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Claude Monet:  An Impressionist

Katherine Ryan - Art History Honors 2018

     I’ve heard about Monet on every card my grandma has ever mailed me (she got a box of them in the 90s), and there are numerous references to his art in everyday life. Despite all of this, until I had this unit, I couldn’t have told you who Monet was beyond that he was a painter. I find his life to be very interesting, his father was a businessman and his mother was a singer, yet he defied what was expected of him and pursued a career in art. Furthermore, he stuck with it throughout his life, though it meant he was a bit strapped for money. Claude Monet was such an influential figure in shaping art today that I think we should all know at least a little something about him.

     Claude Oscar Monet was born to Adolphe and Louise Monet in Paris, France on November 14, 1840. He had one older brother, Oscar Monet, whom the family moved to Le Havre to be closer to in 1845. Monet was not particularly enthusiastic about school and liked to draw in the margins of his books. By the age of fifteen, he was an established caricature artist in the community. In 1858 at an exhibition featuring some of his pieces, Monet met a local outdoor artist named Eugene Boudin, who convinced him to try painting outdoor scenes, a practice Monet took on reluctantly. Within a year, he had decided he wanted to pursue art as a career and moved to Paris against the wishes of his father. Monet met many Realism artists and saw a lot of influential art in Paris. He enrolled in Academie Suisse, but his time there was cut short due to his military service in Algeria from 1860 to 1862. The 1860’s were a time of travel, experimentation, and friendships; back in Paris, he joined Gleyre’s studio in 1862 and worked on and off in Fontainebleau with other artists from 1863 to 1864. He met many artists who influenced his work, including Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, and Jongkind, during this time. Monet met Eduouard Manet in a café five years later. In 1870, Monet married a woman named Camille Doncieux, and the two moved to London and then Argenteuil. Monet continued throughout his life to travel around the world to develop his art, despite his financial instability. However, very few of Monet’s 1860s and 70s pieces are still around, as he was known to destroy them to keep them from creditors.

What Is Impressionism?

     The Impressionist movement was started by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Morisot, Guillaumin, and Bazille in 1860s France.  These artists inspired each other and were influenced by the work of Manet. The concept of this movement was to capture the energy or a visual impression of a moment, rather than an exact depiction. Many artists of this movement chose to do this in a way that showcased the effect of light, shadow, and color. The name “Impressionist” comes from the old word for a sketch, an impression; Monet and others thought that this name captured their concept well and decided to use it. A notable artist influenced by this movement was Vincent van Gogh.

     Throughout his career, Monet focused on capturing a feeling in his art. One way his did this was by using apparently frenzied brush strokes in the approximate shape of objects, rather than straight, harsh lines to evoke a sensation in the viewer, rather than a recognition. He also became a master of light and shade and color through his travel and experimentation.

1. Regatta at Sainte-Adresse; 1867; Oil on Campus; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

In this piece, we see a regatta, or a boat race, taking place with many well-dressed spectators on a beach. The variety in the size of the boats on the water and the heights of the buildings in the background, along with the diversity in the shape of the clouds, give this piece a very natural and at ease feel. The immense detail, lack of harsh lines, and original representation of water prove this piece is a classic Monet.

This is a favorite of mine for a few reasons.  Firstly, the Impressionistic influence is apparent, but not so apparent that the scene is unrecognizable.  I see lots of boats in the ocean and spectators socializing on the beach. The greens and blues of the water give the authentic summertime beach feeling.  My grandparents have lived in an old house on the water my entire life, so I can remember being in the ocean for every summer of my childhood. The clouds and water in this painting make me feel like I’m five years old again, wading in the ocean with the neighbors’ grandkids. Both of my grandparents have passed now, and I haven’t been to the beach in at least two years; this piece made me feel like it was an endless summer.

2. La Grenouillere; 1869; Oil on Campus; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

In this piece, we see what I interpret to be a ferryboat, a few row boats, and a dock; there are people sitting in the ferryboat, standing on the dock, and swimming in the water. Typical of Monet, we have mostly muted colors and neutrals and some very intriguing reflections and disturbances in the water. This piece is a very good demonstration of the Impressionist style, as we can see it is an experiment with Monet’s soon to be signature brush stroke techniques.

3. La Japonaise; 1876; Oil on Campus; Museum of Fine Arts Boston

This piece, depicting Mrs. Monet in a blond wig and kimono and surrounded by Japanese fans, was, according to some historians, meant by Claude Monet to be a political statement about the obsession the French had with all things Japanese. The detail on the kimono, the fans on the wall, and the floor are very defined, rare from Monet. This piece shows more of a realistic side of Monet, as do most other portraits of his wife, but we still see his signature in the muted colors and soft lines.

4. The Parc Monceau; 1878; Oil on Campus; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

One of six views of Parc Monceau completed by Claude Monet in 1876 and 1878, this piece shows upper class men, women, and children sitting and walking along a path to what appears to be a large house. This piece is an experiment in “two dimensional motifs” that eventually became synonymous with the name “Monet.” Furthermore, in the bottom left corner especially, we see some interesting light and shadow, and throughout the mostly neutral piece, there are a few brightly colored parasols, showing how Monet’s style is changing through his career.

5. Bouquet of Sunflowers; 1881; Oil on Campus; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

In this piece, we see a vase with a blue detail (called Japanese by Van Gogh and suggested by the French fad) holding a bouquet of sunflowers on a patterned tablecloth. Along with the visually unique and appealing placement of each leaf and bloom, the shading and shadow of the vase itself is very interestingly ordinary amid such an extraordinary piece. As per usual, we see little to no straight, harsh lines and a lack of exact depiction, but the piece no doubt gives one the impression that it is a bouquet of sunflowers.

6. Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies; 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Monet was an amateur horticulturalist, and in 1893, he built a bridge and water lily garden “for pleasure of the eye and also motifs to paint.” He painted this piece as part of an eighteen-piece water lily collection. The muted pinks, greens, and browns contribute to the serene feel of the piece. The position of the bridge puts the viewer at about eye level with the water. The water has some very beautiful and Impressionistic reflections, as well.

This piece is one of my favorite pieces by Monet.  This is a prime example of Impressionism because if I were to show multiple people this same piece with no context, every single one would see something different or have a different connotation of it.  I really like the pastel greens and pinks; the whole piece gives off a kind of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ energy. The placement of the bridge makes me feel grounded in the landscape. I live in a very rural area, so nature is all around, and when I look at this piece, it makes me feel like I’m in a swamp at sunrise. My dad and I go duck hunting every year and the normally murky and (if I’m honest) kind of gross swamp is strangely beautiful in the morning light. The water reflects the trees and the whole scene somehow feels stuck in time. I also like how different the water in this piece is from that of the first piece mentioned.