Claude Monet:
Painting More than Pictures.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) was born in Paris as Claude Oscar Monet but lived in Le Havre from ages 5-19. Here he learned to paint from his aunt and started painting landscapes ‘en plein air’ (‘out in the fresh air’) with another, older painter. Monet had already sold a few paintings by age 15.

His father wanted him to study at the Paris School of Fine Arts but instead he signed up at L’Atelier Suisse, an independent school without classic structure and exams. His father got mad and cut off his allowance.

Monet met Pissarro at L’Atelier Suisse. He also met many other unconventional artists of the time at bars in Montmartre, including Édouard Manet.

Monet had to leave for Algeria in 1961 because he was drafted into the army. He got sick in 1862 and went home to his family who paid for his release from duty. He returned to Paris later in 1862 and started working under Charles Gleyre with Pierre Auguste Renoir.

Monet’s goal as he painted was to catch the most fleeting effects of a scene, such as atmosphere and lighting. He wanted to paint what he saw with his eyes, not what his mind knew was there. He used untraditionally bright colours and he would also use the handle of his paintbrush to scratch into what he had just painted, giving it a scratchier texture.

He went to England to avoid being drafted during the Franco Prussian war in 1870. In London, he met an art dealer that would help him get out of poverty. When he returned to Paris, he bought a place in Argenteuil, a few miles outside Paris. Renoir and Sisley often went to visit and paint with him out there.

Over the years, he moved down the Seine a little, and along the Normandy coast, until he settled in Giverny, about 40 miles from Paris.

Monet really enjoyed using the Gare Saint-Lazare as a subject in 1876-77. It was an unusual subject because it was so industrial, but he wanted to present that Impressionism doesn’t have to be just about landscapes. In his series of paintings of the Gare Saint-Lazare, he gives the impression of noise, smell, activity and energy of a train station.

Monet was fascinated with the changing effects light had on a scene. He started painting series of the same subjects, but at different times of day and different seasons, showing the different respective light effects.

Monet’s series paintings became very popular in the late 1880’s, early 1890’s, and sold quickly. By early 1890’s, he was painting mostly his Japanese pond with water lilies at Giverny. Over his last 30 years, this was almost all he painted.

Claude Monet worked right up to his death at age 86. He died on December 26, 1926 of lung cancer. He was buried in the small churchyard cemetery at Giverny. Monet died wealthy and world-famous.

You can find the largest collections of Monet’s paintings in Paris at the Musee d’Orsay, and at the Musee Marmottan Monet.