Claude Monet: Biography, Paintings & Facts

Instructor: Alisha Nypaver

Alisha is a college music educator specializing in historic and world music studies.

Claude Monet is not only considered to be one of the most iconic French painters of all time, he is also credited with helping to create a very popular artistic movement. Discover more about his unique style and learn about his best-known works in this lesson.

Monet and the Paris Art Scene

Claude Oscar Monet was an influential French painter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Along with artists Renoir, Degas, and Cassatt, Monet is most associated with the Parisian art movement known as impressionism.

Claude Monet, 1899.
Photograph of Monet

As a young painter, Monet had two major artistic influences. The first was called en plein air, which means 'outside.' This style advocated capturing the naturalness of an open-air scene, as opposed to the controlled environment of a studio setting. The second was realism, a technique designed to represent the subject of a painting as accurately and with as much detail as possible in ordinary settings.

Monet, Women in the Garden, 1866. Shows realism and en plein air influences, as well as early Impressionist techniques. Rejected from the Paris Salon because of the heavy brush strokes used for the grass.
Painting of Women in the Garden.

At this time, a group of wealthy artists and socialites known as the Society of French Artists dominated the Paris art scene. Each year, they held an annual art show called the Paris Salon, which was the biggest and most important gallery in the Western world. Presenting work at this exhibition was a huge step towards becoming a successful artist for all European painters, especially French ones.

Some of Monet's early works were accepted to the Salon and praised for their careful depiction of light and shadows, a skill that would become a hallmark of Monet's later style. However, the society refused many of his more innovative works. After repeated rejection, Monet, along with fellow avant-garde artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro, founded a new artistic society, the Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, or 'the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers.'

In 1874, the society had their own art exhibition where Monet displayed a painting called Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise). It was from this painting's title that a French critic coined the term 'Impressionists' to describe the artists' style. Although meant to be derogatory, the artists liked the name, and it stuck.

The painting that gave the Impressionist movement its name.
Impression, Sunrise

Impressionist Style and Characteristics

Impressionism tries to capture the essence of a scene rather than the stark reality through depicting a mood that reflects the impression left by a visual image. The results were hazy representations of landscapes or subjects created with loose, blotchy brush strokes. Impressionists often worked en plein air and were especially interested in the way light and shadows interacted. In order to catch the best light before it shifted, the paint was applied quickly, leading to thick, heavy strokes. Often, the paint created visibly protruding textures, adding depth and dimension. Bright, contrasting colors were preferable, and Impressionists avoided the use of black paint.

The Life of a French Impressionist

Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840. At age 11, he entered a school for the arts where he was able to pursue painting and drawing. In 1856, he met painter Eugène Boudin, an en plein air advocate who became his mentor. A few years later, a young model by the name of Camille-Léonie Doncieux entered his studio. She became Monet's mistress and gave birth to their first child, Jean, in 1867.

Painting of Camille, called The Woman in the Green Dress, 1866. This early painting shows realist influences and was accepted to the Paris Salon.
Full-length portrait of woman indoors.

Monet and Camille married in 1870 and had a second son, Michel, in 1877. That same year, one of Monet's friends, a department store magnate and Impressionist art collector named Ernest Hoschedé, went bankrupt. In dire straits, Hoschedé moved his wife Alice and their six children in with the Monet family in a suburb of Paris. Eventually, Ernest moved back to the city to work, leaving his family with the Monets.

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