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Claude Monet Biography

Claude Monet Early Impressionist Paintings
claude monet
Claude Monet showcased the garden of his Argenteuil home in The Artist's House at Argenteuil.

Late in the summer of 1867, after the birth of Jean, his first son with Camille, Claude Monet moved to the resort town of Saint-Adresse to paint near the coast. Throughout his career, Monet was fascinated with the volatile effects of light on water, and, after his return to Paris, he successfully submitted two marine paintings to the 1868 Salon. With his work rejected the next year, Monet returned to working outdoors with Renoir, and, in the summer of 1869, they painted side by side at La Grenouillere, a floating cafe moored on the bank of the Seine.

With a higher-keyed palette of pure pigment that avoided black even in the deepest shadows, Monet built up his image with color. Each form was conceived as a quick series of deft brush marks, resulting in a sense of his immediate response to the light sparkling in the scene before him. The dazzling result -- a painting of sensation rather than a record of narrative description -- marked a breakthrough in Monet's approach. But his life was soon disrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870.

One month prior to the war, Monet had married Camille, and, when he left Paris for London that autumn, she and Jean followed him. There, Monet met Camille Pissarro, who shared his dedication to plein air work, as well as his first dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. In London, Monet enjoyed the challenge of painting in the mist and fog, and he studied the atmospheric mastery of British artists John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. In France, the Armistice of January 1871 ended the war, but the brief peace was immediately followed by the Paris Commune, a civil uprising that toppled the imperial monarchy. Monet delayed his return until that autumn and spent most of the summer painting in Holland.

Autumn in Argenteuil, like many of Claude Monet's works, features the Seine river.

Inspiration in Argenteuil

Late that year he rented a house for his family in Argenteuil, a middle-class suburb on the right bank of the Seine about 17 miles northwest of Paris. Argenteuil offered a quiet refuge where he could enjoy a comfortable domestic life with his family and cultivate his first garden.

But for Claude Monet, always ardent in the advancement of his career, Argenteuil had additional advantages. He could live well on less money than required in Paris. He could seek subjects in the surrounding countryside. But, above all, Argenteuil was situated on a direct rail line to Paris, allowing Monet to remain active in the competitive art world. Monet, along with his friends Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley, had become increasingly frustrated with the seemingly arbitrary judgments of the Salon jury. In the spring of 1873, they, along with Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, and Berthe Morisot, considered organizing their own exhibition.

By the year's end, they obtained a charter for the Societe Anonyme, and, on April 15, 1874, their first exhibition opened in the studio of photographer Felix Tournachon (known as Nadar). Monet was well represented in the exhibition with nine works, including The Poppy Field, near Argenteuil (1873) and Boulevard des Capucines (1873-1874). But one work attracted the most attention. He had painted a view over the port of Le Havre and had given it the title Impression Sunrise (1872). The critics pounced on the work, with its brilliant color and evocative -- rather than descriptive -- point of view. They felt Monet had left the work unfinished.

More receptive critics realized it was Claude Monet's aim to redefine landscape as an art of sensation rather than topography. In the publication Le Siecle, critic Jules Castagnary coined the term Impressionists, saying the artists expressed the sensations evoked by a subject rather than the subject itself. The exhibition attracted little positive press and resulted in poor sales. By the end of the year the charter for the Societe Anonyme was dissolved in bankruptcy, and unsold works from the exhibition were auctioned the following spring.

Meanwhile, Monet faced his own financial difficulties. Behind in his rent and under the threat of eviction, he was forced to move his family to another house in Argenteuil. Within the year, however, the artists renewed their initiative and, taking the name the critics had given them, mounted the second Impressionist exhibition in April 1876 at Durand-Ruel's Paris gallery.

Monet submitted 18 works, including La Grenouillere (1869) and Autumn in Argenteuil (1873), and he won notice for the brilliance and originality of his landscapes. That summer Monet's fortunes seemed to rise when he acquired a generous patron. Ernest Hoschede, who earned his wealth in the new department store business, commissioned a set of decorative panels for the dining room in his chateau in Montgeron

With a strengthened sense of security and motivation, Monet embarked on a new project early in 1877. Renting a small apartment in Paris near Saint-Lazare Station, the train terminal of the line from Argenteuil, he applied for permission to paint in the station. Calling it a "campaign," Monet set up his easel and painted the plumes of smoke and the rising steam of the locomotives as they pulled in and out of the glass-canopied station.

He completed at least a dozen canvases by spring, and, of the 30 works he presented in the third Impressionist exhibition, five featured Saint-Lazare Station. Using this modern industrial subject, Monet had created the idea of a series -- an ensemble of works united not by narrative or sequence but by the artist's repeated observation of the same subject to chart the nuanced changes of light and atmosphere.

Some of Monet's best known works were painted at Giverny -- learn about Monet's time in that quiet village in the next section.