Claude Monet (1840–1926)

Impression: Sunrise
Impression: Sunrise

Artists had new and often brighter colors to work with. In 1874, Monet displayed a painting titled Impression: Sunrise in an exhibition with a fellow group of artists. Critics were outraged at this new style that looked unfinished and quickly termed it “Impressionism,” after the title of Monet’s painting.

Born in Paris, Monet grew up as a wild, undisciplined boy in Le Havre, a French city on the coast, where his family moved when Monet was 5. He was a constant source of trouble for his parents and teachers. In school he became known for drawing caricatures but eventually was able to sell some of them for much-needed cash. Monet had quite an ego and saw himself as a great artist. At 18, he decided to seriously pursue an art career, but his family could not afford to send him to an art school in Paris. He was drafted into the army at 20 but became ill 11 months later. He returned to Paris, where he studied art in an artist’s studio. Monet was in constant financial trouble throughout the majority of his life, spending what little money he received from allowances, the sale of artwork, and his first wife’s dowry on unnecessary things. He was constantly begging and borrowing money from family and friends. His first wife died after giving birth to their second child. Later, his two sons were taken in by Alice, the wife of an art collector. Monet and the art collector’s wife eventually married when her husband died.

Alice took over the finances with money saved from her job as a dressmaker. They moved to Giverny, where they spent the rest of their lives.

Water Lilies
Water Lilies

It was while in Giverny that Monet found success. His works began to sell well in the United States. He began painting a series of haystacks in Giverny. Each painting shows the effect of different times of day and seasons on the same subject. This series was a success in Paris. The majority of the rest of his paintings are also series (e.g., poplar trees, the Rouen Cathedral, his garden). His last painting was of the water lily pond at his home. His eyesight had been failing for some time, and his painting style seemed to reflect his failing vision. The work is more abstract with broader, larger brushstrokes.

The Bridge at Argenteuil
The Bridge at Argenteuil

Monet’s The Bridge at Argenteuil (1874) shows his success at capturing the rapidly changing reflections in water. He used short, horizontal brushstrokes to build up layers of different colors. The boats in the foreground help to establish the illusion of depth. Without them, we might lose our sense of space in the huge expanse of water. Monet balances his use of horizontal lines with vertical lines. He repeats lines, shapes, and colors to create a distinct rhythm and sense of movement. His style of brushstrokes helps to unify the entire composition.

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