Claude Monet is the best-known of the French Impressionist painters and the one who remained most faithful to the movement throughout his life. It was one of his paintings that provided the name of the group, at the heart of which were Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Camille Pissarro. Impressionism developed out of the naturalistic landscape tradition of early-nineteenth-century France and the style came to dominate mainstream European landscape painting, amateur and professional, well into the twentieth century.
In their exhibition in 1874, the first of eight, it was Monet’s Impression, Sunrise that inspired a critic, mockingly, to call the group ‘Impressionists’.
Monet was born in 1840, the eldest son of a grocer who moved from Paris to Le Havre when Claude was five. The sea remained an important subject for him. A talented caricaturist as a teenager, he was persuaded by Eugène Boudin to try painting in the open air, not only sketches but finished paintings. This was a revolutionary idea in the late 1850s. Monet’s parents encouraged him to study in Paris, where he met the Dutch painter Jongkind, who reinforced his devotion to nature.
Studying in Charles Gleyre’s traditional studio, Monet’s fellow pupils included Renoir, Sisley
On their painting trips, Monet and his friends discussed their artistic principles, how far they should conform to reality and the importance of painting under different weather conditions and times of
Monet and Renoir were particularly close at this time, the later 1860s and early 1870s, developing urban subjects and painting side by side (Bathers at La Grenouillère). The Franco-Prussian war of 1870–1871 led to a flight to England and Monet, Pissarro and Daubigny painted together in and around London. The notorious foggy atmosphere of the city was particularly attractive to them, as seen in The Thames below Westminster. Back in France, this group, together with others such as Boudin, Degas, Cézanne and Berthe Morisot, decided to
In the 1870s, Monet and the Impressionists developed a more broken manner, using brighter
Monet was the least intellectual of the Impressionists and the most directly responsive to nature. But in the 1880s, even he was influenced by the scientific
No longer avant-garde, Monet’s reputation was now rising among the wider public as it fell in artistic circles. In 1889 he held a joint exhibition with the sculptor Rodin, and
Monet made a series of 15 paintings of haystacks and six of poplar trees on the river Epte in 1890–1891 (Poplars). His famous series of the facade of Rouen Cathedral in 1892–1894, with their lack of sky and foreground, are almost abstract in effect (Rouen Cathedral: Setting Sun). He painted over 100 canvases of the Thames in 1900–1904 and began the views of the Waterlilies in his water garden at Giverny, on which he worked, suffering from cataracts, until his death in 1926, by which time he was a national treasure.
Andrew Greg, National Inventory Research Project, University of Glasgow
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