Claude Monet Biography – French Artist, Painter, Father of Impressionism, Legacy

Claude Monet biography
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Claude Monet Biography and Legacy

Claude Monet was a French artist who was one of the founders of Impressionism and one of the most influential artists of the late 19th century. In fact, the very term Impressionism is derived from the title of his painting, Impression, Soleil levant.

Monet is regarded as an important precursor to Modernism due to his attempts to paint nature as he perceived it, and he was the most prolific practitioner of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, which was essentially the core philosophy of Impressionism.

Early Life

Claude Monet was born on 14th November 1840 in Paris, France, to Louise Justine Aubree Monet and Claude Adolphe Monet. His mother was a singer while his father was a wholesale merchant.

Monet was baptized with the name Oscar-Claude Monet. He would eventually go on to reject Catholicism for Atheism.

In 1845, when Monet was five years old, the family moved to the port city of Le Havre in Normandy. Even though his father wanted him to go into the family’s ship-chandling and grocery business, Monet, from a very young age, had the desire to become an artist. His mother, being a singer, supported and encouraged him to pursue a career in art.

Early Art Education

In April 1851, Claude Monet, aged 10, enrolled at the Le Havre Secondary School of the arts. And although he showed definite interest and skill in arts, he was indifferent to his school curriculum. Instead, he preferred spending time drawing portraits and caricatures of acquaintances for some money.

His first drawing lessons were under the tutelage of French artist Jacques-Francois Ochard when in high school.

However, the art classes he attended in secondary school and under Ochard did not have much of an impact on him as an artist. It was only after meeting artist Eugene Boudin when he was around 18 years old that his true development as an artist began.

Boudin was one of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors and was an expert marine painter, painting everything that goes upon the sea and along its shores. Boudin took Monet under his wing and became a mentor to him. He took Monet on painting excursions outdoors and encouraged him to develop his techniques. Boudin even taught Monet several outdoor painting techniques.

Boudin’s influence on Monet was so great that Monet himself would later remark that he owed his success as an artist to Boudin.

After Monet’s mother passed away in 1857, he lived with his father and his aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lacadre, who became an important source of support for Monet in his early art career.

From 1858 to 1860, Monet studied art at the Académie Suisse in Paris.

Military Service in Algeria

After completing his studies at the Académie Suisse in 1860, Claude Monet was called upon for military service. From 1861 to 1862, he served under the Chasseurs d’Afrique (known as African Hunters in English), which was a light cavalry corps of chasseurs in the French Army of Africa.

In 1862, Monet fell ill and was forced to return to Le Havre where he managed to buy out his remaining military service. During this period, he found another mentor in Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind, who too would have an important influence on the young Monet.

Monet would later remember his time in Algeria fondly, remarking that the light and vivid colors of North Africa contained the gem of his future research.

Return to Paris

Claude Monet eventually returned to Paris and enrolled at the studio of Swiss artist Charles Gleyre to study and learn painting. It was in Gleyre’s studio that he met and befriended fellow artists Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the former of which became his closest friend.

Together, the four of them would go on to become pioneers of the Impressionist art movement. The four young artists discovered that they all shared an interest in painting landscapes and contemporary life rather than mythological and historical scenes. They often went into the countryside together to paint in the open air and strived to articulate new standards of beauty in conventional subjects.

One of their preferred meeting places was the Cafe Guerbois on Avenue de Clichy in Paris, where frequent discussions took place between artists, writers, and art enthusiasts. At the cafe, they were joined by other artists on the scene such as Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, Armand Guillaumin, and Edouard Manet, whom they all admired and looked up to.

The Salon and Early Paintings

In the mid to late 1860s, the Salon rejected about half of the paintings submitted by Claude Monet and his peers, including the ones by Manet. The jury of the Salon instead selected works by artists who stuck to the approved conventional style of painting, rejecting the new experimental styles like impressionism that were slowly developing.

Monet himself debuted at the Salon in 1865 with his paintings Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur and La Pointe de la Hève at Low Tide, both of which were well received by critics.

The following year, Monet wished to submit his painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe to the Salon but failed to complete it in time. Instead, he submitted two other paintings, Pavé de Chailly and The Woman in the Green Dress, both of which were accepted.

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe would come to be regarded as the most important painting of Monet’s early period.

After 1866, Monet continued to submit his works to the Salon until 1870 but was accepted by the jury only once in 1868. After 1870, he stopped sending his works to the Salon after realizing that the Salon was only accepting paintings that were conventional in style.


In 1865, Claude Monet met a woman named Camille Doncieux, who served as a model for his paintings, including Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. They soon began a relationship.

Two years later, Camille gave birth to their first child, Jean. And in June 1870, Monet and Camille got married.

Monet’s father disapproved of their relationship and he even stopped supporting Monet financially. As a result of this disagreement between father and son, Monet went to Saint-Adresse to live with his aunt and completely occupied himself with painting.

Early Patrons

It was during this period that Claude Monet found a patron in art collector Louis-Joachim Gaudibert, who helped him reunite with Camille and move to the commune of Etretat.

Monet was trying desperately to establish himself as a figure painter and evolved his painting technique to integrate stylistic experimentation in his outdoor style.

Gaudibert bought several of Monet’s paintings and even commissioned him to make paintings. In this way, Gaudibert became Monet’s first and most supportive patron in the early years of his career.

Monet would later find patrons in fellow artists and art collectors such as Gustave Caillebotte, Ernest Hoschede, Georges Clemenceau, and Sergei Shchukin.

Living in Exile

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Claude Monet went into self-imposed exile along with his family, living in London and the Netherlands in order to avoid conscription into the military.

While in London, he met American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler and French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who soon became his friend and his first and primary art dealer. Durand-Ruel’s patronage would prove important and decisive for Monet’s career.

Monet spent his time in London painting Green Park, Hyde Park, and the Thames. He also discovered and admired the works of English artists William Turner and John Constable, and was greatly impressed by Turner’s treatment of light, especially in the works depicting the fog on the Thames.

In 1871, Monet tried to get his paintings exhibited in the Royal Academy exhibition but was refused by the authorities. The police also began to suspect him of being involved in revolutionary activities, which obviously wasn’t true.

Monet was now 30 years old and not even close to being an established artist. His career was still in the budding stage and he often found himself in financial difficulty, so much so that on one occasion Monet was not even able to pay the family’s hotel bill in London, even though they chose to reside in the outskirts of London where accommodation was cheaper.

During this period, Monet began accumulating more and more creditors.

Back to Paris

Following the death of his father in 1871, Claude Monet moved back to Paris with his family and took up quarters in the commune of Argenteuil.

Influenced by the Dutch painters he had met, Monet spent most of his time painting the area surrounding the river Seine. And in spite of his dire financial condition, he managed to acquire a sailboat to paint on the Seine.

In 1874, Monet leased out a new house in Argenteuil and moved into it. He even began cultivating a garden for the purpose of his art and painted around 15 paintings of the garden from a panoramic view. During this period, the house and garden became his most important motif.

A few years later, he rented a large villa in the commune of Saint-Denis for a thousand francs a year.

Founding the Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers

By the early 1870s, the young artists in Paris were fed up and frustrated with the regular rejections of their artworks by the Salon, which was still only promoting conventional artworks.

As a response to this, young artists including Claude Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Sisley, Degas, Berthe Morisot, and several others founded the Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers. in order to exhibit their works independently of the Salon. Monet was a leading figure in the formation of this group.

The title of the group was chosen to avoid association with a particular style or movement, and in order to become a member of the group one was expected to renounce participation in the Salon. By doing this, the artists were unified in their independence from the Salon and in their rejection of the prevailing academism.

A few older artists such as Boudin, Jongking, and Manet were also invited to participate in the first exhibition, but the latter two declined the invitation.

Inaugural Independent Exhibition

The first exhibition of the group included 30 artists and was held in April 1874 at the studio of the photographer Nadar. The exhibition received a mixed response from critics.

Critic Louis Leroy gave a highly critical and scathing review of the exhibition and even condescendingly titled his article The Exhibition of the Impressionists, which was a wordplay with the title of Monet’s painting Impression, Soleil levant. Leroy called Monet’s painting a sketch at the most, and said it could hardly be termed a finished work.

Ironically, Monet and Cezanne (both of whom would go on to become two of the most influential artists of all time) received the harshest and most scathing reviews for their paintings. Today, history remembers these two artists more fondly than all the others in that exhibition combined.

However, some progressive critics regarded the exhibition as a revolution in painting and praised the artworks.

The most valuable outcome of Leroy’s article was that it gave the young artists the term by which they would soon come to be known – Impressionists – a term that would cement their legacy for centuries to come. The term was meant to be ironic, meaning their paintings were unfinished. The term Impressionists quickly caught on and became popular with the public, and even though the group included artists with diverse styles, the artists themselves accepted the term for its spirit of independence and rebellion.

The group would go on to hold eight exhibitions between 1874 and 1886, and their impressionist style with loose spontaneous brushstrokes became synonymous with modern contemporary life.

Trouble in the Group

Although the group had a common purpose, which was to exhibit works independently of the conventional Salon, the unity of the group was tested in the following years with membership continually shifting with artists coming in or leaving. Disagreements took place between members as to which new artist should be made a member of the group.

A time came when the group, against the wishes of staunch impressionists such as Monet, invited realists such as Mary Cassatt, Ludovic Lepic, and Jean-Francois Raffaelli to exhibit works as part of the group. This led Monet to accuse the group of opening doors to first-time daubers.

Frustrated with the working of the group and the lack of financial rewards, several artists from the group such as Cezanne, Sisley, Renoir, and Monet himself eventually defected from the group and its exhibitions in order to submit their works to the Salon. Pisarro remained the only artist to display his artworks at all eight exhibitions held by the group.

Monet’s last participation in the group’s exhibitions would be in 1882, four years before the last impressionist exhibition.

Even though the impressionist exhibitions had not been financially rewarding for the artists, they served to gain acceptance for impressionist paintings in Salon art.

Development as an Artist

A staunch impressionist, Claude Monet kept experimenting with various impressionist techniques and developing as an artist. He, along with his peers, constantly sought new methods and techniques of depicting reality and of expressing their perspectives on canvas.

They rejected the dark, contrasting lighting of romantic and realist styles and instead preferred the use of pale tones.

Monet managed to develop methods of painting transient effects and then began seeking more demanding subjects. He also looked for new collectors and patrons. His paintings created in the early 1870s would go on to leave a massive impact on the impressionist movement and influence his peers, many of whom even moved to Argenteuil after being inspired by Monet’s depiction of the commune.

During the 1870s, Monet displayed several paintings that proved his development as an artist, showcasing multiple impressionist characteristics. Critics now began taking note of him and he even received several positive reviews, praising the manner in which he captured contemporary life.

Slowly and gradually, Monet gained a reputation as the best landscape painter among the impressionists.

Difficult Period

By the year 1878, Claude Monet and his family had moved to the village of Vetheuil, where his patron Ernest Hoschede and his family moved in as well.

Hoschede was a wealthy department store magnate and art collector who supported the impressionists, particularly Monet. He even commissioned four paintings from Monet.

This was a difficult period for Monet’s family as Camille had been seriously ill for almost two years. In 1878, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and died the following year.

To make matters worse, Monet still struggled with financial difficulties and was neck-deep in debt, so much so that on one occasion he had to leave his house to avoid his creditors. Around the same time, his patron Hoschede went bankrupt and left for Paris in the hopes of regaining his fortune.

This was a difficult period in Monet’s career as well, for general interest in impressionism and impressionists was declining. This forced Monet to gradually abandon impressionist techniques and focus more on the element aspect of nature. Monet now began to distance himself from the impressionists.

His turbulent personal life and suffering career threw him into some sought of depression. In letters to Hoschede’s wife, Alice, Monet even confesses his desire to die.

Living in Giverny

In 1883, while looking out the window of a train between Vernon and Gasny, Claude Monet saw and fell in love with the village of Giverny, situated on the right bank of the river Seine at its confluence with the river Epte. Monet liked the area so much that the same year he rented a house and garden in Giverny.

The move to Giverny changed Monet’s life for the better. The rented property had a barn which he used as a studio, a small garden, and orchards. Monet became obsessed with the surrounding landscape and the gardens, and they provided him with domestic stability which he had never experienced before.

For the next 40 years of his life, the gardens at his property in Giverny would serve as his greatest source of inspiration, resulting in the production of many paintings dedicated to them. He took great interest in coming up with designs and layouts for the gardens and gave instructions to his gardener to execute them accordingly. He also read several books on botany during this period.

Change in Fortune

After abandoning impressionism due to its limitations, Claude Monet shifted his focus to a series of paintings displaying single subjects such as poplars, the Rouen Cathedral, and haystacks. To his surprise, these paintings were a critical and commercial success.

After his trips to Bordighera in 1884 and the Netherlands in 1886, he was able to produce several paintings that were also commercial successes. During this time, some of his paintings were even exhibited and sold in America to much financial success.

Monet’s work compelled his friend and art critic Gustave Geffroy to write an article on him, thereby increasing Monet’s fame as an artist.

Success brought about a radical change in Monet’s fortunes. He was no longer struggling with creditors and was financially secure as an artist for the first time in his career.

He changed his working style as well, preferring to work alone in solitude rather than with his fellow artists.

By 1890, Monet was earning enough to purchase the house in Giverny and even expand it with a greenhouse and another studio. He also purchased additional land with a water meadow and hired seven gardeners to work his gardens.

In 1892, he married Alice Hoschede, after her husband and his former patron Ernest Hoschede passed away the previous year.

In 1898, Monet’s paintings were exhibited in the Petit Gallery to great success. And in 1899, he began painting Water Lilies, something that would become his last and most ambitious series of paintings on which he would spend the next 20 years of his life.

In 1899, he visited London to paint a series that included 41 paintings of the Waterloo bridge, 19 of the House of Parliament, and 34 of Charing Cross bridge. The change in his fortunes can be noted by the fact that this time he stayed at the luxurious Savoy Hotel.

Almost all of Monet’s exhibitions were great critical and commercial successes now.

By 1910, he had achieved a completely new, fluid, and audacious style of painting in which the water-lily pond became the point of departure for an almost abstract art. And his Water Lilies series of approximately 250 paintings became his largest and most unified series of paintings. Needless to say, the exhibition of this series of paintings was a huge success.

By the early 1900s, Monet had become a famous and celebrated artist in Europe and was quite well-known in artistic circles across the world. Several artists, intellectuals, writers, and politicians from countries such as Japan, the US, England, and France visited him at his house.

Final Years

Things turned rough in Monet’s personal life again after his second wife, Alice, died in 1911, and his oldest son, Jean, died in 1914. During this period, he also began to develop signs of cataracts. Their deaths and his gradually failing eyesight left him depressed again.

After visiting German Ophthalmologist Richard Liebreich in London in 1913, he was given new glasses as he rejected a cataract surgery for his right eye.

As cataracts began affecting his eyesight in the following years, he began to lose his perception of color. His broad strokes became broader and his paintings became darker. He began to label his tubes of paint and kept strict order on his palette. He also made a straw hat a regular part of his attire to protect his eyes from the glare.

Monet now had a new approach to painting. He formulated the ideas and features in his mind and then took the motif in large masses and transcribed them through memory and imagination. He took this approach because his failing eyesight made him insensitive to the finer shades of tonalities and colors.

As the condition of his eyes worsened, the more he struggled to adapt. And even though he still produced paintings, especially for the French government, his output slowly decreased.

He rejected cataract surgery after seeing its failure on Mary Cassat and Honore Daumier, remarking that he would rather suffer from poor eyesight and abandon painting if needed than lose his eyesight due to the surgery.

Monet continued to paint a series of landscapes and water lilies paintings, all of which sold for good amounts and were well-received by critics and collectors alike.

In spite of his reluctance, he underwent a successful cataract operation in 1923 that enabled him to see colors betters and prompted him to retouch some of his paintings painted before the operation.


On 5th December 1926, Claude Monet, aged 86, died of lung cancer. He was buried at the Giverny Church cemetery with a simple funeral as per his wishes.

In 1966, Monet’s home, garden, and water lily pond were given to the French Academy of Fine Arts by his second son Michel. In 1980, the property was opened up for visits after the restoration, making it a very popular tourist attraction in Giverny along with the Museum of Impressionism.


Claude Monet is now widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 19th century, whose true fame and impact were realized in the second half of the 20th century when he became one of the most famous and celebrated painters in the world, inspiring artists across the world.

Considered the most celebrated impressionist, he has often been described as an intermediary between tradition and modernism, and his works have been examined in relation to postmodernism.

Monet’s works have gone on to make a great impact on the impressionist movement, thereby greatly influencing late 19th-century art.

His later works, produced while he was suffering from cataracts, became a big inspiration for the objective abstraction art movement and are said to have created a vital link between impressionism, modern art, and modern abstract art.

Monet’s works have gone on to influence countless artists of subsequent generations. His extensive, ambitious, and diverse body of work still inspires awe and admiration in the art world. His paintings continue to make news in the contemporary world when they are sold at auctions for millions of dollars to this very day. His paintings are now some of the most expensive ones in art history.

Claude Monet has gone down in history as a pioneering and celebrated artist who is a part of the pantheon of great artists such as Michelangelo, da Vinci, van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse. Through his paintings, Monet’s legacy shall live on forever.