Oscar-Claude Monet (14 November 1840 – 5
December 1926) was a founder of French Impressionist painting, and the most
consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of
expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air
landscape painting. The term "Impressionism" is derived from the title of his
painting Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), which was exhibited
in 1874 in the first of the independent exhibitions mounted by Monet and his
associates as an alternative to the Salon de Paris.
Monet's ambition of documenting the French countryside led him to adopt a method
of painting the same scene many times in order to capture the changing of light and
the passing of the seasons. From 1883 Monet lived in Giverny, where he purchased a
house and property, and began a vast landscaping project which included lily ponds
that would become the subjects of his best-known works. In 1899 he began painting
the water lilies, first in vertical views with a Japanese bridge as a central
feature, and later in the series of large-scale paintings that was to occupy him
continuously for the next 20 years of his life.
Claude Oscar Monet was born in 1840 in Paris. He was the second son of Claude
Adolphe Monet and Louise Justine Aubrée Monet, both of them second-generation
Parisians. In 1845, his family moved to Le Havre in Normandy. His father wanted him
to go into the family grocery business, but Monet wanted to become an artist.
In 1851 Monet entered Le Havre secondary school of the arts. Locals knew him well
for his charcoal caricatures, which he would sell for ten to twenty francs.
Monet also undertook his first drawing lessons from Jacques-François Ochard, a
former student of Jacques-Louis David. On the beaches of Normandy in about
1856/1857, he met fellow artist Eugène Boudin, who became his mentor and taught him
to use oil paints. Boudin taught Monet "en plein air” (outdoor) techniques for
painting. In 1857 Monet’s mother died. At the age of sixteen, he left school
and went to live with his widowed aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre.
When Monet travelled to Paris to visit the Louvre, he witnessed painters copying
from the old masters. Monet was in Paris for several years and met other young
painters who would become friends and fellow impressionists; among them Édouard
In 1861, Monet joined the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry in Algeria for a
seven-year commitment, but two years later, after he had contracted typhoid fever,
his aunt intervened to get him out of the army if he agreed to complete an art
course at an art school. It is possible that the Dutch painter Johan Barthold
Jongkind, whom Monet knew, may have prompted his aunt on this matter. Disillusioned
with the traditional art taught at art schools, in 1862 Monet became a student of
Charles Gleyre in Paris, where he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille and
Alfred Sisley. Together they shared new approaches to art, painting the effects of
light en plein air with broken colour and rapid brushstrokes, in what later came to
be known as Impressionism.
Monet's Camille or The Woman in the Green Dress (La femme à la robe verte),
painted in 1866, brought him recognition and was one of many works featuring his
future wife, Camille Doncieux; she was the model for the figures in Women in the
Garden of the following year, as well as for On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt,
1868. Camille became pregnant and gave birth to their first child, Jean in
After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Monet took refuge in
England, where he studied the works of John Constable and JMW Turner, both of whose
landscapes would serve to inspire Monet's innovations in the study of colour. In
the spring of 1871, Monet's works were refused inclusion in the Royal Academy
In 1871, he left London to live in Zaandam in the Netherlands, where he made
twenty-five paintings (and the police suspected him of revolutionary activities).
He also paid a first visit to nearby Amsterdam. In late 1871 he returned to France.
Monet lived from December 1871 to 1878 at Argenteuil, a village on the right bank
of the Seine river near Paris, and a popular Sunday-outing destination for
Parisians, where he painted some of his best known works. In 1874, he briefly
returned to Holland.
In 1872, he painted Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant) depicting a
Le Havre port landscape. It hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and
is now displayed in the Musée Marmottan-Monet in Paris. From the painting's title,
art critic Louis Leroy coined the term "Impressionism”, which he intended as
disparagement but which the Impressionists appropriated for themselves.
Also in this exhibition was a painting titled Boulevard des Capucines, a
painting of the boulevard done from the photographer Nadar's apartment at no. 35.
There were, however, two paintings by Monet of the boulevard: one is now in the
Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the other in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas
City. It has never become clear which painting appeared in the groundbreaking 1874
exhibition, though more recently the Moscow picture has been favoured.
Monet and Camille Doncieux had married just before the war in June 1870 and,
after their excursion to London and Zaandam, they had moved to Argenteuil, in
December 1871. It was during this time that Monet painted various works of modern
life. Camille became ill in 1876. They had a second son, Michel in 1878. This
second child weakened her already fading health. In that same year, Monet moved to
the village of Vétheuil. On 5 September 1879, Camille Monet died of tuberculosis at
the age of thirty-two. Monet painted her on her death bed.
After several difficult months following the death of Camille in September,
1879, a 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 1880s, Monet 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.
Camille Monet had become ill with tuberculosis in 1876. Pregnant with her second
child, she gave birth to Michel Monet in March 1878. In 1878 the Monets temporarily
moved into the home of Ernest and Alice Hoschedé, Ernest being a wealthy department
store owner and patron of the arts. Both families then shared a house in Vétheuil
during the summer. After Ernest Hoschedé became bankrupt and left in 1878 for
Belgium, and after the death of Camille Monet in September 1879, and while Monet
continued to live in the house in Vétheuil; 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 Hoschedé Monet, (she eventually married Jean
Monet), Germaine, Suzanne Hoschedé, Marthe, Jean-Pierre, and Jacques. In the spring
of 1880, Alice Hoschedé and all the children left Paris and re-joined Monet still
living in the house in Vétheuil. In 1881, all of them moved to Poissy, which Monet
In April 1883, looking out the window of the little train between Vernon and
Gasny, he discovered Giverny in Normandy. They then moved to Vernon, then to a
house in Giverny where he planted a large garden and 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.
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 many
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
During the 1890s, 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 Galerie Durand-Ruel in
1891. He later produced several series of paintings including: Rouen Cathedral,
Poplars, the Houses of Parliament, Mornings on the Seine, and Water Lilies that
were painted on his property at Giverny.
He wrote daily instructions to his gardener, precise designs and layouts for
plantings, and invoices for his floral purchases and his collection of botany
books. As Monet's wealth grew, his garden evolved. He remained its architect, even
after he hired seven gardeners.
Between 1883 and 1908, Monet travelled to 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 the Houses of Parliament and of Charing Cross and Waterloo Bridges. His
second wife, Alice, died in 1911 and his oldest son Jean, who had married Alice's
daughter Blanche, Monet's particular favourite, died in 1914. After Alice died,
Blanche looked after and cared for Monet. It was during this time that Monet began
to develop the first signs of cataracts.
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 1923, he underwent two operations
to remove his cataracts: 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 colours he perceived. After his operations he even
repainted some of these paintings, with bluer water lilies than before.
Monet died of lung cancer on 5 December 1926 at the age of 86 and is buried in
the Giverny church cemetery. Monet had insisted that the occasion be simple; thus
only about fifty people attended the ceremony.
His home, garden and water-lily pond were bequeathed by his son Michel, his only
heir, to the French Academy of Fine Arts (part of the Institut de France) in 1966.
Through the Fondation Claude Monet, the house and gardens were opened for visits in
1980, following restoration. In addition to souvenirs of Monet and other objects of
his life, the house contains his collection of Japanese woodcut prints.
Biographical notes on Claude Monet adapted from Wikipedia.