to cut off his allowance, and while he was away Camille gave birth to their first son, Jean. He also wrote desperate letters to his friends, among them Bazille, begging them to loan him money. Monet made a half-hearted attempt at suicide by throwing himself into the Seine.
The following year Camille modeled for On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868.
Monet was not the only young artist in Paris to paint a large-format picture of a single standing figure in those days. Manet, Renoir and Carolus-Duran as well as Tissot and Whistler also dealt with this theme. Like Monet's Camille, their early figure paintings were not commissioned, either; instead, they represented their friends or models who can still be identified by name today.
Despite his copious planning, Monet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe remained a difficult task, and the troubles experienced by Monet as he tackled his life-size canvas seemed to reflect his actual disinterest in figure paintings.
In July or August of 1870 Monet painted The Hôtel des Roches Noires at Trouville, during what was effectively his honeymoon with Camille. Monet depicted the world Proust was to evoke in his description of life at the fictional resort of Balbec. The Duchesse de Guermantes, Odette de Crécy, Madame Verdurin, Charles Swann, Baron Charlus: the real-life prototypes for all these fictional characters might easily be among the beautifully turned-out men and women who stroll along this raised terrace overlooking the beach and boardwalk on a breezy day in high summer. Monet suggests the international flavor of Trouville by the prominence he gives to the American, French and British flags on the left of the picture.
In 1877 Camille gave birth to her second son, Michael. Soon Camille's health deteriorated - to some sources as a result of a malpracticed abortion, to others she had cancer. On September 5, 1879 Camille died at the age of 32. Monet had not always treated her well and probably had started a relationship with another woman, Alice Hoschede, while still being married to Camille. But he was deeply shocked at Camille's death. Claude painted her a last time - at her deathbed.
After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (July 19, 1870), Monet took refuge in England in September 1870. As Paris was under attack, the group who met at the Café Guerbois was dispersed and Bazille was was reported killed by a sniper during the conflict. Some, however, including Pissaro and Sisley, went to England along with Monet and his family until the war was over. While there, he studied the works of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner, whose landscapes would serve to inspire Monet's innovations in the study of color. In the Spring of 1871, Monet's works were refused to be included in the Royal Academy exhibition.
It was in London that Monet met Charles-François Daubigny, a fellow artist and a former member of the Salon’s jury who had resigned from the position after the Salon rejected one of Monet’s paintings. After learning of Monet’s troubles he introduced him to another French refugee, the gallery owner and enthusiast of Impressionism Paul Durand-Ruel. Durand-Ruel was in search of talented young painters and was struck by Monet’s work. He offered to buy his paintings for 300 francs each, a huge gamble as Monet was hardly an established artist. Needless to say, Monet jumped on the opportunity, remarking years later that “Durand was my salvation”.
In May 1871, Monet left London to live in Zaandam, Netherlands where he made 25 paintings (and the police suspected him of revolutionary activities ). He also had a first visit to nearby Amsterdam. In October or November 1871 he returned to France. He and Camille Doncieux had married just before the war (June 28, 1870) and, after their excursion to London and Zaandam, they had moved into a house in Argenteuil near the Seine River in December 1871 and stayed there for six years. After this moment, reflections in water became one of the primary preoccupations of Monet's art and France's national waterway became a constant touchstone.
In 1872 (or 1873), Monet painted the historic Impression, Sunrise (Impression: soleil levant) depicting a Le Havre landscape. It hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and is now displayed in the Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris. From the painting's title, art critic Louis Leroy coined the term "Impressionism", which he intended to be derogatory, however the Impressionists appropriated the term for themselves.
Although the Impressionist exhibitions took place in Paris, most of the core members of the group spent the 1870s living and working in smaller towns surrounding the capital.
Argenteuil lies on the banks of the Seine eleven kilometers to the northwest of Paris, a fifteen-minute train ride from the capital's Gare Saint-Lazare. With its railway line and factories, residences and river walks, it was in many ways typical of the suburban towns on the outskirts of Paris. Yet the contribution it made to the evolution of modern French painting sets it apart from neighboring villages. Argenteuil had much to offer Monet and his fellow impressionists: conveniently located with respect to Paris, yet less expensive than living in the city, it also presented them with a wide range of motifs for their landscape paintings. The views in and around the town were a great inspiration for Monet. During the 1870s and 1880s Argenteuil became an important source of inspiration for the impressionist artists, who immortalized its river views, bridges, streets, and gardens in their groundbreaking paintings. Their depictions of Argenteuil constitute one of the most exhaustive representations ever made of a single place and present a panorama of the predominant themes and quintessential features of Impressionist painting.
During this critical period of Impressionism Monet's house was an important meeting place for his friends and colleagues. Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, Gustave Caillebotte, Pissaro, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne all visited him at various times, either to share a meal or to paint and discuss their artistic goals. The garden subjects he painted in Argenteuil in the 1870's show lilac trees, rose bushes, dahlias, often with a young woman in summery skirts-his wife, Camille, enjoying the flickering shade on a tidy lawn. In some, the garden seems to encompass a generous slice of natural countryside, bursting beyond the limits of Monet's fences. These are enjoyable paintings, celebrations of a quiet life, making no other point than that blessings can be near at hand, shared with a pretty woman.
In 1876, Monet met Ernest and Alice Hoschedé, a Parisian businessman who had inherited a fortune from his father’s business (a merchant of fine laces and shawls) and from his marriage in 1863 to Alice Raingo, who came from a wealthy Belgian family.
Alice and Ernest divided their time between their luxurious Paris apartment at 64 Rue de Lisbonne and at the Château de Rottembourg at Montgeron to the south-east of the capital, where they entertained on a lavish scale, even chartering a special train to transport guests from the city.
Hoschedé inherited a love of art from his uncle, who left him his collection of 19th-century French paintings. Ernest went on to develop a passion for the Impressionists, especially Monet and Sisley, and became one of their most important early patrons. He commissioned Monet to paint four large decorative panels in his house at Montgeron between 1876 and 1877. During this period, Monet and the Hoschedés became close friends, and when Ernest’s extravagant lifestyle eventually caught up with him and he was financially ruined, Monet was swift to offer his support.
Hoschedé’s collection of impressionist paintings was sold in June 1878. The pictures went for disappointingly low prices and Ernest fled to Belgium for a while to escape his debts. The Hoschedés were forced to abandon their life of luxury and, in August 1878, at Monet’s suggestion, they moved into a small house in the village of Vétheuil, together with the artist, his wife Camille and their children Jean and Michael .
In Monet’s day, it was neither a favorite spot for holidaymakers, since it offered little in the way of leisure pursuits, nor easy for commuters, since the only link with the capital was by railway from Mantes, a 12km carriage-ride away. Most of the 622 residents made their living from the land.
The Monets, the Hoschedés and their children numbered 12 in total, not including their handful of servants, were soon forced to move to a larger house, situated on the road from Vétheuil to La Roche-Guyon. It was owned by a Madame Eve Elliot who lived nearby at Les Tourelles, an imposing mansion, whose distinctive turrets feature in several of Monet’s views of the village.
Vétheuil is a small town of 600 inhabitants on the Seine 40 miles downriver from Paris. Its relative isolation - the nearest railway station was eight miles distant - gave Monet an opportunity to advance his art away from the increasing congestion of Argenteuil. His years in Vétheuil were to prove difficult but productive.
Soon after the two families settled in Vétheuil, Ernest Hoschedé started working for the Paris newspaper Le Voltaire. He spent most of his time in the capital, leaving Alice and the family in Vétheuil where the rent was cheaper. Meanwhile, Monet was having difficulty selling his paintings and, to make matters worse, Camille was in need of almost constant care. Any money that Monet made and didn’t spend on paints and materials went towards buying medicine. Yet looking at the pictures that Monet produced during this period, there is little evidence of these difficulties. Although his letters to his friends are full of self-pity and pleas for financial assistance, his paintings, by contrast, are bursting with sunshine, color and luminosity.
On August 31, a priest was called to the house to administer the last rites and to sanction her marriage to Monet (which had been conducted in a civil ceremony in 1870). Five days later she died at the age of 32. Monet was devastated. A portrait , profound in its simplicity, of Monet's wife on her deathbed makes clear artist under grief's spell, painting a still life of dead game birds unlike anything else in his body of work. He painted her shrouded in a veil of white and blue brushstrokes in a last desperate attempt to preserve her memory.
During this period, which is considered to have been a turning point in the artist’s life, Monet suffered the death of his wife, financial difficulties, and unfavorable critical reception.
Monet spent much of the winter of 1879-80 painting still-lives, in the hope that they would sell more easily than his landscapes. In February 1880, the servants, tired of working for no pay, handed in their notice. The bleakness of Monet’s life seemed to be reflected in one of the harshest winters on record. The thermometer fell so low that the Seine froze over.
Once the thaw set in, huge blocks of ice began to force their way down the river, crashing into each other with such force that the family was woken from its sleep. Monet worked throughout the winter to capture this beautiful and eerie spectacle in a group of about a dozen stark and semi-abstract canvases such as The Break-up of Ice, some of which appear to prefigure his later waterlily paintings.
In June 1880, Monet exhibited a number of these paintings at his first solo exhibition at the gallery of La Vie Moderne, a weekly publication run by Georges Charpentier Georges Charpentier, the publisher of Emile Zola’s novels and an important early patron of the impressionists. In the exhibition catalogue, the collector and art critic Théodore Duret described how the artist "despite the season... leaves his studio and works outdoors under the open sky".
Monet had set up his easel in sub-zero conditions to execute these paintings and he liked to encourage the myth that they were completed entirely in the open air. We now know that Monet’s dedication to painting outside was not as rigorous as he liked to indicate and that, although he would spend several sittings working in front of the subject, many of his pictures were improved in the studio at a later stage.
From this brief period, Monet’s paintings began to sell, and he moved steadily toward the series as his preferred way of portraying landscape.
After Camille’s death, rumors began spreading about Monet’s relationship with Alice Hoschedé. Ernest was unwilling to give up his job in Paris, and Alice was reluctant to join him there. That year Hoschedé did not even return to his family for Christmas. In January 1880, Le Gaulois newspaper announced a mock funeral, reporting the "grievous loss" of Claude Monet who was living in Vétheuil with his "charming wife" (Alice Hoschedé). The article went on to report that Monet supported his former patron, Ernest Hoschedé, who was financially bankrupt and living in the artist’s studio in Paris.
In truth, Monet was hardly able to support himself. He was now six months behind with the rent and relying more and more on his friend, the artist Gustave Caillebotte, to lend him money.
After several difficult months following the death of Camille, the grief-stricken Monet (resolving never to be mired in poverty again) began in earnest to create some of his best paintings of the 19th century. During the early 1880's he painted several groups of landscapes and seascapes in what he considered to be campaigns to document the French countryside. His extensive campaigns evolved into his series' paintings.
After Alice's husband went bankrupted, and left in 1878 for Belgium, Alice Hoschedé helped Monet to raise his two sons, Jean and Michel, by taking them to Paris to live alongside her own six children. They were Blanche, Germaine, Suzanne, Marthe, Jean-Pierre, and Jacques. In the spring of 1880 Alice Hoschedé and all the children left Paris and rejoined Monet still living in the house in Vétheuil. In 1881 all of them moved to Poissy which Monet hated. From the doorway of the little train between Vernon and Gasny he discovered Giverny. In April 1883 they moved to Vernon, then to a house in Giverny, Eure, in Upper Normandy, where he planted a large garden where he painted for much of the rest of his life. Following the death of her estranged husband, Alice Hoschedé married Claude Monet in 1892.
By the early 1880s, Monet was increasingly interested in the painted surface itself and less concerned with capturing a spontaneous effect of light and atmosphere.
Monet's fascination with the south began in December 1883, when Renoir invited him on a trip to the Riviera. En route to the sea they visited Cézanne in L'Estaque. Once reaching the Mediterranean, their first stop was Monaco. The warm southern climate and its lush and exotic vegetation, palm trees, lianas and citrus trees were a glorious stimulant, and what Monet called, "the most beautiful spot on the entire Riviera."
Monet was so completely enchanted that he went back on his own the next month. He traveled south to Bordighera on the northwest coast of Italy, where he stayed ten weeks and painted about 35 landscapes. On his way home he stopped off for two weeks on the French Riviera, where he did another 11 works.
Four years later, in 1888, he again visited the south of France, staying in Antibes, where he painted some 40 paintings. The last of Monet's major excursions to the Mediterranean came in 1908, when the painter was in his late 60s. He spent the end of the year in Venice, where he produced 37 works. In all, Monet painted about 125 works on or near the shores of the Mediterranean.
By 1881 the original Impressionist group had begun to disintegrate, although it was still to hold two more exhibitions—the eighth and last (in which Monet did not show) in 1886, after the advent of Neo-Impressionism. Pissarro experimented with neoimpressionism. Renoir went to Italy, where he was inspired by the works of Raphael to adopt a more classical style. And Monet began to explore the same subject repeatedly in what are known today as his “series” paintings: grainstacks, poplar trees, Rouen cathedral, and other subjects, some near his home, others in England, Norway, and Italy.
Normandy was the first region of France to be intensively exploited as a site of tourism. Even in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, painters and draftsmen from France and Britain visited its farming communities, fishing villages, and regional cities in search of picturesque, sublime, or historically significant motifs, and Normandy all but dominated the "Voyages pittoresques" of the 1830s. Monet was conversant in the pictorial traditions of his native Normandy and was nurtured in its artistic community. The area’s natural scenic beauty provided subjects particularly well-suited to the interests of a painter such as he, who was fascinated by the ephemeral effects of light, atmosphere, time, and season. First transcribing and finally mythologizing the Norman countryside, Monet explored the region’s pictorial natural and man-made motifs.
Of the Impressionists, only Monet continued to paint with the same fervor to carry on the scrutiny of nature. Among the sites he chose during the 1880s were Pourville, Étretat, Fécamp, and Varangéville in Normandy; the rugged and isolated Breton island of Belle-Île; the wild Creuse River valley; Menton and Antibes in the Midi; and Bordighera in Italy. In 1886 he made a second visit to The Netherlands, to paint the tulip fields, before important sojourns at Étretat and Belle-Île.
Étretat had already been painted by both Delacroix and Courbet; Monet in fact owned a Delacroix watercolor of the area. The Courbet retrospective at the Eco le des Beaux-Arts in 1882 featured a group of Étretat seascapes. Monet visited Étretat in 1883 with plans to create his own Normandy seascapes: "I reckon on doing a big canvas on the cliff of Étretat, although it’s terribly audacious of me to do that after Courbet who did it so well, but I’ll try to do it differently." The region had become a fashionable holiday destination for Parisians, which may have encouraged Monet to create paintings for a growing market.
Monet's depictions of Normandy - its poppy fields, poplars, haystacks, Rouen Cathedral facade and, above all, its extraordinary coast—are regarded by art historians as revolutionary. The Normandy paintings embody a new vision, a fresh way of seeing, that assured Monet a place among the giants of art.
One of Monet's early landscapes, Garden at Sainte-Adresse, has been so often reproduced that it is familiar to most anyone with even a fleeting interest in art. But, as is the case, reproductions can only hint at the pleasures of viewing the original.
While the documentation of place surely is useful, Monet moved from the more traditional, three-dimensional perspective of realism (influenced by Millet and Courbet) into flattened perspectives (influenced by Japanese prints), the abstraction that evolved out of the Impressionist concern with capturing the quality of light, and an ever-increasing awareness of the brush stroke.
The Cliff Walk, Pourville (1882), seen from a distance, retains a strong connection with the recognizable. But get up close to this painting and it is a veritable abstraction created with multiple, highly energetic brush strokes; the two women on the cliff are deftly, if barely, sketched in, lost in the vastness of land and seascape.
While working on his motifs, Monet became entirely absorbed in his work, in a letter to to Alice Hoschedé from Étretat, 27 November 1885 he wrote:
"I was hard at work beneath the cliff, well sheltered from the wind, in the spot which you visited with me; convinced that 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! ... the worst of it was that I lost my painting which was very soon broken up, along with my easel, bag etc."
In the 1880s and 1890s, Monet executed series of paintings in which he focused on one subject in varying light and weather and from different viewpoints. The uniquely shaped haystacks in the fields near Giverny were the subject of more than two dozen canvasses. Poplars, symbols of liberty in France, were the subject of another series. In a departure from nature as subject matter, Rouen Cathedral, from different points of view and at different times of the day, became the subject of a series in the 1890s. And effet de neige canvases such as Frost (1885) and Snow Effect at Giverny (1895) proved Monet to be as adept at winter whites as he was with summer greens; his lively brushstrokes add significant energy even to these works of more restricted palette.
Monet was obsessed with color and light, to the extent that when a dear friend lay dying, he could only marvel at the succession of colors passing her motionless temples. His eye surveyed the whole range of colors in light. Lights, in fact, became the focus of his painting and his primary subject. By 1890, Monet had stopped painting figures.
Although critical acclaim was slow in coming, Monet attracted the dedicated support of collectors throughout his career, most notably from Americans who discovered his work in the 1880s. His influence on other artists was wide-ranging, from his near contemporaries such as Vincent van Gogh to a diverse new generation of artists such as Émile Bernard, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, and Maurice de Vlaminck. During the years 1886 to 1914, a predominantly American colony of artists gathered around him in Giverny and regarded him as an exemplar of modern French painting. They adopted his fresh palette, subject matter, and spontaneous style, eventually introducing these elements to American art.
By 1886, Durand-Ruel, Monet's dealer, was doing so poorly trying to sell paintings in France, and was such dire financial straights, that he decided to try to sell some paintings in America. He organized an exhibition of 300 paintings in New York at the American Art Association. Among them are 49 works by Monet and the exhibition was a success. American art Critics were ecstatic.From this point on, we lose a precise count of how many Monet paintings are sent to America. One thing is certain, it is a very large quantity and it can be measured by the quick changes in Monet's lifestyle.
American money allowed him to buy his house, additional land, to build his famous garden, greenhouses, additional buildings, to divert a stream for his pond, to build a Japanese bridge, a second studio and eventually to hire 6 full time gardeners. He was also able to travel, going to Norway and several times to London.
Monet entertained groups of friends who stayed for several days. Eight children and grand children lived with him. More often than not, 25 or 30 people were eating and living, and eight or nine were receiving wages, on his property at Giverny. So we know that many paintings went to America, for Monet to have been able to do all this and to maintain this opulent lifestyle.
Has every single painting sold to an American buyer in the 1880s and 1890s been accounted for? For now we know of exactly 2,050 paintings and about 500 drawings by the father of impressionism.
By the 1890s, Monet was at the height of popularity. His works presented more and more as ensembles or series to the awe of his critics. For nearly three decades, his paintings had been widely ridiculed, forcing him and his family to live in relative poverty. In fact, it was his painting "Impression" which coined the then-derogatory term "Impressionist." By 1900, Impressionism had become a national style and Monet was being hailed as France's great national painter. One French critic wrote that Monet had ''expressed everything that forms the soul of our race.''
Claude Monet carefully constructed his public image. He dropped his own first name, Oscar, to adopt a signature he preferred. He also courted journalists, giving interviews and drawing sketches of his paintings for reproduction, to ensure his name stayed in the public eye. Monet was one of the first artists in the age of mass communication. He was doing what Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon did - trying to project a controlled view of himself.
Whenever a journalist or collector asked him how he worked, he talked incessantly about the liberating possibilities of painting outdoors, forgoing any mention of the sketches, pastels and prints he quietly produced throughout his life.
Monet wasn’t the anti-draftsman he led the public to believe, and that he relied on drawing both to prepare for his paintings and as an independent form of expression.
He drew throughout his seven-decade career, filling pocket-size sketchbooks when he was a truculent teenager and executing pastel drawings of seascapes when he was in his 20s. He drew in different ways using different materials, and in his final years made abstract crayon and pencil drawings as studies for his water-lily paintings.
Although Monet helped perpetrate the myth that he did not, and maybe even could not, draw, nearly 500 of more than 2,500 works mentioned in his catalogue raisonné are sketchbooks, drawings and pastels. Yet, until now, few scholars have paid much attention to them.
After 40 years of Impressionism, people no longer considered it to be a "destructive force" in the field of art. Monet, with increasing financial stability, was now able to turn to motifs which interested him.
In 1883 Monet, Hoschedé, her children, and Monet's sons, Jean and Michel, settled at Giverny, a hamlet near Vernon, 52 miles (84 km) from Paris, on the tiny Epte River. There Monet purchased a farmhouse surrounded by an orchard, which was to be his home until his death and is now a French national monument. After the travels of the 1880s, Monet spent the '90s at or near Giverny, concentrating on one series after another.
Giverny is a French village located on the right bank of the Seine River in Normandy . It is famous for its willows and poplars but is most well known as the site where Monet painted some of his finest works. In addition, tourists can see the American Art Museum of Giverny and the Hôtel Baudy, the original artistic hub of the American colony which centered around Monet's fame. The Hôtel Baudy is now a restaurant and museum with period decorations complete with works of art by the former guests, a rose garden, and a turn-of-the-century studio built for visiting artists. When Monet moved to Giverny in 1883, there were only about 300 people in the community.
At the beginning of May 1883, Monet and his large family rented a house and two acres from a local landowner. The house was situated near the main road between the towns of Vernon and Gasny at Giverny. There was a barn that doubled as a painting studio, orchards and a small garden. The house was close enough to the local schools for the children to attend and the surrounding landscape offered an endless array of suitable motifs for Monet's work. The family worked and built up the gardens and Monet's fortunes began to change for the better as his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel had increasing success in selling his paintings.
By November 1890 Monet was prosperous enough to buy the house, the surrounding buildings and the land for his gardens. Within a few years by 1899 Monet built a greenhouse and a second studio, a spacious building, well lit with skylights. Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s, through the end of his life in 1926, Monet worked on "series" paintings, in which a subject was depicted in varying light and weather conditions. His first series exhibited as such was of Haystacks, painted from different points of view and at different times of the day. Fifteen of the paintings were exhibited at the Durand-Ruel in 1891. He later produced several series' of paintings including: Rouen Cathedral, Poplars, the Houses of Parliament, Mornings on the Seine, and the Water Lilies that were painted on his property at Giverny.
In 1893, after many administrative difficulties, Monet managed to buy a piece of meadow near his property. He wanted to make an Oriental water garden. Importing Chinese and Japanese bamboos, exotic water lilies, and rare species of plants, the neighborhood started to fear for their health. He had to defend himself and convince the population that he would not poison the water. He eventually managed to dig the pool and have a Japanese footbridge built which he painted green to match the surrounding plants. Even this color choice was a topic of controversy Monet often said, "Besides gardening and painting, I don’t know a thing".
Monet's garden was probably one key to his success, a starting point for his fame. We know know that he was an absolutely professional gardener in his time and well admired for his skills. He wrote written daily instructions to his gardening staff, precise designs and layouts for plantings, invoices for his floral purchases and his collection of botany books. Every morning, a gardener would boat around the pond next to Claude Monet's house in Giverny, meticulously cleaning water lilies that had collected soot from passing trains. The master insisted that, when he got out in his boat in the morning, the water lilies would be pristine.
Unlike traditional landscape paintings, the water lilies present no horizon line to orient the viewer toward the ground and sky. Instead, the sky and clouds are suggested only as reflections in the water. As a result, it seems as though the flat surface of the water has been tipped up to correspond with the flat surface of the canvas, creating a two-dimensional design from a three-dimensional scene. Though in his previous works Monet's subjects were still recognizable, the water lilies in this painting have dissolved into mere splashes of paint. This abstract quality in Water Lilies may indicate the influence of modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, Monet's own natural progression to a less naturalistic style, and the effect of his failing eyesight. All these factors contributed to the emphasis on atmosphere rather than solid, delineated form.
Monet painted his last figure paintings in this period. They represent the children of the extended family boating or sitting in the orchard in springtime. Such works have analogies with Japanese prints of elegant women in boats or admiring spring blossom or autumn leaves. These paintings are more decorative and sensuous than his earlier works. They relate strongly to Japanese screens depicting flowers on a gold ground, creating vibrating and shimmering light effects similar to that seen in Monet’s Waterlilies and Japanese bridge.
Monet was a great admirer of Japanese prints and he decorated the walls of his home at Giverny with them. These two prints form part of Monet’s collection of Japanese prints, which still hang in his house at Giverny. This room contains versions of some of these prints.
His collection was comprehensive — more than 200 prints covering all the main subjects of ukiyo-e, or ‘Pictures of the Floating World’ — beautiful women, Kabuki actors and landscape. The books displayed in this room were published between 1883 and 1891. They contain a large number of reproductions of Japanese works that were in France at the time, and represent the state of European knowledge of Japanese art and its history.
Monet's house and garden in Giverny are now among the world's most powerful tourist magnets. At any even slightly floral season of the year, visitors are obliged to form lines in order to inspect each bed of irises, or to take photographs at attractive angles of the water-lily pond. Every few minutes, a tour bus arrives from Paris. In France, only Versailles pulls more people.
Monet chose his subjects, especially those which he repeated in series, with an awareness of their underlying significance. Grain stacks represent the fertility of the French soil; Rouen Cathedral is — as an example of Gothic architecture — a symbol of the great achievements of French civilization; poplar trees were used as symbols of the French republic from its inception.
Why was Monet so drawn to the serial idea? To begin with, even before 1890 he had often returned to certain motifs, such as cliffs, bridges, fields and rivers. Moreover, since light in nature is constantly changing, painting the movement of light was a form of realism.
Most important, in serial images Monet could deepen Impressionism's resistance to Academic painting, with its linear precision and fixed structure, and reinforce his argument for the primacy of shifting and timeless nature. In the series paintings, everything seems soft and flowing, and there is no beginning, middle and end. When Monet was able to fix on his canvas a fleeting moment, he also found a slice of eternity.
Series paintings have precedents in oriental art of which Monet was keenly aware. Japanese landscape prints were often issued in series - such as views of the provinces, famous views around Japan’s major cities and of Mount Fuji. The Japanese people revered Mount Fuji as a sacred site of deep spiritual significance.
The idea of devoting a series to a single motif such as Mount Fuji — presenting different aspects according to the season, the weather, the time of day and the artist’s viewpoint — may have been an inspiration for Monet’s series, as can be seen in his paintings of poplars, haystacks and his waterlily pool.
Monet was not interested in painting nature in a descriptive manner, he said that he wanted to be true to his "sensation of nature,", that is, to what he perceived in nature. After nearly 30 years of painting in the open air, he had become extraordinarily sensitive to the fact that, when light changed, his whole perception of a landscape changed.
His first series, starting from 1889, were landscapes of the Creuse Valley in central France. The broad horizontal strokes and swirling dabs of color show less intent on detail, and the jagged cliff line is simplified, a stylistic technique also known to Renoir. The brilliancy and hues of color are apparent in Valley of the Creuse (Sunlight Effect), and is modified through each of the other canvasses, showing the variance of light and mood. The Creuse Valley paintings are considered Monet's first true series, having been conceived, executed, and exhibited solely as one ensemble.
After three months, Monet returned to his home at Giverny, near Paris, to continue his work on his Grainstacks (not Haystacks) series, which later would become his first public success. He also painted a lesser-known series of Poppies, vibrant with their interplay of complementary colors, red and green. Poppy fields were also a favorite subject of Renoir, a close friend and former roommate of Monet.
In 1888, noticing that the local farmers stored their wheat in large rounded stacks in the cleared fields, Monet set up his easel and began to observe the action of the sun on the hill-like grain stacks at different times of the day. Over the course of the next two years, he returned to the same location each season and -- equipped with several canvases -- switched from one to another as the light changed. In a letter to friend and writer Gustave Geffroy, Monet admitted that he sought to render the impossible -- the instant and ever-changing effect of light on the "envelope" of form.
After reaping a harvest, farmers built fifteen- to twenty-foot-high stacks of grain that remained outdoors for some months before being threshed. These forms, which appear somewhat mysterious in Monet’s paintings, were ordinary elements of northern France’s agricultural landscape, and carried certain symbolic associations with sustenance and abundance. What renders them enigmatic is the extraordinary atmosphere surrounding them—the "envelope," as the artist described it, of pulsating, colored light that both defines and alters forms.
In the fall of 1890 Monet arranged to have the grainstacks near his home left out over the winter. By the following summer he had painted them at least thirty times, at different times throughout the seasons though the fading of fall into the snows of winter 1891. He painted both in the field, where he worked at several easels simultaneously, often carried by a trailing band of children, and in the studio, where he refined pictorial harmonies. It was an arduous undertaking. The pioneer of the instant glance, the quick look, came to realize that he needed to work much more slowly, more deliberately, in order to capture the moment. As he wrote to Gustave Geffroy in October 1890: "I have become so slow in my work that I am exasperated, but the further I go, the more I see that one has to work a lot in order to express what I am looking for: ‘instantaneity,’ especially the atmosphere, the same light diffused everywhere, and more than ever I am disgusted by easy things that come at once."
Because very few artists and art historians were also farmers, many of the so-called “haystacks” in western art actually depict stacks of wheat or other grain crops. For centuries before the hay-baler and combine-harvester dropped bales of similar dimensions in hayfields and wheat-fields, haymaking and harvesting created very different landscapes. In many parts of the world they still do. Monet's haystacks are relatively few, always done in the dappled light of summer, and to be even more precise, they are haycocks, small, shaggy, temporary heaps of hay, soon to be carted off to the farmsteads of Giverny. The grain stacks have a typical conical form and appear more solid.
The Poplars, another successful series, contrast the Grainstacks in motif. Unlike the short, solid grainstacks, the slender poplars extend elegantly to the tops of the canvasses. A sweep of green color spirals delicately through some of them. This series shows more evidently Monet's "Abstract Impressionism," the precursor of "Abstract Expressionism" in the 20th Century.
By far the most famous series is Monet's 30 views of the Rouen Cathedral. Here, the collective impact of the ensemble is immense, and the greatness of the artist is truly known. Just looking at one particular view, one senses the passage of time within the painting, that elusive point when light seems to be just changing. The heavy impasto on the paintings is probably the result of constant reworking, or perhaps the conscious decision of the artist to suggest the mortar and stone texture of the Cathedral. Fascinated by the play of light and atmosphere over the Gothic church, Monet systematically painted the cathedral at different times of day, from slightly different angles, and in varied weather conditions. Each painting, quickly executed, offers a glimpse into a narrow slice of time and mood. To keep the views constant he worked from only three improvised studio spaces in the cathedral square, painting nine, and at the end, 14 canvases per day as he struggled to translate his perceptions into paint. Ultimately, Monet transcended his task, transforming what he called his "obdurate encrustations of paint" into powerful, vibrating icons of color, permanent as the cathedral itself, and changeable as the light it evoked.
Claude Monet installed his working area next to the window of a second floor in front of the Cathedral, working frenetically with tens of canvases. It is likely that Rouen Cathedral at Twilight was painted while Monet worked in an apartment at 23 Place-de-la-Cathedrale, whereas most of the other canvases were begun at nearby 81 Rue du Grand-Pont. Place-de-la-Cathedrale offered the most all-encompassing view of the Cathedral’s west portal, and Rouen Cathedral at Twilight does not feature the detail of the nearby Tour San Romain (tower in the upper left of the work) that later canvases exhibit.
Monet was at the mercy of that a fleeting cloud, an unexpected sun ray or an early morning fog. Such task had to be exasperating, and the painter is reported to have been on the verge of giving up the series. The cathedrals, however, haunted Monet, who wrote to Hoschedé, "I spent the night having nightmares. The cathedral was falling on top of me, it seemed blue or pink or yellow." But Monet was not a man who surrenders easily: " More than ever I detest the things in which I have success at the first attempt," he wrote while working on the haystacks series. Monet was even forced to finish several canvases of the Cathedral in his own workshop, entrusting the success of the series to his wonderful visual memory. But two years later, the mission was fulfilled, and Monet had already thirty finished views of the Cathedral.
After creating a coherent ensemble, Monet selected twenty paintings that he considered "complete" and "perfect," including this one, for an exhibition at his Paris dealer's gallery in May 1895. Pissarro and Cézanne visited and praised the series, and patrons quickly purchased eight paintings from the group.
The entire series was exhibited at Durand-Ruel’s Paris gallery in May 1895 to a firestorm of controversy. Strangely enough, the two opposing critical views in 1895 bear an amazing resemblance to the opposing views of contemporary critics. Camille Mauclair, in a review of the Cathedrals exhibition, said Monet “goes a little too far” in his use of color. Mauclair was a member of a school of critics who dismissed Impressionism in its early days and was finally forced, some twenty years after it burst upon the art world, to at least grudgingly admit that Monet’s work was singularly important. He goes on to state that the exhibition was “the capital event of this month…so eagerly awaited.”
Camille Pissarro , a noted printmaker and fellow painter, felt so strongly about the exhibition that he sent numerous letters to his sons in London and France that they should abandon what they were doing to come to Paris before the exhibition closed. “His Cathedrals are going to be scattered one side and another, and it is particularly as a whole that they must be seen.” Clemenceau also felt that the paintings must be viewed together to appreciate their true significange. Collectors at the time failed to take this advice to heart; only one collector, Camondo, bought five, which were subsequently given to the Louvre. No museum currently owns more than two, excepting the Musee d’Orsay’s six.
Monet was also exceptionally fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine.
Monet was, in fact, returning to London for a second time when he began painting his famous versions of the Parliment Charing Cross Bridge. He had sought refuge in the city in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, and, returning almost twenty years later, set to work capturing the ethereal beauty of the polluted Thames, which smelled of raw sewage. The striking element of Monet's work is that this beauty is an actuality. Monet managed to look beyond the refuse that littered turn-of-thecentury London, finding the beauty in the light itself. The painter was dedicated to expressing "the envelope," as he called it, or the atmospheric filter between the eye and external image. Monet's paintings of the Thames show a delicate interplay between light and mist unrealized in any of the earlier portrayals of the Thames.
Monet made three trips to London in the autumn of 1899 and in the early months of 1900 and 1901. The series shows three views of London, two southward, from the Savoy Hotel, where he had a room, and one westward view of Parliament taken from St Thomas' Hospital on the south bank.
It is not possible to say how many of the canvasses brought back from London were finished and if Monet painted any of them entirely in Giverny. Consequently, there is a great deal of doubt as to whether or not these paintings are authentic impressions of real observations drawn from nature.
Between 1883 and 1908, Monet traveled around the Mediterranean, where he painted landmarks, landscapes, and seascapes, such as Bordighera. He painted an important series of paintings in Venice, Italy, and in London he painted two important series — views of Parliament and views of Charing Cross Bridge.
His second wife Alice died in 1911 and his oldest son Jean, who had married Alice's daughter Blanche, Monet's particular favorite, died in 1914.After his wife died, Blanche looked after and cared for the aging artist. It was during this time that Monet began to develop the first signs of cataracts.
"I no longer saw colors with the same intensity," the great French Impressionist painter Claude Monet told a friend in 1914, two years after he learned he had cataracts in both eyes. "The reds seemed muddy to me, the pinks insipid and the intermediate colors and lower tones escaped me completely."
Monet kept painting as his vision worsened (he finally agreed to have the cataract in his right eye surgically removed in 1923, three years before he died at 86). But he based his color choices, he said, more on experience and paint-tube labels than on what he saw through his darkened vision. Some art and eye experts have long speculated that the bolder brushstrokes, less subtle color and abstraction of Monet's later work were in large part a result of his failing eyesight.
During World War I, in which his younger son Michel served and his friend and admirer Clemenceau led the French nation, Monet painted a series of Weeping Willow trees as homage to the French fallen soldiers.
In Monet's last years he undertook one his greatest projects, The Grandes Decorations. Working on an even larger scale than preceding works, he built a vast new studio, illuminated by northern light streaming from a glass ceiling. His concept was as clear as it was demanding: the transformation of the fleeting effects of his water garden onto canvases which were six and a half feet high and 14 feet wide. The canvases were so large that his easels were mounted on wheeled dollies so the panneaux (panels) could be moved around the studio and arranged them in different combinations.
Monet began work on the Grandes décorations in 1914 and, in 1915, despite the outbreak of war and the shortage of manpower and materials, het had to struggle against his anguish at the horrors of the war, the deaths of almost all his old friends, and the growing threat of blindness.
Monet painted more than 40 panneaux for The Grandes Decorations. He covered his vast canvases with a large brush, building his surface with layers of color. The dominant tone -- a pale violet or a golden green --was first applied further modulating color with broad gestural strokes. He attained an unprecedented surface texture, ranging from delicate hues applied in thin, translucent glazes to areas of thickly encrusted pigment.
Monet continually reworked his gigantic canvases, discarding some but always feeling compelled to start new ones. He was forced to stop working and undergo a series of cataract operations in January 1923. Despite corrective glasses, his full vision never recovered, but he returned to work in the summer of 1925. The paintings done while the cataracts affected his vision have a general reddish tone, which is characteristic of the vision of cataract victims. It may also be that after surgery he was able to see certain ultraviolet wavelengths of light that are normally excluded by the lens of the eye, this may have had an effect on the colors he perceived. After his operations he even repainted some of these paintings, with bluer water lilies than before the operation.
In the new year, he selected 22 panneaux to be installed in two elliptical rooms in Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris. The first room would follow the changing effects of light -- in Morning, Green Reflections, The Clouds, and Sunset -- seen as fleeting reflections on the waters. Weeping willows would be the dominant motif in the second room, with a panoramic view of the glassy waters glimpsed between randomly placed trunks and drooping branches.
Monet did not live to see his panneaux installed, but, as he wished, the canvases were removed from their stretchers and affixed directly to the curving walls. He also requested that his paintings remain unvarnished and be viewed in natural light. A ceremony was held to open Musée de l'Orangerie on May 17, 1927. They were his gift to France. The work housed there bore the legacy of Monet's lifelong pursuit to express his feeling before nature.
Monet died of lung cancer on December 5, 1926 at the age of 86 and is buried in the Giverny church cemetery. Monet had insisted that the occasion be simple; thus about fifty people attended the ceremony.
His famous home and garden with its waterlily pond were bequeathed by his heirs to the French Academy of Fine Arts (part of the Institut de France) in 1966. Through the Fondation Claude Monet, the home and gardens were opened for visit in 1980, following refurbishment. In addition to souvenirs of Monet and other objects of his life, the home contains his collection of Japanese woodcut prints. The home is one of the two main attractions of Giverny, which hosts tourists from all over the world.
After his death, Monet's influence on contemporary art ebbed among the avant-garde, who favored the more radical examples of artists such as van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Matisse, and Marcel Decamp. A revival of interest in his work occurred in the early 1950s. Monet's epic scale and formal innovations influenced Abstract Expressionist painters such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and a general scholarly reassessment of his importance began to develop. Wildly popular retrospective exhibitions of his work toured the world during the last decades of the 20th century and established his unparalleled public appeal, sustaining his reputation as one of the most significant and popular figures in the modern Western painting tradition.
2 Childhood in Normandy
3. The Golden Age of British Watercolors
By by M. Stephen Doherty
Date: Wednesday, April 7 2004