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Claude Monet



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Claude Monet
Claude Monet

The most lyrical of the impressionist painters, Claude Oscar Monet was also the most committed to recording transient effects of light and atmosphere. This aim led Monet and his colleagues to develop the techniques of impressionism. Monet advised his fellow painters to concentrate on the play of light and color of the objects that they had before them. The goal was to capture temporary phenomena, and this was pursued in a systematic manner, according to the laws of optics and complementary color relationships; yet the result was often a sheer celebration of painting itself, an expression of Monet's delight in the colors, textures, and shapes of the landscape.

During his youth Monet was struck by the constantly changing appearance of sea and sky on the north coast of France, near his native city of Le Havre. There, he became friendly with Eugene Boudin, a painter of coastal scenes, who encouraged him to become a painter. In 1859, Monet moved to Paris and attended the Academie Suisse, where he met Camille Pissarro. After a break for military service (1860-62) and a brief return to Le Havre, he returned to Paris to enroll in the studio of Charles Gleyre, where he met Pierre Auguste Renoir, Frederic Bazille, and Alfred Sisley. By 1865 he had embarked on a program of outdoor painting of marine and forest subjects, townscapes, and figures in landscape settings.

In the summer of 1869, Monet worked alongside Renoir and began to emerge as the leading figure in the creation of the techniques of outdoor impressionism. He consolidated this role in 1872-75, especially favoring river subjects with light-dappled water, and garden scenes in which vigorous brushstrokes and patches of bright color break into the contours of objects, dissolving their forms in the play of light. In 1876-77 he embarked on the plan of painting a single subject from various viewpoints, choosing for this purpose the Gare Saint-Lazare, a Parisian railway station (one of these canvases is in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.).

Until the 1880s, Monet endured extreme poverty. During this decade, however, his works began to sell at higher prices, allowing him to live and paint as he wished. In the early 1890s, he again took up the idea of producing a series of views of the same subject which he intended to be shown as a group. His subjects included haystacks, poplars, the facade of Rouen Cathedral as it altered from dawn to dusk, the Seine at Giverny, and views of the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. But Monet's key subject after 1890 was the lily pond he had built at his home in Giverny. His various versions of it culminated in several groups of large, decorative paintings of water lilies, called Nympheas. These now hang in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, and in the Musee de l'Orangerie, Paris. These paintings show the vitality and complexity of Monet's brushwork at its height. Sky, water, and vegetation are transformed into swirling, vibrant masses of color.

1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Copyright 1996 Grolier Interactive, Inc.