Claude Monet was born in Paris, but grew up in Le Havre. His first artistic creations were caricatures when he was a little boy. Close to his home was a small shop owned by a marine painter, Mr. Eugène Boudin. He recognized the talent of the boy and gave him his first painting lessons.
Claude’s family was not very happy about his vocation for painting. In 1860 he was drafted and had to go to Northern Africa for two years. After his return from Africa he went to Paris and took painting lessons at Gleyre’s studio in Paris. At the studio he got to know Auguste Renoir, Sisley, Bazille and others. The nucleus of the future Impressionist movement was born. Soon Monet turned away from the traditional style of painting inside a studio. With his fellow artists he went outside in the Fontainebleau forest to paint in the open air. However, at that stage the public and art critics ridiculed these new paintings that looked so different from any conventional art style.
When the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71 broke out, Monet chose to go to London with his friend Pissarro. There, in its museums, he saw the paintings of William Turner. In 1873 Monet painted “Sunrise” an impression of a view on the Seine. The critics greatly disliked Monet’s revolutionary style and considered it “impressionism” – the name stuck.
After 1880 the public slowly began to recognize the value of Impressionism. Monet and his colleagues could finally get some solid income from the sales of their paintings. In 1883 Monet rented a house in Giverny about 50 kilometres outside of Paris. Later, in 1890, he bought the house where he would stay until his death in 1926. In 1890 Monet began to paint systematically the same subjects under different light conditions; the first subject being the haystacks behind his house. As the light changed during the day, faster than he possibly could paint, he worked several canvases simultaneously. At the end he had painted twenty five different versions of the hay stacks.
More of the series paintings followed – the Rouen Cathedral, views of Venice or the Thames in London with the Houses of Parliament and other landmarks in London – often in the fog. When he painted in London in 1899 he said: ‘Without the fog, London would not be a beautiful city.’ There he stayed for some six weeks at the Savoy Hotel, overlooking the Thames with views of Waterloo Bridge downstream to the left. He was also known to have quoted that he wanted the unobtainable. ‘Other artists paint a bridge, a house, a boat, and that’s the end. They are finished. I want to paint the air which surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat, the beauty of the air in which these objects are located, and that is nothing short of impossible.’
In his late years Claude Monet suffered from physical problems. After 1907 a bad eyesight and rheumatism made it more and more impossible for him to paint. But he continued until the year of his death. The great project over the last years was centered on his garden in Giverny with a pond of water lilies and a Japanese bridge. He had even constructed a studio in his garden, so that he could paint more easily without being exposed to the weather outside. In February 1926, at the age of 83, he could finish the last great challenge of his life – a commission by the French government for twenty two mural paintings of water lilies. On December 5, 1926 Claude Monet died from lung cancer.