Claude Monet chooses Giverny as his home, garden, studio

Claude Monet was born on 14 November 1840 on the fifth floor of 45 rue Laffitte, in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. He was the second son of Claude Adolphe Monet and Louise Justine Aubrée Monet, both of them second-generation Parisians. On 20 May 1841, he was baptised in the local parish church, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, as Oscar-Claude, but his parents called him simply Oscar. Despite being baptised Catholic, Monet later became an atheist.

In 1845, his family moved to Le Havre in Normandy. His father, a wholesale merchant, wanted him to go into the family’s ship-chandling and grocery business, but Monet wanted to become an artist. His mother was a singer, and supported Monet’s desire for a career in art.

On 1 April 1851, he entered Le Havre secondary school of the arts. He was an apathetic student who, after showing skill in art from young age, begun to draw caricatures and portraits of acquaintances at age 15 for money. He began his first drawing lessons from Jacques-François Ochard, a former student of Jacques-Louis David. In around 1858, he met fellow artist Eugène Boudin, who would encourage Monet to develop his techniques, teach him the “en plein air” (outdoor) techniques for painting and take Monet on painting excursions. Monet thought of Boudin as his master, whom “he owed everything to” for his later success.

In 1857, his mother died. He lived with his father and aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre; Lecadre would be a source of support for Monet in his early art career.

Paris and Algeria

From 1858 to 1860, Monet continued his studies in Paris, where he enrolled in Académie Suisse and met Camille Pissarro in 1859. He was called for military service and served under the Chasseurs d’Afrique (African Hunters), in Algeria, from 1861 to 1862. His time in Algeria had a powerful effect on Monet, who later said that the light and vivid colors of North Africa “contained the germ of my future researches.”

Illness forced his return to Le Havre, where he bought out his remaining service and met Johan Barthold Jongkind, who together with Boudin was an important mentor to Monet.

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (right section), 1865–1866, Paris, with Gustave Courbet, Frédéric Bazille and Camille Doncieux, first wife of the artist, Musée d’Orsay

Upon his return to Paris, with the permission of his father, he divided his time between his childhood home and the countryside and enrolled in Charles Gleyre’s studio, where he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Frédéric Bazille. Bazille eventually became his closest friend. In search of motifs, they traveled to Honfleur where Monet painted several “studies” of the harbor and the mouth of the Seine.” Monet often painted alongside Renoir and Alfred Sisley, both of whom shared his desire to articulate new standards of beauty in conventional subjects.

During this time he painted Women in Garden, his first successful large-scale painting, and Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, the “most important painting of Monet’s early period.” Having first debuted at the Salon in 1865 with La Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide and Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur to large praise, he hoped Le déjeuner sur l’herbe would help him breakthrough into the Salon of 1866. He could not finish it in a timely manner and instead submitted The Woman in the Green Dress and Pavé de Chailly to acceptance. Thereafter, he submitted works to the Salon annually until 1870, but they were accepted by the juries only twice, in 1866 and 1868. He sent no more works to the Salon until his single, final attempt in 1880. His work was considered radical, “discouraged at all official levels.”

In 1867, his then-mistress, Camille Doncieux—who he had met two years prior as a model for his paintings—gave birth to their first child, Jean. Monet had a strong relationship with Jean, claiming that Camille was his lawful wife so Jean would be considered legitimate. Monet’s father stopped financially supporting him as a result of the relationship. Earlier in the year, Monet had been forced to move to his aunt’s house in Sainte-Adresse. There he immersed himself in his work, although a temporary problem with his eyesight, probably related to stress, prevented him from working in sunlight.

With help from the art collector Louis-Joachim Gaudibert, he reunited with Camille and moved to Étretat the following year. Around this time, he was trying to establish himself as a figure painter who depicted the “explicitly contemporary, bourgeois,” an intention that continued into the 1870s. He did evolve his painting technique and integrate stylistic experimentation in his plein-air style—as evidenced by The Beach at Sainte-Adresse and On the Bank of the Seine respectively, the former being his “first sustained campaign of painting that involved tourism”.

Several of his paintings had been purchased by Gaudibert, who commissioned a painting of his wife, alongside other projects; the Gaudiberts were for two years “the most supportive of Monet’s hometown patrons”. Monet would later be financially supported by the artist and art collector Gustave Caillebotte, Bazille and perhaps Gustave Courbet, although creditors still pursued him.

Exile and Argenteuil

Portrait of Claude Monet, Carolus-Duran, c. 1867

He married Camille on 28 June 1870, just before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. During the war, he and his family lived in London and the Netherlands to avoid conscription. Monet and Charles-François Daubigny lived in self-imposed exile. While living in London, Monet met his old friend Pissarro, the American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and befriended his first and primary art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel; this encounter would be decisive for his career. There he saw and admired the works of John Constable and J. M. W. Turner and was impressed by Turner’s treatment of light, especially in the works depicting the fog on the Thames. He repeatedly painted the Thames, Hyde Park and Green Park. In the spring of 1871, his works were refused authorization for inclusion in the Royal Academy exhibition and police suspected him of revolutionary activities. That same year he learned of his father’s death.

The family moved to Argenteuil in 1871, where he, influenced by his time with Dutch painters, mostly painted the Seine’s surrounding area. He acquired a sailboat from which to paint on the river. In 1874, he signed a six-and-a-half year lease and moved into a newly built “rose-colored house with green shutters” in Argenteuil, where he painted fifteen paintings of his garden from a panoramic perspective. Paintings such as Gladioli marked what was likely the first time Monet had cultivated a garden for the purpose of his art. The house and garden became the “single most important” motif of his final years in Argenteuil. For the next four years, he painted mostly in Argenteuil and took an interest in the colour theories of chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul. For three years of the decade, he rented a large villa in Saint-Denis for a thousand francs per year. Camille Monet on a Garden Bench displays the garden of the villa, and what some have argued to be Camille’s grief upon learning of her father’s death.

Monet and Camille were often in financial straits during this period—they were unable to pay their hotel bill during the summer of 1870 and likely lived on the outskirts of London as a result of insufficient funds. An inheritance from his father, together with sales of his paintings, did, however, enable them to hire two servants and a gardener by 1872. Following the successful exhibition of some maritime paintings and the winning of a silver medal at Le Havre, Monet’s paintings were seized by creditors, from whom they were bought back by a shipping merchant, Gaudibert, who was also a patron of Boudin.

Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant), 1872; the painting that gave its name to the style and artistic movement. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

When Durand-Ruel’s previous support of Monet and his peers began to decline, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, and Berthe Morisot exhibited their work independently; they did so under the name the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers for which Monet was a leading figure in its formation. He was inspired by the style and subject matter of his slightly older contemporaries, Pissarro and Édouard Manet. The group, whose title was chosen to avoid association with any style or movement, were unified in their independence from the Salon and rejection of the prevailing academicism. Monet gained a reputation as the foremost landscape painter of the group.

At the first exhibition, in 1874, Monet displayed, among others, Impression, Sunrise, The Luncheon and Boulevard des Capucines. The art critic Louis Leroy wrote a hostile review. Taking particular notice of Impression, Sunrise (1872), a hazy depiction of Le Havre port and stylistic detour, he coined the term “Impressionism”. Conservative critics and the public derided the group, with the term initially being ironic and denoting the painting as unfinished. More progressive critics praised the depiction of modern life—Louis Edmond Duranty called their style a “revolution in painting.” He later regretted inspiring the name, as he believed that they were a group “whose majority had nothing impressionist.”

The total attendance is estimated at 3500. Monet priced Impression: Sunrise at 1000 francs but failed to sell it. The exhibition was open to anyone prepared to pay 60 francs and gave artists the opportunity to show their work without the interference of a jury. Another exhibition was held in 1876, again in opposition to the Salon. Monet displayed 18 paintings, including The Beach at Sainte-Adresse which showcased multiple Impressionist characteristics.

For the third exhibition, on 5 April 1877, he selected seven paintings from the dozen he had made of Gare Saint-Lazare in the past three months, the first time he had “synced as many paintings of the same site, carefully coordinating their scenes and temporalities.” The paintings were well received by critics, who especially praised the way he captured the arrival and departures of the trains. By the fourth exhibition his involvement was by means of negotiation on Caillebotte’s part. His last time exhibiting with the Impressionists was in 1882—four years before the final Impressionist exhibition.

Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, Cézanne and Sisley proceeded to experiment with new methods of depicting reality. They rejected the dark, contrasting lighting of romantic and realist paintings, in favor of the pale tones of their peers’ paintings such as those by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Boudin. After developing methods for painting transient effects, Monet would go on to seek more demanding subjects, new patrons and collectors; his paintings produced in the early 1870s left a lasting impact on the movement and his peers—many of whom moved to Argenteuil as a result of admiring his depiction.

Death of Camille and Vétheuil

Claude Monet, Camille Monet On Her Deathbed, 1879, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
In 1876, Camille Monet became seriously ill. Their second son, Michel, was born in 1878, after which Camille’s health deteriorated further. In the autumn of that year, they moved to the village of Vétheuil where they shared a house with the family of Ernest Hoschedé, a wealthy department store owner and patron of the arts who had commissioned four paintings from Monet. In 1878, Camille was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She died the next year. Her death, alongside financial difficulties—once having to leave his house to avoid creditors—afflicted Monet’s career; Hoschedé had recently purchased several paintings but soon went bankrupt, leaving for Paris in hopes of regaining his fortune, as interest in the Impressionists dwindled.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of the Painter Claude Monet, 1875, Musée d’Orsay
Monet made a study in oils of his late wife. Many years later, he confessed to his friend Georges Clemenceau that his need to analyse colours was both a joy and a torment to him. He explained: “I one day found myself looking at my beloved wife’s dead face and just systematically noting the colours according to an automatic reflex”. John Berger describes the work as “a blizzard of white, grey, purplish paint … a terrible blizzard of loss which will forever efface her features. In fact there can be very few death-bed paintings which have been so intensely felt or subjectively expressive.”

Monet’s study of the Seine continued. He submitted two paintings to the Salon in 1880, one of which was accepted. He began to abandon Impressionist techniques as his paintings utilised darker tones and displayed environments, such as the Seine river, in harsh weather. For the rest of the decade, he focused on the elemental aspect of nature. His personal life influenced his distancing from the Impressionists.[15] He returned to Étretat and expressed in letters to Alice Hoschedé—who he would marry in 1892, following her husband’s death the preceding year—a desire to die. In 1881, he moved with Alice and her children to Poissy and again sold his paintings to Durand-Ruel. Alice’s third daughter, Suzanne, would become Monet’s “preferred model”, after Camille.

In April 1883, looking out the window of the train between Vernon and Gasny, he discovered Giverny in Normandy.[65] That same year his first major retrospective show was held.

Monet’s struggles with creditors ended following prosperous trips; he went to Bordighera in 1884, and brought back 50 landscapes. He travelled to the Netherlands in 1886 to paint the tulips. He soon met and became friends with Gustave Geffroy, who published an article on Monet. Despite his qualms, Monet’s paintings were sold in America and contributed towards his financial security. In contrast to the last two decades of his career, Monet favoured working alone—and felt that he was always better when he did, having regularly “long[ed] for solitude, away from crowded tourist resorts and sophisticated urban settings”. Such a desire was recurrent in his letters to Alice.

In 1875, he returned to figure painting with Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, after effectively abandoning it with The Luncheon. His interest in the figure continued for the next four years—reaching its crest in 1877 and concluding altogether in 1890. In an “unusually revealing” letter to Théodore Duret, Monet discussed his revitalised interest: “I am working like never before on a new endeavor figures in plein air, as I understand them. This is an old dream, one that has always obsessed me and that I would like to master once and for all. But it is all so difficult! I am working very hard, almost to the point of making myself ill”.

Giverny is the gateway to Normandy.

Monet was raised in Le Havre, Normandy, and became interested in the outdoors and drawing from an early age. Although his mother, Louise-Justine Aubrée Monet, supported his ambitions to be a painter, his father, Claude-Adolphe, disapproved and wanted him to pursue a career in business. He was very close to his mother, but she died in January 1857 when he was sixteen years old, and he was sent to live with his childless, widowed but wealthy aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre.

He studied at the Académie Suisse, and under the academic history painter Charles Gleyre, where he was a classmate of Auguste Renoir. His early works include landscapes, seascapes, and portraits, but attracted little attention. A key early influence was Eugène Boudin who introduced him to the concept of plein air painting.

From 1883, Monet lived in Giverny, also in northern France, where he purchased a house and property and began a vast landscaping project, including a water-lily pond.

Monet’s ambition to document the French countryside led to a method of painting the same scene many times so as to capture the changing of light and the passing of the seasons. Among the best-known examples are his series of haystacks (1890–91), paintings of the Rouen Cathedral (1894), and the paintings of water lilies in his garden in Giverny that occupied him continuously for the last 20 years of his life.

Frequently exhibited and successful during his lifetime, Monet’s fame and popularity soared in the second half of the 20th century when he became one of the world’s most famous painters and a source of inspiration for burgeoning groups of artists.

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