Claude Monet and Impressionism: the early years
Pierre Auguste Renoir
Claude Monet reading (Claude Monet lisant) (1873)
oil on canvas
61.0 x 50.0 cm
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Gift of Michel Monet, 1966 (inv. 5013)
© Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, © Bridgeman-Giraudon / Presse
Oscar Claude Monet was a leading figure of the Impressionist movement that revolutionised painting in late nineteenth-century France. Throughout his life, Monet devoted himself to painting the immediate experience of nature and developed unique techniques to portray its ephemeral effects.
Born in Paris on 14 November 1840, Monet was raised at Le Havre on the Norman coast. His father was a grocer and his mother died while he was in his teens. Monet was a gifted draftsman and caricaturist from an early age and in Le Havre met the artist Eugène Boudin, who encouraged him to paint landscapes directly from nature. Boudin urged him to ‘retain the first impression – which is the good one’. ‘Eventually’, stated Monet, ‘my eyes were opened’.
After studying briefly at the Académie Suisse in Paris, Monet entered the liberal studio of Charles Gleyre in 1862, where he met Fréderic Bazille, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. The friends took train trips to the forests of Fontainebleau and Barbizon to paint outdoors (en plein air).
Suffering repeated rejection by the official Salon (the only venue for exhibiting paintings), a loose affiliation of rebellious artists began to form in the art classes and cafes of Paris; they included Fréderic Bazille, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. Impatient to capture the essence of modern life, these young artists pioneered new methods. Painting out of doors, in town and country and working quickly to capture changing light, people and scenery, they made use of new materials – synthetic colours, paints in portable tubes, ready-stretched canvases – and new ‘looks’, appropriating the immediacy and radically cropped effects of Japanese prints and photography.
By virtue of their independently staged exhibitions and the support of a small circle of friends, art dealers, collectors and sympathetic critics, they persevered to forge a new style that came to be known as Impressionism. Claude Monet was the leader of this radical art movement – and though he met with limited success, his early career was dogged with hardship.
Monet was a lover of water and boats, and his life and works were closely associated with the great rivers and coasts of Europe. He painted the waters of Italy, England, Holland and France. In the small village of Giverny on the Seine, Monet found a focus for his art and a base from which to traverse the meandering river between Paris and the Norman coast.