Claude Monet, 1840-1926
By Natasha Sivanandan
Born Oscar-Claude Monet on November 14th, 1840 in Paris, he would go on to become one of the founders of the French Impressionist movement. Characterised by an interest in the changing quality of light, the Impressionists represented nature as one perceived it, working en-plain-air. Like most creative movements, Impressionism derived its name, not by choice of the artists themselves, but from a critic who intended the term to be an insult of Monet’s work Impression, Soleil Levant (Sunrise), (1873).
Though Monet was born in Paris, he spent his childhood in Le Havre, on the Normandy Coast. His early artistic ambitions were supported by his Aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre and by 1856 he was known locally for his caricature work. However, it was after a meeting with Eugène Boudin that he began painting landscapes, changing the course of his artistic career. Although he did a year of military service in Algeria from 1861-62, he gained his father’s permission to return and study art at the atelier of Charles Gleyre. During this time Monet formed a friendship with the Dutch landscape painter Johann Barthold Jongkind, who became his informal mentor and tutor. Jongkind, like Boudin, would be an influential force in the direction of Monet’s career as a landscape painter.
On his first attempt, Monet’s two landscapes, Seine Estuary at Honfleur, (1865) and Pointe de la Heve at Low tide, (1865), were admitted to the Salon of 1865. He again displayed work in the salon in the years 1866 and 1868, but was rejected in the later years of 1869 and 1870. His work Déjeuner sur l’herbe, (1865-66)—not to be mistaken for Manet’s work of the same name—would have been submitted to the salon of 1866, if he had completed it in time. It shows characteristic traits of early Impressionist intentions of capturing the freshness of painting outside.
In 1871 he married his mistress, Camille Doncieux, and set up a home for his new family in Argenteuil, a boating centre on the Seine. By the following year Argenteuil had become a hub for Impressionists like Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Manet and Caillebotte, all drawn to Monet’s paintings of the Seine, the town, and his garden settings.
His most famous work Japanese Bridge and the Waterlily Pool - Giverny, (1899) was created after many years of financial turmoil. In the 1890s, Monet developed a flower-garden in his home in Giverny, even introducing an exotic species of waterlily to his pond. The Giverny home and garden were to become a dominant subject for the remainder of his life, and icons of the movement for centuries to come.
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