Oscar-Claude Monet (1840-1926)

"When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects 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 gives you your own naive impression of the scene before you."

Monsieur Monet was born in Paris on November 14, but when still a child his family moved to LeHavre. Monet did not take schooling very seriously and so began to draw caricature in the margins of his books. He became quite proficient at this and was soon creating caricature portraits of the townspeople and shop owners in and around LeHavre. In 1858 he met up with Eugene Boudin who encouraged the young Monet to expand beyond caricature. While Monet was at first not impressed with Boudin's work or his advice, the younger artist soon saw the wisdom in Boudin's words and began exploring nature and it's colors and forms.

In 1861, Monet entered the cavalry regiment of the military and traveled to Algeria. He returned to Paris in 1862 and began his artistic study in Gleyre’s studio against the wishes of his family. It was at Gleyre’s studio where Monet met fellow aspiring artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille. But soon these students became dissatisfied with Gleyre’s methods and they moved on. Monet went to Honfleur to work with Jongkind and Boudin, and it was in Honfleur where Monet began to emphasize the atmospheric appearance of landscapes. This was a technique that Monet would pursue for the rest of his life?remaining, when others departed, true to the Impressionist style.

Early in his career, Monet found some success at the Salon. At the 1865 Salon, he exhibited “The Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur” and “The Pointe de la Heve at Low Tide”. In 1866, his painting of “Camille” or “The Green Dress” was very well received and many stories have been recounted about how people congratulated Edouard Manet mistaking the painting for one of his (a great embarrassment to Manet to be sure). Camille posed for Monet in several paintings and in 1870 they married. She bore him two children but sadly she passed away in 1879.

In the late 1860’s Monet continued to study landscape painting working with Courbet at Trouville and working frequently with Renoir at Le Grenouillere. It was at Le Grenouillere, that the first pure Impressionist painting took form. It was a radical departure from academic standards. It was sketchy. And it was poorly received. During the 1860’s Monet met most of his contemporaries and worked with most of them in various locations throughout France. In Bernard Denvir’s book “The Impressionists at First Hand”, Monet recounts his second meeting with Edouard Manet:

“It was only in 1869 that I saw him again, and then we at once became firm friends. At our first meeting he invited me to join him every evening at a caf? in the Batignolles district, where he and his friends gathered at the end of the day to talk. There I met Frantin-Latour, Cezanne, Degas, who had recently returned from Italy, the art critic Duranty, Emile Zola, who was then making his first foray into literature, and several others. For my part I used to take Sisley, Bazille and Renoir there. Nothing could have been more interesting than the discussions we had, with their perpetual clash of opinions. They kept our wits sharpened, encouraged us to press ahead with our own experiments, and provided us with enough enthusiasm to keep at it for weeks on end until our ideas became clear and coherent. From them we emerged more finely tempered, our wills firmer, our thoughts clearer and less confused.”

In 1870, to escape the Franco-Prussian war, Monet went to London and was joined there by Lucien Pissarro. Together the two went to the National Gallery and studied the works of Turner and Constable. Monet returned to Paris via Holland, and in 1872 he went back to LeHavre where he painted “An Impression, Sunrise”. It was this painting which gave the Impressionists their name. It was first displayed at the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, and during this time and for many years thereafter, Monet struggled with hostility from critics and often poverty seemed overwhelming for him. Fortunately his fellow artists often helped soften these difficult times by helping one another make ends meet and lending emotional support.

In 1877, the year in which Courbet died, Monet began working on ‘series paintings’. The first in these series was Gare St. Lazare. Monet painted motifs over and again, to capture the effect of differing light on the subject. Other series, which followed Gare St. Lazare, were the famous Haystacks series (1891), Poplars (1891), and the Rouen Cathedral (1892). The late 1880’s through the 1890’s, Monet’s perseverance paid off. He had his first big success at an exhibition with Rodin in 1889 and he was well on his well to establishing himself as a successful artist.

1883 Monet settled at Giverny where he created a magnificent garden. This garden was the inspiration for most of his later work and inspired the series Water Lilies and the Japanese Bridge (begun in 1899). As age and deteriorating eyesight descended upon the artist his works lost almost all sense of form and are now referred to as ‘Abstract Impressionism’. Cezanne once said that Monet was “only an eye, but my God, what an eye.” Monet died on December 5, nearly blind?he was known to have said that he “feared the dark more than death.”