Claude Monet

(November 14, 1840 � December 5, 1926) Also known as Oscar-Claude Monet or Claude Oscar Monet was a French impressionist painter.

Monet was born in Paris, France, but his family moved to Le Havre in Normandy when he was five. His father wanted him to go into the family grocery store business, but Claude Monet wanted to paint. When he was five years old, he moved to the port town of Le Havre. The only subject which seemed to spark any interest in Monet was painting. He developed a decent reputation in school for the caricatures he was fond of creating. By the age of 15, he was receiving commission for his work. At Le Havre, at the age of 16, Monet met a man, who played a critical role in his life - the painter Eugene Boudin. At first Monet resisted Boudin's offer of tuition but he eventually relaxed his protestations and before long, the two had forged a relationship that was to last a lifetime.

In 1859 Monet left for Paris because he began to feel the limitations of Le Havre. He soon found himself disillusioned by the confines of long-since established principles. He rejected the formal art training that was available in Paris. Bored and frustrated, Monet was to do more painting at the very relaxed Academie Suisse than in the formal schools for which he had left Le Havre.

In the spring, of 1862, Monet was called up for National Service and went to Algeria for a year with a prestigious regiment: les Chaussures d'Afrique. The landscapes and colors of Algeria presented an entirely different perspective of the world, one which was to inspire him for many years to come. Theoretically, Monet should have remained in Algeria for seven years, but his time there was curtailed by the contraction of typhoid. The artist's aunt, Madame Lecadre, intervened and bought Monet out of the army. Her only condition: that Monet return to Paris and make a serious attempt at completing a formal artistic tuition course. Despite these provisions, Monet did not enroll in l'Ecole des Artistes. Although a renowned institution, it was filled with the traditionalists that Monet was so determined to contradict. Instead, he joined the studio of the Swiss-born Charles Gleyre. Remembering his own poverty as a student, Gleyre charged only ten francs for models and the studio. This leniency attracted a large number of artists. Among them, Monet was to meet three very close and influential friends: Frederic Bazille, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. While all these three painters were talented, they came from very different social backgrounds. The unifying force that was to bind the group for so long, however, was the commitment and intense dedication to their new approach to art, one which was eventually to be labeled impressionism.

Monet remained at Gleyre's studio for approximately two years. Throughout this time, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Bazille, made frequent trips to the nearby forest of Fontainbleau, located South-East of Paris. It had been a popular venue for artists for a number of years. However, this new group broke the tradition of their predecessors' paintings by replacing subdued colors and dark shadows with open spaces and sunlight. When Monet was not fulfilling his need to be outdoors by going to Fontainbleau, he was visiting his old friend, Boudin, in Le Havre. Although Monet had said that he "understands" and "loves nature" and was very fond of the world outdoors, he wanted to make a name for himself which meant that he had to appease the traditionalists of the Academie. Contrary to the advice of his friend and mentor, Boudin, Monet adhered to the expectations placed on serious entries to the Salon and painted a number of pictures indoors. These were very successful, but his larger piece drew some criticism. Quite the opposite from the expected smooth surfaces which were in vogue at the time , Monet's entry was "broadly handled with a loaded brush, giving a rough surface texture and clearly visible brushstrokes, and sacrificing detail to overall effect." Monet persisted in his efforts to appeal to the Academie and during the period from '65 to '66 he painted a number of subjects with varying degrees of success .His last entry, The Woman in the Green Dress, painted in four days, bought both recognition and introduction to his mistress, Camille Doncieux.

Monet was determined to achieve complete success; he immersed himself in his next project and entry to the Salon for the following year: Women in the Garden. The Salon, however, rejected the painting when it was finally entered for the following season. Shortly after the Salon's decision, Camille became pregnant with their first son, Jean, who was born in 1868. They had little money and were largely dependent on Monet's friends. Monet's aunt took him in to her house, but Camille was forced to remain in Paris. This marked the beginning of a lifestyle which was becoming increasingly itinerant; culminating in Monet's move to London in the early 1870's to avoid the Franco-Prussian War. Here he was exposed to English masters, Constable and Turner.

Later, Monet returned again to Le Havre where he painted Impression: Sunrise, the painting largely credited with the naming of the entire movement. After the completion of the Sunrise, Monet moved back to Paris and finally rented a house at Argenteuil on the Seine where he and Camille lived for six years. This period represents the height of the impressionist movement. Frequently joined by Renoir and other friends from his student days, Monet painted every aspect of life and the world outdoors.

In 1874, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley and Monet put together an exhibition which turned out to be a complete disaster. The exhibit marked a return to financial insecurity for Monet and it was only the intercession of Manet that allowed Monet to remain at Argenteuil. In an attempt to recoup some of his losses, Monet made a sale of his paintings at the Hotel Drouot. This, too, was a failure. These setbacks demonstrate a remarkable quality about the painter. Despite almost constant rejection and financial uncertainty, Monet's paintings never became morose or even all that somber.

Instead, Monet immersed himself in the task of perfecting a style which still had not been accepted by the world at large. Monet's compositions from this time are extremely loosely structured, and the color was applied in strong, distinct strokes as if no reworking of the pigment had been attempted. This technique was calculated to suggest that the artist had indeed captured a spontaneous impression of nature. During the 1870s and 1880s Monet gradually refined this technique, and he made many trips to scenic areas of France, especially the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, to study the most brilliant effects of light and color possible. Never fully content, Monet went to Dieppe, Pourville and Varengeville-sur-Mer.

His first wife Camille died of tuberculosis in 1879, the same year their second son, Michael was born. In 1883 Monet finally settled in Giverny where he remained until his death. This geographical constant was coupled with the disintegration of the group of impressionists. Other influences and groups presented themselves and, gradually, each of the painters drifted away to pursue their own styles.

In 1892 Monet married Alice Hoschede, with whom he had had an affair during his marriage to Camille. In that year he painted his series of Rouen Cathedral, noticing how every aspect of the scene was altered in accordance with the changing light. This realization was to become an obsession in his later years. At last, Monet gained recognition. He knew several important people and he became financially secure for the first time in his life. Alice died in 1911.

With this new-found luxury, Monet devoted himself to gardening which, in turn, provided a motif for the painter's last important work, The Water Lily Pool. Monet was absorbed in this project almost exclusively from 1900 until his death. Throughout these years he also worked on his other celebrated "series" paintings, groups of works representing the same object - haystacks, poplars, the river Seine - seen in varying light, at different times of the day or seasons of the year.

Cataracts formed on his eyes for which he underwent two surgeries in 1923. Despite the cataracts, he continued to paint almost up until his death on December 5, 1926. He is buried in the Giverny church cemetery.

In 2004, "London, the Parliament, Effects of Sun in the Fog", 1904, sold for over $20 million U.S. dollars.

- By Julie V.

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