As you can probably tell by this month’s series, I love art. Studying artists and their work is fascinating, and I find it difficult to reel myself in. There are just so many incredible things to write about!
One of my favorites, though, is the subject of today’s study: Claude Monet.
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Monet was a prolific painter, producing approximately 2,500 paintings during his life. He was relentless in his work; he actually scheduled his outside life around his painting time.
He was also quite revolutionary in his style and subject matter. He rejected the formal techniques that were popular in his day and, along with colleagues like Renoir and Cezanne, started a new art movement: Impressionism.
Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840. As the son of a fairly prosperous businessman, he grew up in a fairly well-off family. However, his father strongly disapproved of his ambition to study art and would not support his education. He joined the military for a time; eventually an aunt promised to pay for his art education on the condition that he receive it at a formal, recognized school.
He enrolled at the Academie Suisse to study art, but soon decided to leave. The Academie, like all of the art schools at the time, taught classic techniques that had been around since the Renaissance. While he respected those techniques, he felt their time had passed.
As such, he left school to study independently with a Dutch landscape artist, Johan Jongkind. He later joined the Paris studio of historical painter Charles Gleyre. It was here that he met fellow young artists and future impressionist colleagues such as Auguste Renoir and Frederic Bazille.
In his early career, Monet had limited success. The juried art shows considered his work unfinished or even juvenile and would not show it. Many of his colleagues received the same critiques, so in 1874, they opted to host their own show. It included such masters as Degas, Renoir, Manet, and Pisarro. The press was not kind to their work, and one journalist said derisively that it was not art at all. Rather, it was simply an “impression.”
Monet and the Impressionist Movement
The artists took this insult as a badge of honor and the name stuck. They became the Impressionists, and their work largely defined the latter part of the 19th century.
Many artists of this time period took on portraits or epic paintings, moving from one subject to another. They were interested in portraying life as it was, or even as they imagined it could be. Monet had a different goal: he wanted to portray the process of perceiving something.
Rather than focusing on form, composition, and value, Monet was fascinated by the interplay of light, color, and movement in his subjects. Instead of moving on to different subjects, he painted the same subject in several different ways. He painted many series of paintings ranging from the Cathedral at Rouen to water lilies in his garden pond at Giverny.
He would do this by painting the same subject, often from the same angle, but at different times of day or under different weather conditions. His obsession with his subjects becomes evident if you Google “Monet water lilies;” there are about 250 different works!
Monet painted right up until shortly before his death at the age of 86. He lived through many changes in the world, but his work certainly did not suffer for it. Although he was not well-received at the beginning of his career, he lived to become one of the most well-loved artists of his (or any other) time.
The painting that is credited with starting the Impressionist movement is Monet’s 1873 work, “Impression, Sunrise.” Because this work was not accepted into the annual juried art show in Paris, he decided to enter it in the independent 1874 show. It is from the name of this painting that the term “impressionism” arose.
At the time, art critics rejected it as unfinished because of the visible brush strokes and almost ethereal quality of the painting. However, Monet did not wish it to look realistic, like a photo; rather, he wanted to portray what a still-sleepy person might see gazing out on this scene early in the morning.
Plein Air Painting
Monet followed a method of working called “Plein Air,” which roughly translates to working fully outdoors. Artists had been sketching in nature since the time of the Renaissance, but Monet took this method much further. Rather than sketching with a pencil and pad, or even with oils as Constable did, he painted full, large works out in nature! He would complete touch-ups and final details in his studio, but the majority of his work was done in front of his subject.
When he was working on a series, he became engrossed in his work. Some of his series are like travel itineraries, showing where he and his family lived or vacationed during any given time. Other series were points of fascination for him.
Cathedral at Rouen Series
Between 1892 and 1894, Monet focused on painting a grand cathedral in the city of Rouen. Staying nearby, he painted several different pieces of this church, all at different times of day. He was fascinated by the different levels of light, fog, weather conditions, and more.
He actually kept several different canvases going at the same time. When it was time to paint each day, he would pull out the one that best fit the conditions and continue his work!
Water Lilies Series
Perhaps Monet’s most famous series is Water Lilies, a collection of approximately 250 works centered around the garden pond at his home in Giverny. He painted this series over a period of 12 years, between 1914 and 1926.
At the time he began this series, World War I was about to erupt in Europe. By the time he finished, the Jazz Age had begun!
The Water Lilies series gave Monet the chance to work with his favorite subjects – light, color, and movement – in ways that he had not been able to before. The gentle movement of the water gave endless scenes to paint. The blooming of the lilies and the changing of the weather only added to these options.
When these pieces were displayed, the larger works were mounted on the wall in an oval room. Together, they formed a panoramic view that made the viewer feel as if they were surrounded by serene, yet complex scenes. The effect was really amazing!
Free Art Study Cards!
Many of Monet’s later works, like his Water Lilies series, are very well-known; many people don’t know that he painted for over 50 years! To help you learn more about his earlier career, I’ve made a set of beautiful Art Study Cards that you can download for free! Just sign up below and they will be on their way. You’ll also get my weekly newsletter, full of fun resources and ideas!
(If you are already a subscriber, you will find them in my resource library – feel free to go download them!)
Be sure to record Monet on your Timeline of the Arts! (If you haven’t downloaded your copy yet, get one now! It’s free for a limited time.)
Claude Monet lived from 1840 to 1926. There were many changes in America and Europe during his life; some of the more significant ones include
- The American Civil War
- Reconstruction (US)
- Spanish-American War
- Sinking of the Titanic
- World War I
- Jazz Age
Some of the famous composers during this time include Pyotor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Richard Wagner, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt. There were also many amazing authors who lived during this time, including Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, and Ernest Hemingway.
Hands-On Activity: Play With Light!
Monet was obsessed with portraying color and light in his work. He would paint the same subject many times, each time under different conditions. You can try this out for yourself!
To start, choose a subject. This can be anything, as long as it can be seen in different light or weather conditions. I chose a tree in my front yard.
Take a few different pictures of your subject. Try to get different angles, some in the sunlight and some in the shade. If you are able to, take pictures at different times of the day. The light will appear differently in the morning than it will in the afternoon!
When you have your pictures, take a few minutes to observe them. What do you see? Does the light have different effects in the various pictures? Do some things (such as leaves) appear to have different colors? Can you see the wind moving your subject or things in the background?
Once you’ve had a chance to look through your pictures, pick the aspects that you like best. What stands out to you or makes you feel something? These are the things you’ll want to portray in your picture.
Lightly sketch the outlines of your subject on a sketchpad page or watercolor paper. Then, using watercolors or pastels, create your finished piece. Refer back to your photo as often as you need to, and look for layers of color.
This project is really fun because there’s no wrong way to do it! Show your audience what you see and let them feel what you feel. Have fun with it and be creative! And who knows? You might end up making a series of your own!
The Magical Garden of Claude Monet: This beautiful picture book chronicles the story of a little girl who wanders into a beautiful garden – that just happens to belong to Claude Monet!
Monet and the Impressionists for Kids: This fantastic book gives you a lot of fun ideas to extend out this study! Learn more about Monet and his fellow artists through this biography and 21 Hands-On Activities.
Claude Monet – A Collection of 1540 Paintings: This Youtube video shows over 1,500 of Monet’s works, accompanied by beautiful music. This is a fun video to watch, but it’s also great to have in the background while doing school!
Share Your Masterpieces!
I love to hear from my readers, so please feel free to share your works with me! Comment below to let me know what your family or students create and feel free to email me photos of their work at email@example.com. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
And remember to download your free Monet art study cards – a set of more than 20 visuals to help your kids learn about Monet and his work! Just sign up below and you’re all set. You’ll also receive my newsletter updates and extra freebies!