Many people tend to confuse this French artist with one who has a very similar name: Edouard Manet.

That confusion might deepen once you realise that both men wore beards, loved to paint outdoors and even painted each other! They also each painted a self-portrait; you might refer to them to see how similar they were in appearance.

Still, there is a chance that, once you learn Monet’s story – of renegade defiance, you will easily be able to tell the two apart!

Monet had a rather... convinced attitude about himself and his abilities that nobody, neither his wealthy father nor his military commander could seem to break. Conversely, he had many good friends, Manet included, that stuck with him through thick and thin.

Monet was a ground-breaker who engineered one of the art world’s most enduring art movements but, unlike other painters of the mid-nineteenth century, he gets little notice these days. Maybe he needs a bit more exposure.

Maybe exposing his life and deeds will help shed light on just how important he was in the evolution of painted works and how he influenced some of the most famous painters of his time.

Superprof is happy to take on that role!

The Early Life of Claude Monet

Monet loved to paint outdoors
Monet's canvases generally reflected an outdoor theme Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Born on November 14, 1840, Oscar-Claude Monet was the family’s second child. Both of his parents were Parisians; so it came to be that his first five years were spent in the City of Light. They then relocated to Normandy, where his father took over the family business.

His mother was a cheerful woman, one for whom gaiety was a natural state of being. She had been a singer in Paris so, when her son declared that he wanted to be an artist, he had his mother’s unwavering support.

His father was a different story. Dad had envisioned his son taking over the business someday and was sorely disappointed that young Claude wanted to execute brushstrokes for a living. Their differences would become a matter of contention in later years, even putting Monet Jr’s life at risk.

Claude Monet chafed at being indoors. He would rather pass his time outside, in nature, sketching everything he saw. He earned a bit of money by drawing caricatures of his fellow students while enrolled at the School of the Arts at Le Havre.

With his extra money, he sought out lessons with local art teacher Jacques-Francois Ochard. The lessons were very traditional for that time; they consisted of drawing the human form from a plaster cast, not a model.

Claude’s mother died when he was only 16 years old. Grief-stricken, he moved in with his aunt who was also an artist.

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Sojourn in Paris, Part I

Most likely at the insistence of his aunt, Claude, now a young man, set off for Paris to haunt the Louvre and take in the most famous works of art.

While there, he noticed many apprentice artists with their sketchbooks, copying the most famous paintings: works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, da Vinci and Gauguin. Undaunted, Monet took out his sketch pad and started drawing the scene.

At the time, it was quite conventional to paint only indoors. Landscape painting was generally done from memory; seldom did anyone haul their easel and paints out of doors. Monet tried his best to adhere to that principle but he simply couldn’t abide by it.

While still in Normandy, he had learned from his friend Eugene Boudin to paint out of doors. That suited his temperament very well; he hated being confined – by walls or by convention.

Sitting by the windows in the world’s most famous museum of art helped him satisfy that craving for being in nature. It also compelled many of the artists vying for the best light to wonder why he was blocking what light there was to be had.

He came to know and eventually become friends with several of those budding artists, Manet among them. But first, he had a higher calling to fulfil.

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Tranquility in the fields was Monet's trademark
Monet's themes tended toward the pastoral Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Military Service and Paris, Part II

Claude Monet unfortunately drew a low draft number, meaning he was forced into a seven-year stint in the military.

His wealthy father could have paid off his conscription mandate but father and son came to a stalemate when discussing the matter: the son refused to give up life as an artist so the father refused to pay for his son’s military exemption.

Off Claude went, to Algeria, where he was assailed with the colours and vibrancy of north Africa.

He was also assailed with typhoid fever, which saw him absent himself from his military post without permission.

That brief stain on his military record mattered not at all in the end because his aunt, the one who had taken him in, paid for his release from service provided he complete a course at the art school of his choice.

He had only been gone from Paris for a few months; his art friends were all delighted to see him return... but nobody is certain how they took his frustration with his art classes.

He soon broke his promise to his aunt. He dropped out of formal art lessons to pursue tutelage under Charles Gleyre, a Swiss artist who had taught a number of painters. He happily opened his doors to Monet, introducing him to other painters-in-training, Pierre-Auguste Renoir among them.

On breaks between sessions and outside of class, these fervent young painters would discuss works by famous artists and what they would do differently in reproducing those amazing works of art.

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Claude Monet, the Father of Impressionism

Fed up with the criticism, rejection and narrow selection criteria for having one’s work shown at the official Paris showcase of up-and-coming artistic talent – the Salon, Monet, along with his comrades-in-brushes founded their own art appreciation society.

The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers came into existence in 1873, intending to thumb their nose at art snobbery by putting on their own members’ work on display; often they were artists rejected by the officially sanctioned Salon.

Besides Monet, artists included were:

  • Auguste Renoir
  • Eugene Boudin
  • Camille Pissarro
  • Edgar Degas
  • James Whistler
  • Paul Cezanne

Later artists included Paul Gauguin, Cals, Lepine and Rouart but, no matter who showed their work or how long the show lasted the press and public were less than kind. Undaunted, these mavericks of the canvas continued to expound on new ideas for producing avant-garde works.

Wouldn’t it seem like Vincent van Gogh would fit into their group?

Among the ideas bandied about was painting outside. After all, it was a bit difficult to produce landscape art without actually being outside to witness it. Besides, the light was better outside...

Claude Monet, having always preferred the great outdoors, spearheaded that movement by showing an oil on canvas painting titled Impression, Sunrise. It was universally panned.

In fact, the journalist who wrote it up coined the phrase ‘impressionist’, meaning it as a term of derision for those who would embrace that art movement. The impressionists embraced the term, calling themselves ‘French Impressionist’ as a badge of honour.

Henri Matisse, a later-generation French painter, disdained the impressionist label...

Monet loved painting in his gardens
Monet's gardens were lush, offering much to fuel his depictions of nature Image by Juliane Lutz from Pixabay

Later Works and Legacy

Having declared himself an impressionist painter – one who worked outdoors, no less, Monet set about substantiating his claim that natural light is ever-changing and essential to creating works of art.

He finished a painting reproduction of his friend Manet’s work titled Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe, albeit on a larger scale and with different people.

He travelled around quite a bit at this time to avoid the ravages of war. He sojourned in London for a time and then headed to the Netherlands, where he was thought to be a revolutionary spy. Only after the war ended did he return to France. It was during that time, from late 1871 to 1878 that he was the most productive.

While Monet is best known for painting impressionistic nature scenes, he was also known to work in a studio, painting models.

One such woman, Camille, became his wife in June of 1870. By that time, they had already had a child together and experienced abject poverty, getting thrown out of lodgings in the city and country alike.

Monet often painted his wife and sometimes his child but no tableau is more poignant than his beloved after death. There is some dispute over her cause of death but none over Monet being rent with grief. For a time after her passing, his paintings took on a sombre hue.

Later in life, Monet found both love and success as an artist, so much so that he was able to buy a property and have the gardens landscaped to his exact specifications. It was there that he painted his famous Lilies.

Monet had gotten into the habit of painting the same scene several times to illustrate the difference that light makes. To that end, he painted a series titled Water Lilies which, along with van Gogh’s Starry Night, are the most renown among impressionist paintings.

Perhaps the worst condition to plague an artist would be the loss of vision; that is exactly what befell Monet. He developed cataracts, which caused the works he painted during that time to have a reddish hue – he was able to see that colour better than any other.

After a successful operation to remove them, he continued painting until his death in 1926. His lovely home with the lush gardens and lily pond were donated by his son to the French Academy of Fine Arts. It is a huge attraction for art lovers from all over the world.

Now learn how Spanish painter Pablo Picasso went from being a post-impressionist to Cubism, ultimately leading the modern art movement.

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