Claude Monet was fascinated by the outside world from a very young age and rarely spent time indoors, especially if painting. During his teen years, he had already gained some recognition for his charcoal caricatures and later, influenced by Eugéne Boudin, began painting with oil, mostly the residents in the port town “Le Havre” where he lived at that time.
Nearing his twenties, Monet decided to move to Paris to pursue his artistic talent. There, he met his muze and future wife Camille Doncieux, as well as numerous artists that helped him shape his future vision of landscapes and the mastery over light and color.
After years of working on a new technique, a process filled with bursts of depression, self doubt and burnt or cut paintings whose number goes beyond 500, the time to write history finally came. In 1874, Claude Monet showcased his work "Impression, Sunrise".
Devoid of the photographic precision inherent to a traditional landscape, this depiction of port “Le Havre” at sunrise instantly became a statement.
The work was widely unaccepted by the contemporary artistic community of that time. The piece was laughed at and ridiculed for its lack of precision and detail, an impression of an image, offering no more than a faint abstraction of what should be on the canvas.
The renown of that time critic, Louis Leroy, wrote a satirical article from the perspective of an old-fashioned painter, shocked by the works of Mone, and little did he know, it would name the Impressionist Art movement.
“-...What is this a painting of? Look in the catalogue. -Impression, Sunrise. -Impression-- I knew it. I was just saying to myself, if I'm impressed, there must be an impression in there… And what freedom, what ease in the brushwork! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more labored than this seascape!”
Although the term “Impressionism” was used for the first time by critics in a humorous way, it started what we now call the Impressionist Movement. Monet offered a whole new outlook on what art can be and became the father of many more unique forms of abstraction.
He filled the canvas using very fast and precise brush strokes, delivering unseen by that time realism in the perception of light. This technique was improved throughout his whole life and later became a key characteristic of the newly found Impressionist movement.
Following his historical exposition, he managed to accumulate some wealth, but unfortunately, mostly all of it was spent on the medical bills of his wife. After giving birth to their second child, she became ill and eventually passed away. Monet’s intense grief can still be felt through his famous painting of Camillie on her deathbed.
Around the 1890’s, he finally found financial success and married Alice Hoschede. They moved to Giverny, where Monet created a beautiful private garden from his passion for landscapes. The garden was his most valued work of art and he often painted the water lilies from the pond there, becoming one of his most famous series of paintings.
A notable work ethic of Claude Monet was to paint the same scene over and over again, but from different times of the day, thus understanding how light interacts with objects and how he could replicate it onto a canvas. This was evident in many of his paintings as dark tones were used to highlight the brighter colors.
Another interesting case is The Waterloo Bridge series by Claude Monet, that studied the vast variations in contrast, saturation and clarity caused by light scattering. Dynamic colors from an aerial perspective. The series consisted of over 40 paintings, successfully depicting the same cityscape and providing undisputed realism of tones and shades.
The series of impressionist paintings often called “Haystacks” accurately described this idea. He painted the same haystacks at different times of the day and night, as well as from various angles, to show how even a slight change of the available light and color tones can drastically shift the perceived emotions from the paintings.
Color, is nothing but a visual perception that exists only in our minds and is extremely subjective. The late paintings of the painter show us exactly how fragile this perception truly is. He suffered from cataracts, which shifted the range of the perceived wavelengths by his eyes.
In 1911, following the death of his second wife Alice, Monet developed cataracts in his right eye, but it was not enough to keep him from painting. Ten years later, his cataracts had progressed to both eyes and some hues became indistinguishable to him. As a result of this health issue, his paintings shifted from a fine impression of reality to portraying the anxiety of a man losing the world around him.
In 1923, he finally underwent surgery to replace the diseased lens in an attempt to save his failing sight. This surgery gave him the “superpower” of seeing some ultraviolet light, normally invisible to a healthy eye. And so, Monet’s successful career as a painter was not over. In a pursuit to understand the impression of light, he maniacally painted the colors only he could see till the rest of his days.
Monet was truly the father of Impressionism. His method of rapidly painting a scene at an exact moment in time, allowed him to observe the variations of color and light, caused by the daily or seasonal changes. The focus was on what a person feels, their impression of the scenery. Claude Monet will remain in history as a person who broke free from the pre-19th century art norms and paved the way for many new forms of abstraction.