Terrace at
Terrace at Sainte-Adresse - 1867 - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
DEBUSSY - Arabesques N°1 (1891)


Monet is recognized to be one of the founders of Impressionism, and he was the most constant and convinced of all.

Since his beginnings as an artist, he was encouraged to always listen and transmit his perceptions, and all criticisms which he had to undergo never did move him away from this search.

Claude Monet was born in Paris on November 14, 1840 but all his impressions as a child and teenager are related to the city of Le Havre where his family moved in 1845. There his father held a trade of colonial articles .


Self-portrait with a beret

Private Collection


Whereas he was still at college, he gained a certain notoriety while drawing caricatures which he showed in a store of drawing supplies with which Eugene Boudin worked at the time. Finally Boudin convinced the young Monet, at first very reticent, to paint with him in the open air. Monet will say later: "by the only example of this artist fond of his art and of his independence, my destiny as a painter had opened".

His family was not opposed that he became a painter, but his independent ideas, his criticism of academic painting and his refusal to follow a good Art School repeatedly caused arguments within his family. Finally, Monet started to paint in Paris at the Charles Suisse Academy where he will meet Pissarro in 1859, and Cézanne in 1861, before having to carry out his military obligations.

His military service in Algeria (1860-1861) was stopped by a typhoid which brought him back to France, where he started again to work in the summer of 1862 in Le Havre with Boudin and the Dutch landscape-painter Jongkind. He will say speaking of Jongkind : "...by there completing the teaching which I had received from Boudin, he was from this moment my true Master, and it is to him that I owe the final education of my eye".

La Bavolle street, Honfleur
Stadische Kunsthalle Mannheim ,

Released by his aunt of the rest of his military service, he resumed more serious studies at the School of Fine Art of Paris, and particularly he integrated the Workshop of one of the professors of the School, Swiss painter Charles Gleyre, where he was going to bind friendship with Bazille, Renoir and Sisley .

In the years 1860, these young artists attended the Café Guerbois, a place where Edouard Manet and Emile Zola often went.


The history of Impressionism cannot be dissociated of that of the Official Salon.

The social, economic and cultural evolution of XIXth century will have as a consequence that, from now on, art works would be created mainly by independent artists (rather than by painters at the service of some prince or corporation).

For these artists, finding possibilities of exhibition was an existential concern. Although art dealers and their galleries were going to take an increasing importance, in France, the most important and impossible to circumvent possibility of exhibition was the Official "Salon of Paris".

From 1863 on, the Salon will be held on an annual basis and a jury made up of members of the Academy of Fine Arts and of preceding medal-holders of the Salon will select works to be presented. For the only year 1863, 4000 works were refused on the 5000 requests coming from some 3000 artists, which led to the creation in 1863 of the "Salon des Refusés" (Salon of the Refused ones) .

For Monet and his friends, Renoir, Bazille, Sisley... years between the "Salon des Refusés" and the War of 1870 were going to be placed under the sign of an anxious research of their artistic personality and of a fast alternation of successes and failures. If they were, except for Cézanne, selected at the Salon at their first attempt (in 1865 for Monet), they will afterwards experience frequent refusals.

Regattas at Sainte-Adresse
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York

During all this period, these young painters consolidated the links existing between them and developed new relationships, seeking for new inspirations and pictorial means. Except for those who had a comfortable financial situation (Degas, Caillebotte, Bazille), they will face periods of bitter poverty, and especially Monet - whom Bazille helped financially - when he had to assume alone his household. They painted in the open air, in the surroundings of Paris or on the Norman Coast, where the experiment of the optical phenomena of light and color which passioned them was more intense

An important crossroads of the evolution of Monet was when he painted in 1869 with Renoir a series of paintings in a place of leisures and meeting in Bougival called "the Grenouillère", very appreciated by the Parisian middle-class, with bathing, canoeing and a floating restaurant. The paintings which they made while working with fast and vigorous brushstrokes loaded with pure color, corresponding to the turbulent animation of the small world which pressed there, mark the emergence of a new artistic style dominated by the impression , rather than details, inaugurating what was going five years later to be called "Impressionism".


Women in the garden
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

In 1870, Monet married his model Camille Doncieux, who had given him his son Jean (1867-1914); in 1878 their second son, Michel, will be born. Camille posed for many paintings of Monet e.g. "The walkers", "Women in the garden" (Camille poses for the 4), "Woman with a parasol", "The Japanese woman", and many others.

During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the short civil war which followed (the Commune), Monet lived in London and was presented at Paul Durand-Ruel , an important dealer of art, who was to contribute greatly to diffuse Impressionist works.

In 1874, in an increasingly hostile atmosphere on behalf of official circles, Monet and his friends formed a group and exposed in their own show room for the first time. One of his works, "Impression, sunrise" gave its name to the Impressionist movement.


At the origin, the group of the Impressionists is this small group of young painters, all aged from thirty to forty years, sharing a new conception of nature and art. The act of painting and the work of art which results from it are asserted as a pleasure, that of the painter and of his personal creation.

In this new conception of art for art, the truth of a painting is relative because it depends on the subject who paints it and the spectator who looks at it, and also it is relevant only at one time and under given conditions, which stresses the importance of a fast execution, close to a draft.

The intense research of the Impressionists on light and color effects made them discover new pictorial processes where the juxtaposition on the canvas of brushstrokes of pure color will result in a "optical mixture" only in the eye of the spectator.

Working directly from nature, Monet and the other Impressionists discovered that even the darkest shadows and the gloomiest days contain an infinite variety of colors. The consequence of this can be seen in the chromatic vibrancy of Monet's canvases.

Although Impressionism is essentially an illusionistic style, the illusion comes from what the artist sees rather than, as it was the case before, from what he intellectually knows. Monet eyes perceive nature as a pattern of nameless color patches without any prevailing conceptual knowledge.

The years which followed saw a rise of the Impressionist current. Monet took part in the exhibitions of the group of 1874, 1876, 1877, 1879 and 1882.

As William Seitz wrote in 1960, "The landscapes Monet painted at Argenteuil between 1872 and 1877 are his best-known, most popular works, and it was during these years that Impressionism most closely approached a group style. Here, often working beside Renoir, Sisley, Caillebotte, or Manet, he painted the sparkling impressions of French river life that so delight us today."

During these years he created many masterpieces such as "Argenteuil bridge" (1874), "The Saint-Lazare Station" (1877) and "Street Saint-Denis Festivités of June 30, 1878" .

However his paintings found few purchasers. Desesperately poor, he would constantly seek for places where life was less expensive and lived in Argenteuil from 1873 to 1878, in Vétheuil from 1879 to 1881, in Poissy in 1882, and Giverny from 1883 until his death.

Saint-Lazare station
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Monet lost his wife, Camille, in 1879 ( "Camille Monet on its bed of death", 1879 ).


By the end of 1880, his works started to draw the attention of public and critics. Fame brought him comfort and even richness. Monet then lives in Giverny since 1883 with his two sons, Alice Hoschedé and her six children. Alice was the woman of the owner of a department store and collector of Impressionist paintings, Ernest Hoschedé, who went bankrupt in 1878.

Monet could buy in 1890 the property of Giverny, which he was hiring, and will marry Alice (deceased in 1911) in 1892, after the death of her husband.

At that time, the painter was absorbed to paint landscapes in series : "Rocks of Belle-Ile" (1886), "Cliffs of Belle-Ile" (1886), "Poplars on banks of Epte" (1890-1891).

Haystacks at the end of summer,
morning effects
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Light is always the "principal character" in Monet' landscapes, and because his purpose was always to seize a changing effect, he adopted the practice to paint the same subject under different conditions of light, at various hours of the day.

He started to paint the series of the haystacks which he continued over two years. Monet painted them in sunny or gray weather, in the fog or glazes of snow: "Haystacks, effects of snows, morning" (1890), "Haystack, end of the summer, morning" (1891), "Haystack to laying down sun close to Giverny" (1891).

The famous series of Monet devoted to the Cathedral of Rouen under various lights was carried out from the window of the 2nd floor of a shop opposite the cathedral. He made 18 frontal views.

Changing canvas according to the light, Monet followed the hours of the day, from the early morning, with the frontage in ombré blue of fog, to the afternoon, when the sun, disappearing behind the city constructions, transformed the stone work eroded by time into a strange factory of orange and blue: "Rouen Cathedral, the gate and the Saint-Romain tower at dawn" (1893-1894), "Rouen Cathedral, the portal and the Saint-Romain tower, full sunlight" (1894), "The Cathedral of Rouen" (1893-1894), "The Cathedral of Rouen in the twilight" (1894), "The Cathedral of Rouen in the evening" (1894)...

Rouen cathedral,
the portal and the St-Romain
tower, full sunlight.
Blue and gold harmony
Musée d'Orsay


Monet was to live from 1883 until its death in 1926, that is to say more than forty years, in his property in Giverny, of which he will gradually transform the garden in a decorative set.

Monet removes bad grasses and hedges, then digs, sows grass, plants decorative trees and creates series of various flower beds. He also produces a kitchen garden to nourish his family. In the evening, the children often weed and water.


What was in the beginning only a Norman orchard with only grass and apple trees becomes, with the contribution of all the family, an historical garden . It is a work of patience, which Monet continues with love. Even when the task becomes too bigt so that he cannot assume it alone, he supervises his team of gardeners (1 garden chief and six assistants).

Monet buys seeds and plants everywhere he goes, concludes exchanges with other gardeners. It is him who searches the catalogues and places the orders, that they be for seeds, pots, melon bells...

In 1893, he begins the installation of his famous "water garden" with the pond with the nymphea.

In 1899, Monet studied for the first time the subject of the nymphea (species of water lilies): The nymphea white (1899). The Japanese bridge (1899), Nymphea (1914), (1917), were the principal topics of its last works.

The Japanese bridge
over the water-lilies pond
at Giverny
Princeton University Art Museum
New Jersey

Monet leaves a considerable work as much in quantity (more than 2000 indexed works), as by his impressionist research, expression of which he is the most typical representative. The father of Impressionism will write on this subject little time before his death:

Photo of the japanese bridge
over the water-lilies pond
at Giverny

"I always had horror of theories... I only had the merit to paint directly in front of nature, trying to translate its most fugitive effects, and I remain sorry to have been the cause of the name given to a group of which the majority did not have anything impressionist"

Photo of the garden
and the house of Monet
at Giverny

Monet's estate at Giverny is now opened for public visits. It is maintained by the "Claude Monet Foundation"

Photo of Monet's house
at Giverny
Monet bequeathed to the State fourteen large paintings of his nymphea, which were placed in 1927, little after his death, in two oval rooms of the Museum of the Orangery in the Tuileries Garden.

Photo of the water-lilies pond
at Giverny