The art of Claude Monet and his most famous paintings
Sep 26, 2020
'Claude Monet

by Alina Livneva

Sep 26, 2020

The art of Claude Monet and his most famous paintings

The French artist (1840-1926) was one of the driving forces behind Impressionism, a movement that rejected the Academy's realistic techniques. This involved a rejection of depth, line, and the use of perspective and chiaroscuro. Claude Monet's works laid the foundation for modern painting. His greatest contributions were his pictorial findings in light treatment, the perception of color, and his pointillist and short brushstrokes. Like his impressionist colleagues, Monet's paintings featured landscapes that the artist portrayed in situ. One of the goals of painting outdoors was to capture the ethereal expression of light and color objectively. For this reason, the thick brushstrokes and color stains were the result of representing the transience of nature.

However, Monet's artistic training was traditional. He was a cartoonist since he was a child, and when he became an adult, he went to Paris to start his studies, financed by his family. During his journey through Europe, the artist fell in love with lights at different times of the day and began to portray diverse urban and natural landscapes. Monet's art did not seek to communicate a story but to put impressions on canvas according to the eye's sensations. These ideas were too modern for the time, so his works were immediately rejected.

From that moment on, Monet discovered his style, which became more radical over time. He tried to capture the instant (his trains with smoke), the light (his landscapes), and the variations of color through his series on the same theme, at different times or during different seasons. The artist began to apply his own rules and revolutionized the language of painting. Influenced by traditional Japanese painting, especially by Japanese print landscape artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige, Monet employed perspectives without depth or close-ups. Moreover, he gradually accentuated light effects, sometimes even blurring the forms or even fusing them. His style became increasingly abstract as his cataracts worsened. At the time of his death at the age of 86, Monet was practically blind, but he had a brush in his hand when he died. Below, we will show you some of Monet's famous paintings that have forever changed the history of art.

"Impression, Sunrise" (1872)

Impression, Sunrise
It is considered the first impressionist painting and the one responsible for the name of the movement. The painting was first exhibited at the Salon des Refusés. A group made up of all the artists rejected at the Paris Salon, where art followed the course of the canons of the Academy. In 1874 the exhibition was inaugurated and caused a great deal of controversy. Art critic Louis Leroy used the term "impression" disparagingly to refer to Monet's painting as vulgar and incomplete. The authors quickly borrowed this criticism to baptize the new movement, which, as we know, would eventually become academic itself.

The painting represents the port of Le Havre, the city where the artist spent much of his childhood. Influenced by the painter William Turner, Monet applied thick brushstrokes, almost stains that barely hint at figuration. The principle of complementarity of colors makes his entrance open. The colors, placed one next to the other, create the perception of complete tonalities. However, in this work, we can appreciate an industrialized port behind the cloudy atmosphere. The sun, which resists touching those structures, leaves its orange trace on the sea waves. Life is there for the painter to portray. The painting is currently on display at the Marmottan Monet Museum in Paris.

“Woman with a Parasol” (1875)

Woman with a Parasol” (1875)
One of the artist's best-known paintings portrays a woman, but critics have said it is a double portrait of his wife Camille and their son. Their pose is so natural that it almost seems like an instant capture of a walk in the countryside. One of the main characteristics of this work is that Monet captures the scene from a shallow perspective, making the Camille figure seem monumental. Using this kind of perspective, it is expected that the sky takes on a lot of protagonism. However, the painter manages to balance all the elements, making our gaze slide smoothly from one to the other without stopping too long in any of them. The artwork is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The intelligent application of color allows this to happen. Camille's figure and the sky are portrayed in practically the same tone to not compete with each other. As well, the grass tones are the most striking. But to avoid the eyes getting stuck in the same place, Monet paints the umbrella in the same color. In this way, our sight passes automatically from one object to another by running up and down the canvas. Have you noticed it? Incredible!

“The Artist's Garden at Giverny” (1900)

The Artist's Garden at Giverny (1900)” (1875)
This work is part of a series of paintings Monet made during his stay in Giverny, where he lived until the day he died. His greatest inspiration was a beautiful Japanese garden that the artist had in his home. When the lilacs bloomed, Monet painted them in short, thick strokes of concentrated color. This work shows the floating effect of a layer of flowers distributed between sunny and shady areas.

Monet often worked in series representing the same motif at different times of the day or through the seasons. “The Artist's Garden at Giverny " portrays in a particular way the essence of spring. The flowers overflow on the paths that lead to the facade. Greenish, pinkish, orangey tones are diluted under the shade of the trees. In this painting, Monet also demonstrated his refinement by botany. Giverny was his paradise.

“Nympheas (Water Lilies)” (1920-1926)

Nympheas (Water Lilies) (1920-1926)
There are approximately 250 water lilies painted by Monet in the last years of his life. Monet was already an established artist, but he continued to investigate the pictorial possibilities of color variations of the same theme, depending on the hours of the day or the year's seasons. The impressionist painter completed his work in his garden, observing the lake's surface covered with water lilies. In these last works, the forms are already practically dissolved in patches of color. The work as a whole seems unreal. Up close, it is pure abstract art. From a distance, they are indeed the perfect water lilies ever painted.

Monet's paintings' magic lies in representing the essence of the landscapes; in this case, the water lilies. Of all these series of water lilies, perhaps the most famous and spectacular are the panels on display at the Musée de l'Orangerie des Tuileries in Paris. Monet painted them to be exhibited in a circular room of 360º, and they are considered "the Sistine chapel of the impressionism."

“The Water Lily Pond” (1899)

The Water Lily Pond (1899)
Monet transfers his deep admiration for Japanese culture into his garden. That is why he turned a swamp terrain into a pond with the famous Japanese bridge and water lilies, exotic plants imported from Japan. The lush trees surrounding the stream's banks are reflected in the water, on which the lively tones of the water lilies stand out. The sky disappears from the composition, and the attention is directed to the lines of the bridge and the vegetation.

The whole set is obtained through a fast and vibrant brushstroke that almost takes Monet's art to abstraction. The color decomposes, and the brushstroke becomes a gesture. The only reference to form is in the bridge, which caused the protests of a group of young artists who would soon be integrated into Cubism. The color green dominates the composition, skipping the more vivid shades of the water lilies. Both the garden and its canvases projected an inner state.

“The Bridge at Argenteuil” (1874)

The Bridge at Argenteuil (1874)
Monet's time in Argenteuil was very productive, producing some of his best work. According to impressionist theories, objects change depending on how the light strikes them and when they are captured. The strong light of summer illuminates the boats and the riverbank while shadows surround the bridge's eyes. Reflections in the water blur the shapes, and there is a confident anticipation of abstraction. The illumination reinforces the blue and green tones, applied with small comma-shaped brushstrokes that make the details disappear. These images show the impressionist philosophy.

Monet often used axis symmetries, something that other painters avoided as much as possible. This principle of composition determines a flat effect at the cost of spatial illusion. But this is what interests Monet because he looks for precisely this superficiality that turns the whole painting into a tense fabric. In this painting, we can notice this effect. The artist assembles strict horizontal and vertical lines, thus uniting the composition in a structure embedded in the surface. But through the color that surrounds this structure, he elevates the superficiality to space again: thanks to its clear ochre tone, the front of the pile distinguish itself significantly from the gray-green of the flanks; the same happens with the network of the constructions of the arches. The darker value always pushes the lighter one, or the dark value's presence corners the light one. In this way, in the flat linear construction, clear plasticity of the forms represented, and depth in the painting's space emerge pictorially through the effects of color.

“Coquelicots (Poppy Field)” (1873)

Coquelicots (Poppy Field) (1873)
These flowers were often the protagonists in Monet's work. The painter shows his surroundings in each painting, insisting and often repeating the same motifs. He did so throughout most of his work, but especially in one of his most creative periods, which is Argenteuil's happy period. The landscapes of this region, where he lived for seven years, offer various perfect settings to capture a magical light that will translate into the most beautiful colors of the palette. What is important is the light projected on every flower in the field, on every cloud displaced by the wind, or on the house perfectly hidden among the trees.

The work lacks a complicated artistic composition. The artist loads a lot of paint onto the brush. He paints the landscape with curved lines, which gives the painting a fluid and undulating look. Leaving behind the theoretical concerns, he captures the simplicity of a poppy field where tranquility reigns. He does not worry about detailing the faces of those who might have been his wife Camille and his son Jean. They are a pretext in the work; they occupy a secondary role like all the human figures in his works. The landscape catches the eye, and it can take up to a few minutes to realize that there is another couple in the painting.

About author Alina Livneva was born 1985 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She studied at Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts. Educated in Russia and the United States. Lives in Miami. Has also lived in Russia. Contemporary Art. Collections expert, exhibitions and loans.

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