ARTISTS (1840–1926); PARIS, FRANCE
Over the course of his 60-year career, Claude Monet painted hundreds of magnificent, dreamy landscapes of everything from England’s Houses of Parliament to the water lilies in his own garden in Giverny, France. He’s considered the father of Impressionism, not only for his involvement with the artistic movement of the 19th century, but also because it was one of his own works that helped coin the term. Find out more about the prolific painter below.
1. Claude Monet was friends with other Impressionists.
In the 19th century, French artists basically only had one major opportunity to drum up some business for their art—at the Salon, an annual government-sponsored exhibition in Paris that displayed works chosen by a highly critical jury of artists. Monet, whose paintings had been rejected by the Salon panel before, banded together with several other now-famous Impressionists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, and Camille Pissarro, to stage their own exhibition.
2. Claude Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise helped coin the term Impressionism.
The artists had given their group a not-so-catchy name: The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. That name was about to change when the group held an art exhibition in 1874. After seeing Monet's painting Impression, Sunrise, art critic Louis Leroy took the word impression and sarcastically used it to describe the painting as an unfinished work or a rough sketch, writing in the journal Le Charivari that "Wallpaper in its raw state is more finished than this marine picture."
Monet's work was very much finished, however, and using the word impression to characterize this new society’s loose, modern style of art caught on. They soon became known as Impressionists.
3. Claude Monet's Giverny gardens inspired many of his paintings.
Many of Monet’s paintings depict the lush greenery of the garden at his estate in Giverny, France. While it was certainly already beautiful when Monet began renting the place in 1883, the artist cultivated much of the landscape himself after purchasing it in 1890. He planted poppies, apple trees, wisteria, and countless other flowers, which he grouped by color and mostly left alone to grow unrestrained. He also had a small pond installed off the existing brook, commissioned a local builder to design the now-iconic Japanese footbridge, and even imported water lilies all the way from Egypt and South America.
4. One painting from Claude Monet's haystacks series sold for over $110 million.
The rich, wild garden wasn’t the only part of Giverny Monet felt compelled to immortalize on canvas. Between 1890 and 1891, Monet painted around 30 images of a field of haystacks close to his estate, which became his very first series of paintings. Monet was especially interested in the different ways the light hit the haystacks, and raced to capture it before the sun changed positions.
"I am working very hard, struggling with a series of different effects (haystacks), but at this season the sun sets so fast I cannot follow it,” he wrote to critic Gustave Geffroy. “The more I continue, the more I see that a great deal of work is necessary in order to succeed in rendering what I seek."
In May 2019, one of Monet’s haystack paintings, Meules, sold for $110.7 million, setting a record as the first Impressionist artwork to fetch more than $100 million at auction.
5. Claude Monet’s vision issues didn’t stop him from painting.
Monet was diagnosed with cataracts in 1912, and his eyesight continued to deteriorate through his 70s and early 80s. By 1922, the prolific painter was declared legally blind. “Reds appeared muddy to me, pinks insipid, and the intermediate or lower tones escaped me,” he explained. During that time, Monet simply memorized where each color of paint was on his palette so he could continue to render breathtaking images. He finally agreed to undergo cataract surgery in 1923, and took to wearing tinted glasses afterward to counter the color distortion that still plagued him.
6. Claude Monet’s Water Lilies weren’t appreciated during his lifetime.
The series of about 250 oil paintings called Water Lilies wasn’t always as celebrated as it is today. Critics were far from sympathetic about Monet’s ocular issues, and even suggested the messy, blurry nature of Water Lilies was more of a side effect of his failing eyesight than an intentional choice. After Monet died in 1926, the majority of the Water Lilies paintings remained at Giverny for about 20 years, and it wasn’t until the rise of Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s that curators became interested in them. Once the Museum of Modern Art put a Water Lilies on display in 1955, Monet’s previously forgotten series achieved international acclaim.
Claude Monet’s Most Famous Series
- Haystacks (1890-1891)
- Poplars (1891)
- Rouen Cathedral (1892-1894)
- Houses of Parliament (1899-1901)
- Charing Cross Bridge (1899-1904)
- Venice (1908)
- Water Lilies (1914-1926)
Claude Monet’s Most Famous Paintings
- Women in the Garden (1866)
- Regatta at Sainte-Adresse (1867)
- The Magpie (1868-1869)
- Impression, Sunrise (1872)
- Snow at Argenteuil (1874)
- Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son (1875)
- Rouen Cathedral, Facade (Sunset) (1892-1894)
- Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies (1899)
Memorable Quotes by Claude Monet
- “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, ‘Here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow,’ and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives your own naïve impression of the scene before you.”
- “My only merit lies in having painted directly in front of nature, seeking to render my impressions of the most fleeting effects, and I still very much regret having caused the naming of a group whose majority had nothing impressionist about it.”
- “Art is always the same: a transposition of Nature that requests as much will as sensitivity.”
- “For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but its surroundings bring it to life—the air and the light, which vary continually … For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives objects their true value.”
- “It’s been a long time since I’ve believed you can educate public taste.”
- “When I see nature I feel I can capture everything—and then it vanishes when you’re working!”