Oscar-Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840, but spent his childhood at Le Havre. He was a talented caricaturist, but the painter Eugène Boudin convinced him to dedicate his talents to landscape painting. He returned to Paris in 1859 and enrolled in the Académie Suisse and began to frequent the Brasserie des Martyrs, a meeting place for artists and intellectuals. In 1860 he was called up for military service and sent to Algeria. In 1862, when he returned to Paris, he met Sisley, Renoir and Bazille. The meeting with Courbet was decisive, and he studied his painting technique. In 1865 he exhibited at the Salon for the first time, and with great success. In 1869 he painted La Grenouillère his first entirely Impressionistic painting. Then, in 1870, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War he moved to London. When he returned to France, plagued by financial problems, he moved to Argenteuil. There, in 1873 he painted Impression: Sunrise. The painting was exhibited in 1874 at the first Impressionist show that was held in Paris in the studio of the photographer Nadar, and it was this painting that gave the movement its name. His wife and model Camille died in 1879. The exhibitions he participated in during the ‘eighties – in New York sponsored by Duran-Ruel in 1886 and in Paris in the Georges Petit gallery in 1889 - definitively earned him renown. After 1883 he moved to Giverny with Alice Hoschedé whom he married in 1892. His paintings of the Rouen cathedral were done in the ‘nineties as were the Water Lilies, works in which the materialization of the subject anticipated the studies of abstraction. The final years of his life were marked by a severe eye disease; he died at Giverny in 1926, almost completely blind.
The Picnic (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe)
After having seen Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe at the Salon des Refusés in 1863, Monet decided to paint a similar large composition set in the Chailly woods. The sole models for this painting were Camille Doncieux and Frédéric Bazille, although some say that Courbet is also recognizable. Courbet’s criticism discouraged the artist who abandoned the painting and left it as collateral with the pension at Chailly where he had stayed. When he retrieved it years later it was quite ruined and he could only salvage one panel and the central part that he jealously kept in his studio at Giverny.
The Garden of the Princess, Louvre (Le Jardin de l'Infante)
Painted from the east balcony of the Louvre, this scene combines the precision of Corot’s landscape painting with an unusual fluidity of brush strokes. It was purchased by the art dealer Latouche; and triggered harsh criticism from Daumier when it was first shown. This was the period, however, in which Monet began to be accepted by the Salons and became friendly with Emile Zola who, as a critic, contributed greatly to his friend’s success.
The cooperation between Monet and Renoir led them to work side by side in a study on reflections at the embarcadero of the Grenouillère restaurant on the Seine, near Bougival (Renoir’s painting is in the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm). The critics considered this Monet’s first completely Impressionist painting.
The painting was exhibited on 25 April 1874 in the Paris studio of the photographer Nadar, at the show that marked the debut of the Impressionist group. It inspired a rather polemic article that Louis Leroy published in Charivari that christened the new style “impressionist”, with reference to the title of Monet’s painting. The scene portrays the fishing boats leaving the port of Le Havre at dawn.
Poppies at Argenteuil
This painting was shown in 1874 at the first Impressionist exhibition that was held in the studio of the Parisian photographer, Nadar. It portrays Camille, Monet’s companion in the country near Argenteuil where they lived in a house that Manet found for them since 1871. Monet worked here, often with Renoir, and he even set up a floating studio on a boat. This is one of the paintings that made Monet one of the leaders of the new movement.
The Highway Bridge at Argenteuil
It was at Argenteuil while he was developing what would become the dominant features of his Impressionistic poetic that Monet began studying subjects under different light and weather conditions to grasp all the luminous vibrations and nuances. In this sense water became a favored subject and, in fact, he built a floating studio for himself on a boat.
The Train in the Snow. The Locomotive
Chronologically, this painting predates the Gare Saint-Lazareseries by two years, and combines the attraction for unusual weather with his interest in subjects of “modern life” that the poet Baudelaire had pronounced indispensable for an artist of his times. The physician Georges de Bellio, an enthusiastic supporter of the Impressionists, purchased it immediately and it remained in his family until his daughter bequeathed it to France.
Madame Monet in Japanese Costume (La Japonaise)
This painting has been considered a stylistic anomaly in which the typically Impressionistic features take second place with respect to the Japanese styles then in vogue among European artists. In 1918 Monet himself described La Japonaise as a caprice. The painting was considered the pair of an 1866 portrait of his wife, Camille (Camille. Green Dress, that is now in the Kunsthalle in Bremen) that is the same size. It was displayed at the Impressionist exhibition of 1876.
La Gare Saint-Lazare
This painting is the result of a series of studies deriving from an argument with a critic who, observing his winter landscapes, said that fog was not an appropriate subject for art. So, Monet decided to paint a railroad station where the fog was thickened by the smoke of the engines. He obtained authorization to work at the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris and painted a series of canvas that were purchased by Durand-Ruel, seven of which were exhibited at the third Impressionist show that same year.
Rue Montorgueil, Festival of 30 June 1878
As Monet himself said, the idea for this painting came suddenly as was crossing the flag-bedecked street in the heart of Paris celebrating the success of the Universal Exposition. He sought an observation point, found a balcony on a high floor and he began painting immediately. Manet did a similar view in his studio in Rue Mosnier, as proof of the Impressionists’ interest in the colorful urban panorama.
Woman with a Parasol
This is the companion piece to another painting of the same size and subject (they were done during the same period). Monet returned to a subject that he had painted years before, portraying his first wife (this time the model was Blanche Hoschedé, his second wife’s daughter). It dates from the period in which, after having participated in prestigious international exhibitions with extensive overviews of his studies, and enjoying the support of important galleries, Monet was finally financially secure.
The Bark at Giverny
During this period Monet to wrote the critic Geffroy that he was dedicating himself to painting “impossible things”, referring to the series of paintings with boats on the Epte, the river that flows by Giverny. The chromatic rendering of the reflections on the waves, the transparency of the water and the opacity of the underwater material heralded the break-up of the Impressionistic values that would characterize Monet’s later works.
Haystacks (End of Summer)
In his quite obsessive study of the effects of light on objects at different times of day and under varying weather conditions he did two series of paintings (the first in 1888 and the second – to which this one belongs in 1890) of haystacks that he could see from his window at Giverny. In an autobiographical text, the Russian painter Kandinsky tells that about twenty years after it was painted he saw a reproduction of one of Monet’s “haystacks” upside down and this led to his “discovery” of the intensity of abstract painting.
Monet began painting the series of poplars in 1890 when he accentuated his interest in repeating subjects at different times of day and under different lights. He was highly impressed by a group of poplars on the banks of the Epte and knowing that they were to be cut down and sold at auction, he appealed to the mayor without success. He did obtain an agreement – that he paid for – that the purchaser would hold his bid until Monet completed his paintings.
Rouen Cathedral, Harmony in Blue
In 1895 Monet exhibited twenty canvases dedicated to the Rouen Cathedral that he selected from the more that fifty he had painted of the same subject between 1892 and 1893. The show at the Durand-Ruel gallery aroused great admiration especially on the part of Clemenceau, one of France’s leading political figures and admirer of Monet (it was he who urged the government to purchase the Water Lilies that are in the Orangerie). Perhaps the series paintings (haystacks, cathedrals and water lilies) of his later years are Monet’s greatest bequest to XX century art.
Water Lilies, Harmony in Green
In 1889 the poet Mallarmé showed Monet a pastel drawing by Berthe Morisot that was to illustrate one of his poems, and Monet was fascinated. From that moment on these Japanese water flowers became a constant in his painting, observed in the pond at Giverny. In this painting we can also see the Japanese style bridge he had built over the pond, a further tribute to a culture mode that inspired him throughout his artistic career.
Bridge at Charing Cross, The Thames
This painting was inspired by the London winter. It was displayed at the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1904 and was purchased by Bernheim. Monet would continue doing paintings based on the studies he had brought back from England for years, emphasizing the attraction that London’s winter landscapes had for him.
Houses of Parliament
Between 1900 and 1903 Monet spent his winters in London, fascinated by the fog-enshrouded Thames (much like the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris). In 1904 he exhibited thirty-seven views of the Thames at the Durand-Ruel gallery that he had painted at Giverny on the basis of the many sketches he had made in London. In a letter to the gallery-owner he described how he worked on all the paintings contemporaneously, selecting the details he considered most appropriate from the studies he had made.
This painting was exhibited at the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1909. Since 1902 Monet had been thinking of a series of paintings inspired by the pond at Giverny. It was while he was preparing for this exhibition that he conceived of the one that is now in the Orangerie in Paris (it was highly desired by Clemenceau, Monet’s friend and supporter, and it was unveiled in 1927 after his death) for which he had a new studio built.
Doges’ Palace, Venice
Monet made two trips to Venice (1908 and 1909) and he painted Venetian subjects until 1912. But he was dissatisfied with the results as he was working from memory (his gradual loss of sight prevented him from traveling alone). With reference to the Doges’ Palace he told a critic, “The artist who designed this palace was the first Impressionist...Venice is Impressionism in stone.” Twenty-nine paintings of Venetian subjects were exhibited in 1912 at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery.
The Artist’s House, seen from the rose garden
This is a view of Monet’s house in the village of Giverny where he lived from 1883. It is a recurrent subject of his paintings, and it was here that he retreated from the world as old age encroached. This painting dates from the period when he was suffering from cataracts and worked intensively outdoors, terrorized by the possibility of becoming totally blind.