Claude Monet

Claude Monet

French Painter

Born: November 14, 1840 - Paris, France
Died: December 5, 1926 - Giverny, France
"Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment."
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Claude Monet Signature
"For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life - the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value."
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Claude Monet Signature
"Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love."
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Claude Monet Signature
"I am driven more and more frantic by the need to render what I experience. Working so slowly I become desperate, but the further I go the more I see that one must work very hard to succeed in rendering what I am looking for: 'Instantaneity', especially the envelope, the same light that diffuses everywhere and, more than ever, things come easily and at once disgust me."
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Claude Monet Signature
"The motif is insignificant for me; what I want to represent is what lies between the motif and me."
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Claude Monet Signature
"Once more I have undertaken things which are impossible to do; water with grasses waving in depths...It's wonderful to see but it drives you mad to want to do it. But I am always trying things like that."
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Claude Monet Signature
"When you go out to paint try to forget what object you have before you - a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it emerges as your own naive impression of the scene before you."
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Claude Monet Signature
"I tell myself that anyone who says he has finished a canvas is terribly arrogant. Finished means complete, perfect, and I toil away without making any progress, searching, fumbling around, without achieving anything much."
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Claude Monet Signature
"Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat.. I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house and the boat are to be found - the beauty of the air around them, and that is nothing less than the impossible."
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Claude Monet Signature
"Everything that is painted directly and on the spot always has a force, a power, a vivacity of touch that cannot be re-created in the studio."
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Claude Monet Signature
"Since the appearance of Impressionism, the official salons, which used to be brown, have become blue, green, and red... But peppermint or chocolate, they are still confections."
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Claude Monet Signature
"Monet is just an eye - but God, what an eye!"
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Paul Cézanne Signature

Summary of Claude Monet

Claude Monet was the leader of the French Impressionist movement, literally giving the movement its name. As an inspirational talent and personality, he was crucial in bringing its adherents together. Interested in painting in the open air and capturing natural light, Monet would later bring the technique to one of its most famous pinnacles with his series paintings, in which his observations of the same subject, viewed at various times of the day, were captured in numerous sequences. Masterful as a colorist and as a painter of light and atmosphere, his later work often achieved a remarkable degree of abstraction, and this has recommended him to subsequent generations of abstract painters.


  • Inspired in part by Édouard Manet, Monet departed from the clear depiction of forms and linear perspective, which were prescribed by the established art of the time, and experimented with loose handling, bold color, and strikingly unconventional compositions. The emphasis in his pictures shifted from representing figures to depicting different qualities of light and atmosphere in each scene.
  • In his later years, Monet also became increasingly sensitive to the decorative qualities of color and form. He began to apply paint in smaller strokes, building it up in broad fields of color, and exploring the possibilities of a decorative paint surface of harmonies and contrasts of color. The effects that he achieved, particularly in the series paintings of the 1890s, represent a remarkable advance towards abstraction and towards a modern painting focused purely on surface effects.
  • An inspiration and a leader among the Impressionists, he was crucial in attracting Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Édouard Manet and Camille Pissarro to work alongside each other in and around Paris. He was also important in establishing the exhibition society that would showcase the group's work between 1874 and 1886.

Biography of Claude Monet

Detail of <i>Garden at Giverny</i> (1900) by Claude Monet

From the theoretical and critical battles with the emerging Impressionists in Paris, to the later love of spending his time outdoors studying light, Monet was driven all his life by his passions. As he said "I am good at only two things, and those are gardening and painting."

Important Art by Claude Monet

Progression of Art
Women in the Garden (1866-67)

Women in the Garden

Women in the Garden was painted at Ville d'Avray using his future wife Camille as the only model. The goal of this large-scale work (100" by 81"), while meticulously composed, was to render the effects of true outdoor light, rather than regard conventions of modeling or drapery. From the flickers of sunlight that pierce the foliage of the trees to delicate shadows and the warm flesh tones that can be seen through his model's sleeve, Monet details the behavior of natural light in the scene. In January 1867, his friend and fellow Impressionist Frederic Bazille purchased the work for the sum of 2,500 francs in order to help Monet out of the extreme debt that he was suffering from at the time.

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Westminster Bridge (aka The Thames below Westminster) (1871)

Westminster Bridge (aka The Thames below Westminster)

Painted on the Embankment in London, Monet's Westminster Bridge is one of the finest examples of his work during the time he and his family were in wartime refuge. This simple, asymmetrical composition is balanced by the horizontal bridge, the boats floating upon the waves with the vertical wharf and ladder in the foreground. The entire scene is dominated by a layer of mist containing violet, gold, pink, and green, creating a dense atmosphere that renders the architecture in distant, blurred shapes.

Oil on canvas - The National Gallery, London

Boulevard des Capucines (1873)

Boulevard des Capucines

Boulevard des Capucines captures a scene of the hustle and bustle of Parisian life from the studio of Monet's friend, the photographer Felix Nadar. Applying very little detail, Monet uses short, quick brushstrokes to create the "impression" of people in the city alive with movement. Critic Leroy was not pleased with these abstracted crowds, describing them as "black tongue-lickings." Monet painted two views from this location, with this one looking towards the Place de l'Opera. The first Impressionist exhibition was held in Nadar's studio, and rather appropriately, Monet included this piece in the show.

Oil on canvas - Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, USA

Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son (1875)

Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son

One of Monet's most popular figure paintings, Lady with a Parasol showcases the woman's accessory. The parasol itself makes many appearances in his work, primarily because when painting from real life outdoors, most women would use one to protect their skin and eyes. But the object also creates a contrast of light and shadows on the figure's face and clothing, indicating which direction the actual light is coming from. Quite uniquely, Monet paints into the light letting the model's features fade into the shadow. Most artists would avoid such a positioning of their subject as it is difficult to reproduce any detail - and even to look at your subject. But Monet is interested in light itself, and captures it in the scene in an unmatched way.

Oil on canvas - The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The Rue Montorgueil in Paris. Celebration of June 30th, 1878 (1878)

The Rue Montorgueil in Paris. Celebration of June 30th, 1878

Historians and scientists believe that Monet happened upon discoveries in vision and optics. Professor Ian Aaronson believes that Monet was endowed with hyper-sensitive visual abilities where he could notice things that most people would miss. For example, in this work if one were to look at the way the flags themselves are painted, they look quite blurry and unclear. But when the viewer looks down at the crowd, the flags seem to wave in peripheral vision (best to try this on the real painting, not a reproduction). As in this example, Monet seems to have come upon several particularities of vision, and painterly effects, that were not properly proved by science for many years after his death.

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Rouen Cathedral: The Facade at Sunset (1894)

Rouen Cathedral: The Facade at Sunset

Monet's Rouen Cathedral: The Facade at Sunset series is one of his most renowned. He painted the cathedral at different times of day to explore the effects of different light during winter. The burnt orange and blue appearance of the cathedral dominates the canvas, with only scattered views of sky at the top. Layered over the top of the Gothic structure, the brushstrokes play with the light and atmosphere on the stones, and the details on their carved surfaces. In 1895, he exhibited twenty Cathedrals at the Durand-Ruel Gallery that were both criticized and praised by viewers that either struggled with or championed his artistic, scientific, and poetic innovations. As art historian Madalena Dabrowski wrote: "the site is [only] a reference point, but is transformed and conditioned by light, color, and Monet's own vision."

Painting in a series, or making any kind of artwork with subtle changes from one piece to the next has been a staple of modern art for many artists, from Andy Warhol to the Minimalists, to Conceptual artists. Not only has it been a way for artists to explore subtle difference between subjects, but some artists reference Monet directly in their series works.

Oil on canvas - Museums of Fine Arts, Boston

Water Lilies (1915-26)

Water Lilies

The Nymphéas cycle is a part of Monet's water landscape group that he started working on in the late 1890s. As explained on the Musée de l'Orangerie website: the word nymphéa comes from the Greek word numphé, meaning nymph, which takes its name from the Classical myth that attributes the birth of the flower to a nymph who was dying of love for Hercules. In fact, it is also a scientific term for a water lily.

This series occupied Monet until his death 30 years later and includes dozens of canvases creating a panorama of water, lilies, and sky in his studio inspired by his Giverny garden. The most famous of this series are the eight large panels of Water Lillies that are installed in two eliptical rooms of the L'Orangerie museum in Paris.

Monet describes his goals for the project: "Imagine a circular room, whose walls are entirely filled by a horizon of water spotted with these plants. Walls of transparency - sometimes green, sometimes verging on mauve. The silence and calm of the water reflecting the flowering display; the tones are vague, deliciously nuanced, as delicate as a dream."

The ultimate installation is considered to be one of the greatest achievement of Monet, Impressionism, and even 20th-century art. The lighting and setup in the museum maximizes the viewers' experience next to these works, providing, as Monet said, an "illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore". These works would be enormously influential for many artists, but the all over composition would particularly inspire the Abstract Expressionist large-scale canvases of The New York School.

Oil on canvas - Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Claude Monet Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 22 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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