His Famous Works
Madame Caudibert Canvas, 216 × 138 (85 × 54 1/2) Louvre, Paris
Regatta Canvas, 48 × 73 (19 × 28 3/4) Louvre, Paris
Rouen cathedral: full sunshine Canvas, 107 × 73 (42 × 28 3/4) Louvre, Paris
Women in a garden Canvas, 255 × 205 (100 1/2 × 80 3/4) Louvre, Paris
( 1840-1926). French painter; born in Paris; died at Giverny. Claude Monet is the most Impressionist of Impressionists, and his work is the symbol of the movement. It is appropriate that one of his pictures, exhibited in 1874 and called Impression, Sunrise, should have led a Parisian columnist to baptize the new movement. The title of the picture was in itself significant. It revealed the artist's will to transcribe his own feeling rather than to represent a particular landscape; and such an act was revolutionary in its time. This was the point at which modern art broke with that of preceding centuries. It is likely that the persons concerned did not fully appreciate the radical change that their new attitude constituted; they did not foresee its consequences, but kept enough faith to continue their efforts in spite of the greatest difficulties. In his youth Monet had met Boudin at Havre and then made friends with Pissarro at the Académie Suisse, where the two of them worked.
A few years later he entered the Atelier Gleyre, where he met Renoir, Bazille and Sisley. Thus, Fate brought together fortuitously the men who would soon shatter the formulae in which official art was imprisoned. For several years, however, they were not so uncompromising as is thought today. Monet sent works to the Salon that were not always refused. The first painting he sent, in 1865, was accepted, and even enjoyed some success. Furthermore, he was admitted several times in later years, although of course with more difficulty. In addition to his landscapes, Monet executed a few figure studies at this time, first a large composition, Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, which he destroyed after it had been criticized by Courbet (an admirable sketch for it survives in the Frankfurt Museum), then The Lady in the Green Dress, which attracted much attention at the Salon of 1866, Women in the Garden, in the Louvre, and Lunch in an Interior. These canvases, together with a few portraits executed at various periods, are almost the only works in which he gave himself over to the representation of the human figure. This indifference may seem surprising and be regarded as a sign of insensitivity, but a more accurate interpretation suggests that for in artist as scrupulous as Monet -- and scrupulousness is characteristic of the Impressionists -- the portrait added psychological problems to purely pictorial ones, and that he preferred the more neutral theme of the landscape. Pictorial problems were important enough in themselves for Monet not to want to complicate them still more. He experienced too much trouble in finding his own medium, and even more in having it accepted, to think of adding new difficulties.
The year 1874 saw the Impressionist group's first exhibition, which gave rise to mockery and malevolent comments. To the stiff and static art, manufactured in studios, that was then in favour, Monet opposed a fluidity captured from Nature: not only the fluidity of movement but also that, much more subtle, of environment and atmosphere. Had he been content to seek lifelike postures for figures, like those revealed in a candid photograph, his theories would no doubt have been accepted, but what he wanted to paint was the glow of light, the shimmering of water, the transparency of the atmosphere, the scintillation of foliage. His idea of the instantaneous concerned not forms in motion but an arrest of time: a landscape is not the same at dawn and at twilight, in autumn and in spring. He wanted to paint the sun, the cold, the wind, the mist. These ideas were new and came as a revelation. Oscar Wilde later remarked of him that Nature certainly imitates art, since although nobody before Claude Monet had ever discovered that fog becomes iridescent around the London bridges, nobody could afterwards see London fog without thinking of him.
Thereafter Monet confined himself almost exclusively to landscapes, and mostly to those in which water adds an element of movement. Channel ports, the banks of the Seine, England, Holland, and Venice furnished him with inexhaustible themes until his death. Today it is difficult to understand that this art, full of freshness and youth, sensitive to the charm of all seasons, luminous as a song of joy, could have raised storms and brought many years of poverty to its apostle. But his tenacity succeeded in convincing the unbelievers and, about 1880, Monet began to see hostility subside. Calm entered his life little by little and, later, comfort and even wealth with the fame that crowned his old age. However, the crown was not untarnished, for if Alfred Sisley had died too young to see the beginnings of his success, Monet lived to witness the new assaults that triumphant Impressionism was to undergo, this time not from official or academic artists but from the members of the new generation who, making use of the freedom won for them by the Impressionists, rejected them to explore other paths toward other feats of daring, other concepts, even other repudiations. The Impressionist technique, carried to the point Monet finally reached, can undoubtedly be criticized for giving less importance to forms than to the atmosphere enveloping them. But an artist cannot be denied the right to think his thought through to the end. Monet was not afraid to seek out this finality. Already in the series of Cathedral of Rouen one finds no concern for suggesting effects of mass, but only a desire to observe light in all its intensities. It was mainly at Giverny, in the garden that he arranged himself, that Monet achieved his dream in a magic art free of any concern for stable form. His garlands of wistarias, reflected in the shifting mirror of the lake, his sheets of water lilies floating on the changing water, provided him with a whole dazzling play of coloured mirages that were their own justification, like certain variations in music, whose theme is nothing more than a pretext and a place to start. The whole development of Monet's work was toward a complete liberation that allowed him, near the end of his life, to arrive at an in as independent of reality as that of the most abstract painters of today. The astonishing mural ensemble inspired by Water Lilies, which occupies two rooms in the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, demonstrates the attainment of a poetical world rid of all concern with form, a world in which the evocation of reality is no more than a vague pretext. A curious magic emanates from it, but also the certainty that a point has been reached that cannot be passed, a point where the artist, at the height of his powers, has discovered a purity beyond which he cannot go without dissolution.
This extreme experiment could not have been attained if Monet had not previously undertaken many times to paint the same landscape seen at different hours, in different seasons, under different lights, with the sole purpose of extracting new effects from the same subject. The views of The Gare Saint-Lazare ( 1876- 1878), of Rouen Cathedral ( 1892- 1894) and of the garden at Giverny ( 1905- 1908) are among the most celebrated, but there are other sequences, The Ice Breaking ( 1880), Heystacks ( 1891), Poplars on the Bank of the Epte, and the views of London and Venice, that deserve being equally known. Those fortunate enough to have seen several canvases on the same theme, assembled and exhibited by the artist at the Durand-Ruel Gallery, realized the interest and appeal of such a grouping. In them Monet demonstrated that no absolute colour exists in Nature, only light; and that since the appearance of all objects changes perpetually, the art of the painter should consist in choosing one moment in preference to any other, in order to fix its individuality in a definitive image. The demonstration is convincing, although Impressionism would have been justified even without it.
It is easy to understand why this art, which at the beginning won the support and encouragement of Naturalists in literature, who regarded it as an illustration of their theories of objective reality, was later disowned by the same writers. It was, in fact, not so much a Naturalist expression that Monet sought as a poetry of suggestions in which imprecision and the absence of clear figures leave a large place for dreaming and a constantly renewed play of colour. Monet's art, as it appears to us today, claims no ancestry in the past, even though some of the painters of the eighteenth century seem to have been its forerunners. One predecessor of Monet can be found in the English painter Turner, although his is an art of pure imagination and magic. The art of Monet, in fact, remains closer to Nature; and if a divergence seems occasionally to exist, the explanation is that the painter's eye has succeeded in catching what previously seemed impossible to seize. He is quite distinct from some of the other painters classified as Impressionists. He has almost nothing in common with the rigorous draughtsmanship of Degas, except when Degas, in later years, indulged, in his pastels and particularly for his dancers, in similar iridescences; his construction was entirely different from Cézanne's, and he had real kinship only with Sisley and Pissarro, although he has more assurance than they. Jongkind and Boudin paved the way for him and succeeded in transcribing similar wet atmospheres in their own manner, but without achieving the poetical quality that remains the unique achievement of Monet.