- Claude Monet - Translating Vision into Paint [Biography]
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Claude Monet

"Suddenly a veil was torn away...My destiny as a painter opened out to me."

Claude Monet was born in 1840, the eldest son of a Parisian shopkeeper. The family moved in 1845, and he spent his childhood in the port town of Le Havre. Monet took his early painting lessons there from the painter Eugene Boudin. Boudin, who specialised in scenes of people strolling on beaches, worked up sketches out-of-doors and encouraged Monet to do the same. Monet was soon converted. At the age of 19, Monet enrolled at the Academie Suisse (founded by a retired model of David).

In 1858, he spent some time in Paris, studied briefly with Gleyre and met and befriended Pissarro and Manet. He spent the two years between 1860 and 1862 in military service in Algeria, then returned to Paris. Once back in Paris, he studied full-time under Gleyre and became close friends with Renoir, Sisley and Bazille - also students of Gleyre.

The period from 1867 to 1870 was coloured by extreme financial hardship. The birth of his illegitimate son Jean in 1867 occurred under such dire financial circumstances that, during a particularly brutal siege of poverty and hunger in 1868, Monet attempted suicide. At this time, the friendship of comrades like Bazille (who bought Women in the Garden) and Renoir (who actually stole bread for the Monet family) were his sole consolation. The gulf between his most laboured paintings and official acceptance seemed unbridgeable.

In September of 1870, following France's declaration of war against Prussia, Monet took refuge with his friend Pissarro in London. It is during this time that he painted his views of Hyde park, the Pool of London and the Thames at Westminster. While in England, Pissarro and Monet visited the museums. They were especially entranced with the works of Rossetti and Watts, and they also spent some time studying the works of Turner and Constable.

Monet had a lifelong love of water, and he once joked that he would like to be buried in a buoy. By 1871, Monet had settled in Argenteuil so he could paint along the banks of the Seine River. Once there, he fixed up a boat with an easel and painted his way up and down the Seine, searching for the means to capture his impressions of the interplay of light, water and atmosphere.

Discouraged by the lack of recognition by the Salon, the Impressionists banded together as the "Societe anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs" in 1874. They exhibited their work together just before the annual Salon that year, and it was there that the term 'Impressionist' was coined. Monet had exhibited his painting Impression: Sunrise`, and a derisive critic fumed that "The Impressionists apply paint like tongue lickings". The first exhibition was a financial failure, and none of the exhibitions were particularly successful, but they continued to exhibit together until 1886.

In 1883 Monet moved to Giverny. Caillebotte had communicated his love of gardening to Monet, and here Monet translated that enthusiasm into a remarkable garden. Painting the lilies in the pond of his garden hundreds of times between 1900 and 1926, they are the culmination of a lifetime in which the out-of-doors had become his studio. In 1916 he began the 'cyclorama' Nympheas, which he intended to donate to the French Nation (providing they displayed it suitably and bought his Women in the Garden. Arrangements were finally made and agreements signed for the twelve 13 foot long/6 foot tall panels to be displayed in the Orangerie. Monet continued to visit and work on the panels until his death at Giverny in 1926.

contributed by Gifford, Katya


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