One of the founders of Impressionism in the 1800s, Claude Monet is a household name over 200 years later. But who was he, and where did he come from?
Claude Monet was born on 14 November 1840 in Paris, France, to a green grocer and a singer, and moved to Normandy when he was 5. Studying at an art school in the area, Monet knew from a young age that he wanted to be an artist. He was known locally, selling charcoal portraits along the beachfront and experimenting with new styles of painting. After school, he moved to Paris, before joining the army to fight in Algeria for seven years. After serving for only two years, he contracted typhoid and left to attend art school in Paris instead. Here he became close friends with a group of painters who would develop a new, controversial approach to art in Paris.
Monet, along with his friends Cezanne, Degas and Renoir, was one of the founders of the Impressionist art movement, a style of painting that caused a stir in the late 19th century. Today, it’s difficult to see why the Impressionists were so rebellious, but at the time, it was a departure away from the religious, mythological and highly realistic style of painting that was expected at the time. Instead of precise lines and subdued colour, Impressionists began using vivid pigments and unconventional compositions. They painted outside, en plein air, to capture the changing light of a scene, rather than in the rigid confines of a studio.
Rapid brushstrokes were used to create a sense of movement, and these were clearly visible on the canvas, causing upset with the more conservative critics. Impressionism was defined by it’s rebellious approach to painting, creating a new wave of artists that defied the conventional rules of the art world. An important turning point occurred when the Salon de Paris, perhaps the most respected art exhibition, rejected work by Monet and his fellow artists, causing them to set up their own independent exhibition in protest. Breaking away from these conventions paved the way for more experimental artists, precursing movements such as cubism and post-impressionism.
Perhaps Monet’s most famous work is his 'Bridge Over a Pond of Waterlillies'. It was part of a collection titled Waterlillies, containing over 250 works that he painted in his flower garden at Giverny. They are currently on display at some of the most prestigious art museums in the world, including The Met in New York. Other works of note include 'Impression, Sunrise' (left) which is the piece that gave the movement it’s name. Monet’s works were ridiculed by critics when he first exhibited them, yet now sell for upwards of £40million, inspiring some of the most influential artists of the 20th century.