Monet in Mind: Monet’s life and influences

Posted: 21st May 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Monet in Mind: Monet’s life and influences

Written by Lucy from the Future Ferens

Monet was a very interesting guy…

A first impression, if you will, are the water lilies. His most distinctive motif to date, and he had a habit of using a successful motif wherever he could put it. In fact, there are over 250 paintings of water lilies attributed to Claude Monet, as they were the main focus of his life during his last 30 years living in Giverny. One of the 250 paintings sold for over £27m at a New York auction, the equivalent to over £3.3 billion if sold in Monet’s lifetime.

Monet was born November 14, 1840 in the ninth arrondissement, or district, of Paris. His father was the proprietor of a family business and encouraged Monet to follow in his footsteps, but his mother, a trained singer, was supportive of his artistic ventures, and can widely be considered as the cooler parent. He became well known in his community for his caricatures, often capturing local residents and even his teachers.

It was Monet’s introduction to Eugene Bodin, a French painter now remembered as one of the first to begin landscape painting outside from observation, that drove him to move to Paris in 1858 to pursue art. This began his legacy. He enrolled at the Academie Sussie in Paris, founded in 1815 and most famous for having Romanticism painter Eugene Delacroix study and work there. It was here that Monet met Camille Pissaro, a fellow artist who would become a friend of Monet for many years to come.

For a year in 1861, Monet served in the military, and was discharged for health reasons. His return to Paris the following year introduced him to several artists, including Renoir, and Jongkind, who proved to be a great influence in the development of Monet’s landscape painting. Monet began to create marine landscape paintings, and despite receiving several accolades, including acceptance into the Salon, a juried Parisian art show, he struggled financially.

Following the beginnings of his relationship with his muse Camille Doncieux, and the birth of their first son, Monet attempted suicide by drowning in the River Seine due to the financial hardships and despondency wracking their lives. In 1870, Monet’s art began to receive patrons, or financial sponsors, and he married Camille that same year. Following an outbreak of war, Monet moved to London, where he met his first art dealer.

At this point in his life, Monet was in luck. He had a wife, a son, money, and an art dealer. His work was beginning to generate talk, and his popularity in Paris followed him to London. His connection with London deepened in his famous paintings years later in 1899, of the Palace of Westminster and the River Thames.

He returned to France, and settled just outside of Paris, often travelling in search of new motifs. Another of Monet’s many series titled “Antibes”, a collection of over forty paintings made within 4 months, was created based on a landscape of the French coastal city in the late 1880s. The repetition of Monet’s motifs emphasises his desire to capture a natural, living atmosphere in his work.

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”
Claude Monet, November 1840 – December 1926

Perhaps one of Monet’s most famous works came at the time of his greatest personal loss. The death of Monet’s long-time partner and subject of many of his portraits, Camille, had a profound impact on his work. His piece, “Camille on her Deathbed”, 1879, is one of the most haunting and stark paintings of the Impressionist era. Camille died at the age of 32, and Monet was left in a state of immense grief which he channeled into his art. He remarried three years later in 1892.
Monet’s work during the 1890s and early 1900s were parallel with his fascination of light and time, and how to portray them within his work. This is an additional reason Monet painted so many pieces featuring the same motif; different paintings would show the changes in time, morning light to midday to dusk, and portray the motif in an expressive new way. Monet’s fascination with capturing a natural scene is one of the elements of his work that have delighted for generations.

By 1911, Monet started to develop cataracts in his eyes, and he lost touch with the new wave of Avant Garde in the art world. The impressionists began to be succeeded by the Cubists, led by Picasso and Braque. At this point, Monet’s work was still highly accoladed and achieved great levels of interest; his final series of 12 paintings of waterlilies was commissioned by a Parisian museum and stretched the full length of the gallery wall, in an attempt to “soothe the nerves” of visitors and provide a peaceful atmosphere. This can be seen as a reflection of Monet’s transitionary period in his life.

Monet died on December 5, 1926. His work has defined generations of artists, and he left a legacy of art that celebrates nature, embraces personal style, and will inspire many for generations to come.