18 Aug 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.
From the late 1860s, Monet and other like-minded artists met with rejection from the conservative Académie des Beaux-Arts which held its annual exhibition at the Salon de Paris. During the latter part of 1873, Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley organized the Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs (The Company of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) to exhibit their artworks independently. At their first exhibition, held in April 1874, Monet exhibited the work that was to give the group its lasting name.
Impression, Sunrise was painted in 1872, depicting a Le Havre port landscape. From the painting’s title the art critic Louis Leroy, in his review, “L’Exposition des Impressionnistes,” which appeared in Le Charivari, coined the term “Impressionism”. It was intended as disparagement but the Impressionists appropriated the term for themselves.
He is one of my very favorite painters. This gentlemen literally invented Impressionism. His color palette sets the mood just as easily as his brush strokes.
Monet has been described as “the driving force behind Impressionism”. Crucial to the art of the Impressionist painters was the understanding of the effects of light on the local colour of objects, and the effects of the juxtaposition of colours with each other. Monet’s long career as a painter was spent in the pursuit of this aim.
In 1856, his chance meeting with Eugene Boudin, a painter of small beach scenes, opened his eyes to the possibility of plein-air painting. From that time, with a short interruption for military service, he dedicated himself to searching for new and improved methods of painterly expression. To this end, as a young man, he visited the Paris Salon and familiarised himself with the works of older painters, and made friends with other young artists. The five years that he spent at Argenteuil, spending much time on the River Seine in a little floating studio, were formative in his study of the effects of light and reflections. He began to think in terms of colours and shapes rather than scenes and objects. He used bright colours in dabs and dashes and squiggles of paint. Having rejected the academic teachings of Gleyre’s studio, he freed himself from theory, saying “I like to paint as a bird sings.”
In 1877 a series of paintings at St-Lazare Station had Monet looking at smoke and steam and the way that they affected colour and visibility, being sometimes opaque and sometimes translucent. He was to further use this study in the painting of the effects of mist and rain on the landscape. The study of the effects of atmosphere were to evolve into a number of series of paintings in which Monet repeatedly painted the same subject in different lights, at different hours of the day, and through the changes of weather and season. This process began in the 1880s and continued until the end of his life in 1926.
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. In 1892 he produced what is probably his best-known series, twenty-six views of Rouen Cathedral. In these paintings Monet broke with painterly traditions by cropping the subject so that only a portion of the facade is seen on the canvas. The paintings do not focus on the grand Medieval building, but on the play of light and shade across its surface, transforming the solid masonry.
Other series include Poplars, Mornings on the Seine, and the Water Lilies that were painted on his property at Giverny. Between 1883 and 1908, Monet traveled to the Mediterranean, where he painted landmarks, landscapes, and seascapes, including a series of paintings in Venice. In London he painted four series: the Houses of Parliament, London, Charing Cross Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, and Views of Westminster Bridge. Helen Gardner writes:
“Monet, with a scientific precision, has given us an unparalleled and unexcelled record of the passing of time as seen in the movement of light over identical forms.”