|Claude Oscar Monet
French painter, a leading figure in the late-19th-century movement called impressionism. Monet's paintings captured scenes of middle-class life and the ever-changing qualities of sunlight in nature. His technique of applying bright, unmixed colors in quick, short strokes became a hallmark of impressionism.
Influences and Training
Monet's formal art training began in 1859 at the Academie Suisse, a studio that provided models for aspiring artists to draw or paint, but gave little direct instruction. Another future leader of the impressionists, Camille Pissarro, was a fellow student there, and the two soon became close friends. After serving briefly in the French military in Algeria, Monet joined a Parisian studio run by Charles Gabriel Gleyre in 1862. Gleyre's studio was essentially student-run. Like the Adademie Suisse, it encouraged students to draw from models, rather than from plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman statues, which was the common teaching method of more conservative academies. In Gleyre's studio Monet met several artists who would become fellow impressionists, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frederic Bazille. Bazille, who came from a wealthy family, gave Monet regular financial support during the 1860s.
Early Work In 1865 Monet had his first works—two ambitious seascapes—accepted by the Salon, a juried art exhibition sponsored annually by the official French Academy of Fine Arts. Thereafter he had a checkered record of acceptance and rejection by the conservative Salon jury, although his works received praise from critics such as French writer Émile Zola and were purchased by discerning and influential buyers.
Monet's canvases from the mid-1860s were massive. The unfinished Luncheon on the Grass, a picnic scene begun in 1865, was originally intended to measure roughly 4.5 m by 6 m (15 ft by 20 ft). For two other large paintings from that time, Monet's future wife Camille Doncieux posed in elegant attire: The Green Dress (1866, Kunsthalle, Bremen, Germany), which was shown in the Salon of 1866, and Women in the Garden (1867, Musee d'Orsay, Paris). After the Salon rejected Women in the Garden for its 1867 exhibition, Monet may have reconsidered investing so much effort in a single painting that might not sell, and he began to work on a smaller scale.
In 1869 Monet and Renoir painted a series of landscapes en plein air (outdoors) at a fashionable bathing place, La Grenouillere, on the Seine River near Paris. In these small works, Monet's quick daubs of fresh colors aptly capture the movement of the water and gaiety of the scene.
Despite his father's disapproval, in 1870 Monet married Camille, who had already borne him a son. To escape the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), during which German troops threatened Paris, the couple went to London, then to Holland. They returned in 1872 and settled in Argenteuil, a sailing center on the Seine River outside Paris. Monet painted numerous vibrant, light-filled views of this fast-growing suburban town; he also produced more intimate family studies.
Birth of Impressionism
In the 1874 exhibition, Monet showed four pastels and five paintings, among them a work entitled Impression: Sunrise (1872-1873, Musee Marmottan, Paris). Inspired by this title, French art critic Louis Leroy coined the term impressionist in a satirical review of the exhibition. His comments criticized the artists for painting so loosely and neglecting to blend their brushstrokes carefully in order to achieve the polished effect that was then expected. Although Impression: Sunrise is an elegantly balanced composition, it demonstrates much of what was radically new about the impressionist manner. Monet's swift strokes capture a momentary effect of light on water in a busy port, while mist and smoke blur the angular forms of sailboats.
Monet's first wife, Camille, died in 1879, and soon afterward Monet set up home with Alice Hoschede, the wife of one of his most important patrons, and their respective children. The Hoschede family had recently suffered a disastrous bankruptcy, and financial concerns seem to have directed many of Monet's career strategies in the years that followed.
In 1880 Monet decided, to the great annoyance of his fellow impressionists, to exhibit once again at the official Salon. He also began to sell his work regularly through private dealers. Monet traveled throughout France during the 1880s, tackling new and challenging motifs, such as the rocks off the island of Belle Île, the stormy Atlantic coast, and the more idyllic atmosphere of the Mediterranean seacoast.
Monet followed the Haystacks with a Rouen Cathedral series (1892-1894). With their heavy encrustations of paint that capture flickering light and shadow, the works challenged accepted understandings of impressionism. The cathedral façade virtually dissolves, and an objective rendering no longer seems to be Monet's goal. With this series, critics began to relate Monet's work to the symbolist movement, in which artists used color to achieve a highly individual and subjective interpretation of a scene.
Despite frequent periods of financial anxiety, Monet never lacked buyers for his work, and by the 1890s his sales were strong, especially in the United States. The culminating honor of Monet's career was the installation in the Orangerie des Tuileries, a museum in central Paris, of monumental paintings of water lilies, on which he had worked for more than a decade preceding his death. In these works reality seems to dematerialize as he expresses the interplay of color, light, foliage, and reflection in a tangled mass of brushstrokes. With his eyesight beginning to fail in his final years, Monet explored his subject so closely and thoroughly that the whole dissolved into its parts and began to resemble abstract art.
"Monet, Claude Oscar," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001
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