Claude Monet
Biography of French Impressionist Landscape Painter.

Impressionism: Origins/ Influences - Early History of Impressionism - Impressionist Claude Monet
Claude Monet in London - Impressionist Painting Developments - Impressionist Exhibitions (Paris)
Group Splits - Legacy of Monet's Impressionism

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Impression, Sunrise (1872)
Musee Marmottan, Paris. One of
the best Impressionist paintings.

For an idea of the pigments used
by the Impressionists, see:
Colour Palette Nineteenth Century.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)


Early Years
Landscape Painting
First Impressionist Exhibition (1874)
Les Nympheas (Waterlilies)
Leading Exponent of Pure Impressionism
Selected Paintings

For analysis of works by Impressionist painters like Monet,
please see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

La Grenouillere (Frog-Pool) (1873)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
This work of Monet's is one of the most
famous landscape paintings of
the French Impressionist school.

Best Artists of All Time.

Gare St Lazare (1877)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.


One of the most influential figures in 19th century French painting and the leader of the Impressionism movement, the painter Claude Monet devoted his entire life to the study of naturalism and the capture of light and its momentary effects on nature. Although he excelled in all the genres, including portraiture, genre-painting and still life, his main interest was in landscape painting, particularly outdoor plein-air painting. Like his close friend Renoir, his early career was marked by extreme poverty: derided by art critics, it wasn't until the mid-1870s that he became known, and not until the 1880s that he became prosperous. A participant in five out of the eight Impressionist exhibitions, it was his painting Impression, Sunrise (1872) that gave rise to the movement's name when it was exhibited in 1874. Two years later he produced the first of a series of paintings on a single subject, namely the Gare St Lazare (1876-8). He followed this with Poplars (1890), Haystacks (1891), Rouen Cathedral (1892-4) and lastly Water Lilies (Nymphéas), a series that occupied him from 1897 until his death in 1926.

These works have made him one of the best landscape artists in the history of art. In 1883, he settled at Giverny, some 65 km from Paris, where he created his famous water garden, whose Japanese bridge is featured in his work Le Bassin aux Nympheas (1919), which was auctioned at Christie's London, in 2008, for £40.9 million ($72 million), making it the world's second most expensive Impressionist painting. In addition to leading the world's most popular art movement, Monet's late waterlily paintings - characterized by exceptionally loose brushwork and swirls of colour - anticipated later 20th century styles like Abstract Expressionism (c.1945-1962). NOTE: To see how Monet's Impressionist painting opened the door for 20th century abstraction, see: Realism to Impressionism (1830-1900). Other Impressionist Painters included: Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Edouard Manet (1832-83), Degas (1834-1917), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Cezanne (1839-1906), Frederic Bazille (1841-70), Berthe Morisot (1841-95), Renoir (1841-1919), and Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94).

Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
A popular example of poster art.

For a list of painters like Monet,
see: Modern Artists.

See: Greatest Modern Paintings.

Bridge Over A Pool of Water Lilies
(1899) Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Influenced by Japonism, this is
one of a series of views of
the Japanese-style footbridge over
the pond in his flower garden at
Giverny. The painting draws the eye
into the far reaches of the pond.
The greens/golds are interwoven
with strokes of fiery red from the
setting sun that irradiate the whole
composition with pulsing colour,
and draw the eye into the depths
of the pool beneath the shiny
reflections between the islands
of water lily leaves.

For a list of the highest prices paid
for works of art by famous painters:
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings and
Top 20 Most Expensive Paintings.

Early Years and Training

Monet was educated at the college of La Meilleraye in Le Havre and while still quite young earned a reputation for his skill at caricature (several of these drawings are now in the Chicago Art Institute). Around 1858 he met the Honfleur-born painter Eugene Boudin (1824-98), whose works did not impress him greatly to begin with, but who encouraged him to paint en plein air from nature. Later, Monet was to point to Boudin's love of art and independence as the determining factor in his own decision to become a painter.

Recognizing his son's talent, Monet's father asked the municipality of Le Havre in 1858 for financial support to enable the boy to study in Paris. The still life which accompanied the request was turned down, but Monet had already left for Paris in May 1859 without waiting for a reply, in order to catch the exhibition at the Palais de l'Industrie, which was due to close in June. At the Salon he admired the Barbizon School landscape painters Theodore Rousseau (1812-67), Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-78), Camille Corot (1796-1875), and Monginot (the painter of still lifes and animals) who put his studio at Monet's disposal. Meanwhile, in opposition to his father's wishes, Monet refused to enter the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and his allowance was cut off. Furthermore, instead of seating himself in the Louvre and copying the styles of Old Masters, which was the traditional practice of young artists, Monet learned from his fellow artists, from the landscape itself, and from the works of his older contemporaries. He frequented the Atelier Suisse where he probably met Pissarro who was then working in the style of Corot.

After his son's two years of military service (1861-3, spent in Algeria), as a condition of allowing him to devote his life to art, Adolphe Monet insisted that he enter the studio of an established painter. After a short stay at Le Havre where he worked with Boudin and Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-91), both of whom exerted a profound influence over him, Monet entered Charles Gleyre's Paris studio in 1862 after an introduction by a relative, Toulmouche.


Landscape Painting

It was at Gleyre's that Monet met Bazille, Renoir and Sisley - all of whom would become involved in Impressionist landscape painting. Throughout the years 1862-4, Monet and Bazille worked together in Chailly (near Barbizon) as well as at Honfleur (with Boudin and Jongkind), settling in Paris in 1865 in the Rue de Furstenberg where they were once again in conntact with Pissarro and Cezanne. In April Monet returned to Chailly intending to paint a vast canvas, a Dejeuner sur l' herbe "in the spirit of Manet, but actually painted out of doors".

The realist artist Gustave Courbet (1819-77) helped him financially and gave him advice, which sometimes irritated Monet. However, in this case, he followed Courbet's suggestion and altered his canvas, with the result that it no longer pleased him; he decided against entering it for the Paris Salon and left it rolled up in his studio. It was later remounted (the main part is now privately owned in France; the left-hand section is in the Musee d'Orsay and there is a sketch in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow).

Freed from Courbet's teachings, Monet painted in the open air, and, using a luminous range of colours over light backgrounds, executed a large canvas representing several young women, for whom the only model was, in fact, Camille Donncieux (of whom he also made portraits) in his garden at Ville d'Avray (Women in the Garden, Musee d'Orsay). Bazille came to his aid by buying this vast work for 2,500 francs, payable in monthly instalments of 50 francs. In 1870 Bazille's father exchanged this painting with Monet, for the portrait of his son painted by Renoir. Renoir then gave Femmes au Jardin back to Monet, and the work was acquired by the State in 1921.

The period up to late 1870, when he settled in Argenteuil, was spent variously on honeymoon (see The Beach at Trouville (1870, Wadsworth Atheneum, CT); in Paris (Le Quai du Louvre, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague); Sainte-Adresse (Terrasse a Sainte-Adresse, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Le Havre (Navires Sortant des Jetees du Havre [Ships Leaving the Quays at Le Havre], accepted for the 1868 Salon after an introduction by Daubigny); Etretat and London, where he arrived in September 1870 (his canvases were refused by the Royal Academy). During this time Camille Doncieux gave birth to Monet's son Jean. In Argenteuil he converted a boat into a studio and plied the Seine as far as Rouen, so as to capture the various subtle variations of atmosphere (Coasting Lugger at Anchor, Musee d'Orsay). Monet's unique representation of light in his landscape painting was based also on his knowledge of the laws of optics as well as his own outdoor observation. He often depicted natural colour in the way a prism does - by breaking it down into its different components. He also rejected the academic approach to landscape by eliminating black and gray from his palette.

Note: to understand more about Monet's style of landscape painting, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.

First Impressionist Exhibition (1874)

The period at Argenteuil represented the culmination of the Impressionist movement. Several of the young artists of the day such as Manet, Renoir, Sisley and Caillebotte came there to paint and exchange ideas. In 1874 they decided to unite and exhibit their paintings at the Galerie Nadar. One of Monet's pictures, painted in 1872, Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sun Rising) (Musee Marmottan, Paris), aroused sarcastic comment from the art critic Louis Leroy, who used the title of the picture as the title of his hostile review, The Exhibition of the Impressionists, thus inadvertently naming the new art movement.

On 24 March 1875 the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) organized a sale at the Hotel Drouot of 73 paintings, including 20 by Monet. The sale was a failure, and Monet's increasingly desperate financial situation forced him to apply for help to his friends Manet, Caillebotte, de Bellio and Zola.

For an exhibition at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1876, Monet supplied 18 canvases, including Madame Monet en costume Japonais (Mme Monet in Japanese costume) (Boston Museum of Fine Arts). That same year he went to Mongeron where Ernest Hoschede bought several of his landscapes, including some painted in his grounds (The Turkeys, Musee d'Orsay).

Back in Paris, Monet was captivated by the architecture of the Gare St Lazare and executed several studies of this great iron framework seen through the smoke. For the first time he repeated the same subject, under different lighting conditions. At the 1877 exhibition at Durand-Ruel's he presented 30 canvases, of which seven were views of St Lazare (Musee d'Orsay; Musee Marmottan; Art Institute of Chicago; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass). In March 1878 Camille gave birth to a second son, Michel. Ernest Hoschede, now bankrupt, was forced to sell his collection of Impressionist paintings at the Hotel Drouot where Monet's canvases fetched absurdly low prices.



It was Manet who, by buying some of Monet's work, made it possible for the artist to settle at Vetheuil on the banks of the Seine in 1878. Some of the numerous views that Monet painted of this little village and its surroundings were included in the fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1879. On the advice of Renoir he submitted two canvases to the Salon, one of which was accepted.

Camille died at Vetheuil on 5th September 1879, leaving Monet helpless with grief. More out of a desire to be by himself after her death than from a wish to detach himself from the group (as was claimed by Degas, who accused him of being a traitor), he organized his own exhibition at La Vie Moderne in June 1880, However, he took part in the seventh Impressionist show in 1882, with 32 canvases, landscapes and still lifes, which were favourably received by the critics.


In 1883 Monet went to live in Giverny, and in this year Durand-Ruel organized exhibitions of the works of the Impressionist group in Boston, Rotterdam, London and Berlin. From 1883 to 1890, he travelled from his base in Giverny to the South of France, Normandy and Brittany, painting in all the locations he visited. He was also a participant in the fourth, fifth and sixth Expositions Internationales de Peinture.

In 1886 Durand-Ruel presented 'three hundred works in oil and pastels by the Impressionists of Paris'. Monet was also represented at the Exposition des Vingt in Brussels. From a short visit to Holland he brought back a few canvases depicting fields of tulips. At Giverny he painted some decorative panels for which Suzanne Hoschede was his model (Woman with a Parasol, Musee d'Orsay).

In 1888 he entered into a contract with Theo van Gogh, and in the same year stayed at the Chateau de la Pinede at Antibes (St Jean Ferrat, 1888, Boston Museum of Fine Arts). The year 1889 was notable for a big retrospective that he and Rodin organized at the Galerie Georges Petit; the 65 canvases that Monet exhibited were a great success. Part of the year was spent at Fresselines and Crozant, and Monet also took the initiative in raising subscriptions in order to donate Manet's celebrated painting Olympia to the State. Between 1890 and 1894 he began meeting his Impressionist friends once more, this time at the Cafe Riche in Paris. He also met and befriended several exponents of American Impressionism, notably Theodore Robinson (1852-96), who visited Giverny during the late 1880s.


Les Nympheas (The Waterlilies)

In 1890, Monet was finally able to buy the house he had been living in at Giverny for the last 7 years. There was a large garden attached, which he filled with rare plants and flowers, and a lake with waterlilies, over which he built a little Japanese bridge. He found here the subject matter for his experiments with 'spontaneity', something which led him to undertake a great series on a single subject. At Durand-Ruel's in 1891 he exhibited 13 canvases depicting haystacks (Meules) and poplars (Peupliers) on the banks of the River Epte and various aspects of Rouen Cathedral. In July 1982 he married Alice Raingo, the widow of Ernest Hoschede. In 1894 Cezanne came to live at the inn at Giverny and, in February 1893, Monet left for Norway where he spent several months as the guest of Queen Christiana (Mont Colsaas, Musee d'Orsay). Between the May 10th and May 31st, 1895, he exhibited 50 canvases at Durand-Ruel's, including the 20 views of Rouen Cathedral and eight canvases painted in Norway.

At the Galerie Georges Petit in 1897 he exhibited a series of studies of the Nympheas (Waterlilies). See also: Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899, National Gallery, London). In 1900 he visited London, where he was often to return, to paint a succession of canvases of the Thames. On his return, 37 of these were exhibited at Durand-Ruel's. From a journey to Venice in 1908 he brought back 29 canvases which were shown in 1912 at the Galerie Bemheim: Le Palais Ducal (The Ducal Palace) (Brooklyn Museum, New York); Le Grand Canal (The Grand Canal (Boston Museum of Fine Arts). The 48 landscapes with water which make up the Nympheas, painted between 1904 and 1906, and exhibited at Durand-Ruel's between 5th May and 5th June, were highly successful.

In May 1911 Monet's second wife Alice died at Giverny. His stepdaughter Blanche Hoschede-Monet, who was herself a painter, supported Monet by her presence and love until his death.

In 1914 Monet had a large airy studio built in the grounds at Giverny in order to paint huge canvases on the theme of the Nympheas (some of these are now in the Musee Marmottan in Paris). In November 1918, at the instigation of the prime minister, Georges Clemenceau, he decided to donate to the nation several of these canvases, in the form of a vast decorative work. The Orangerie at the Tuileries was chosen as their site. The execution of this immense project was delayed while Monet underwent a cataract operation, but it was completed before he died on 5th December 1926. It was unveiled on 17th May 1927. During his last years, Monet also painted a series of Weeping Willow trees, in homage to fallen French soldiers in World War I.

The majority of the studies for the Nympheas were shown at the Galerie Katia Granoff in 1956 and 1957. These shimmering pools of colour - almost totally devoid of form - are the true starting point of abstract art, or at least certain forms of it. They are the logical outcome of Monet's lifelong devotion to capturing the subjective truth of nature outdoors. As a result, critics have tended to consider Monet as one of the precursors of lyrical abstraction, and in particular of the 'abstract landscape'.

These water lily pictures are among a series of approximately 250 oil paintings by Monet, which was the main focus of his artistic output during the last thirty years of his life. In June, 2007, Sotheby's auctioned one of Monet's water lily paintings for £18.5 million, making it the most expensive waterscape in the history of art.

Leading Exponent of Pure Impressionism

Monet, like Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro, remained largely devoted to painting landscapes en plein air. But of the three, he was the greatest exponent of the impressionist painting method: namely to render the play of light on the surface of objects. This involved the experimental use of varied often bright colour in order to express one's visual sensation (or impression) of nature, in landscape painting and other outdoor artworks, in violation of traditional methods of painting. His conception and execution makes him one of the great pioneers of Modern art.


All the world's best art museums contain works by Monet: among the most important collections are those in Paris, notably at the Musee d'Orsay, the Marmottan Museum (75 canvases bequeathed by the artist’s son in 1968 or deriving from the de Bellio Collection), and the Orangerie Museum. Elsewhere, the best works can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Selected Paintings

- La Rue de la Bavolle in Honfleur (1864) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- The Picnic (Le dejeuner sur l'herbe) (1865-66) Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
- Women in the Garden (1866) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
- Terrace at Saint-Adresse (1867) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- Ice on the Seine near Bougival (1867) Private Collection, France.
- The Luncheon (1868) Stedel Art Institute, Frankfurt-on-Maine.
- Rough Sea at Etretat (c.1868-69) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
- La Grenouillere (1869) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
- The Beach at Trouville (1870) Wadsworth Atheneum, Connecticut.
- The Road to Louveciennes, Effect of Snow (1870) Private Collection.
- The Thames below Westminster (1871) National Gallery, London.
- Regatta at Argenteuil (c.1872) Louvre, Paris.
- The Seine at Bougival (1872) Private Collection.
- The Harbour at Argenteuil (1872) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
- Poppy Field (1873) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
- The Luncheon (1873) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
- Impression: Sunrise (1873) Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.
- The Boulevard des Capucines (1873) Pushkin Museum of Arts, Moscow.
- The Boulevard des Capucines (1874) Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
- Boulevard Pontoise at Argenteuil, Snow (1875) Kunstmuseum, Basel.
- Poplars near Argenteuil (1875) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- Madame Monet in Japanese Costume (1875) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- The Tuileries (1876) Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.
- Gare St Lazare (1877) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
- Gare St Lazare: The Train from Normandy (1877) Art Institute of Chicago.
- The Road to Vetheuil (1879) The Art Museum, Goteborg.
- Bank of the Seine, Vetheuil (1880) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- Monet's Garden at Vetheuil (1881) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- Tulip Fields in Holland (1886) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
- The Fields of Poppies (c.1887) The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
- Haystack, Snow Effects, Morning (1890) National Gallery of Scotland.
- Haystack at Sunset (1891) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- Rouen Cathedral at Twilight (1894) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
- Rouen Cathedral in the Evening (1894) Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
- The Seine at Giverny, Morning Mists (1897) North Carolina Museum of Art.
- White Water Lilies (1899) Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.
- Waterlily Pond (1899) National Gallery, London.
- Water Lily Pond: The Japanese Bridge (1899) Philadelphia Museum of Art.
- Water Lily Pond: Pink Harmony (1900) Musee d'Orsay.
- Vetheuil, Setting Sun (1901) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
- Houses of Parliament, London (1905) Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.
- Venice. The Doge's Palace (1908-12) Kunsthaus, Zurich.
- Palazzo da Mula. Venice (1908) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- Water-Lilies (1914) National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo.
- Yellow and Lilac Water Lilies (1914-17) Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.
- Water-Lilies (1917-20) Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

• For more biographies of great French artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more about Impressionism, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

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