“I am following Nature without being able to grasp her, I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers” (Monet). The artist Claude Monet best known for his nature paintings is the brightest representative of French Impressionism. This tendency appeared in the 19th century and originated from naturalism. Impressionism took the idea of displaying persuading image of reality from naturalism. The artists within this visual trend set a goal to paint the objects not with the colour they ought to be, but the colour that we see them. However Impressionism took some ideas of Romanticism as well. “The extraordinary decision of the Impressionists to produce work for which not only was there no strong demand, but towards which the public felt active hostility and contempt, can be explained only by reference to the effect of Romanticism” (Powell-Jones 5). The term impressionism derived from the painting of Claude Monet Impression: Sunrise and was named so by the critic Luis Leroy. The tendency of Impressionism was born due to the protest of the artists to paint in academic style which depicted only mythology and history. The Impressionists’ works gained enormous amount of criticism because of their new approach to painting: not clearly painted details, riot of colours, wide brush strokes aroused bewilderment among public and critics. Their works were called plain, unsophisticated and casual.
Talking about the social life of the 19th century, it originally begins in 1830s that have the typical features of this period. The situation with the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie has changed. The representatives of royal classes vanished from the scene and the bourgeois got stronger as the middle social layer of society. Middle class tried to adopt administrative forms and methods of ruling the country, but precisely in its own way. The movement of Romanticism comes to an end as the representatives of it flirted with the aristocracy which became inappropriate within emancipated environment of the bourgeoisie. The working class began to fight for their rights, socialistic ideas were hovering over the country and the idea of l’art pour l’art lost its sense. The peculiarities of that time were growing industrialisation and economic rationalism which pushed the development of capitalism. “The middle class renounces its aristocratic models and the aristocracy itself begins to doubt the validity of its own standards; partly it goes over to the bourgeois camp” (Hauser 38). French Revolution strengthens the positions of privileged classes and aristocracy with the Church playing the leading role in all spheres of social life. The public mood inclines to class struggle and the new revolution is about to burst out. However, the tendency of liberalism becomes stronger and the Western European democracy is near to take its place in history. The electoral reforms are legalized, but, in spite this fact, royal class is treated exclusively and the liberal powers are working mostly for the upper layer of the society. It is the exact time of tolerance and liberalism, no matter how ironically it sounds, due to the strongest struggle for life in history of working class.
According to Hauser:
The Guizots and the Thiers extol the idea of the constitutional monarchy, desire that the king should merely reign, not rule, but they are the instrument of a parliamentary oligarchy, of a small government party which keeps the broader strata of the middle class spellbound with the magic formula of ‘Enrichissez-vous!’
Industrial and commercial branches are on the peak of their flourishing. Money becomes the most powerful force, everyone and everything saves and sells. The capitalists now play the main part in all life spheres. From now on, the rich person has to patronize arts, science or Church.
Beginning from 1848 the political situation made an artist a pariah in the society. The period after revolution showed high intellectual decline. The society’s tastes became primitive and brutal. Socialism was exhausted and showed no activity. It was the first decade in France when there was no active working class movement. Only in 1863 the elections moved the crowds into multiple strikes, which led Napoleon III to make more concessions. With the help of liberal middle class the socialism started to spread its ideas all around oppressed masses. There was no specific style in architecture and art, a lot of new buildings appeared, but the design didn’t show any original idea. The tendency of naturalism worked like opposition to the eclecticism of the period. The fight with Academy became stronger, because now Realism was transforming into Naturalism.
In 1871 the dominating upper middle class still had its powerful positions. The signs of possible crisis were in the air which probably was initiated by technical achievements. It was the period of social views and tastes change. At this time the phenomenon of urbanization occurs, culture centres became big industrial cities. The urban art develops and the Impressionism as its part. They took concrete and sharpened art and transformed it to metaphorical and transparent vision. “Stylistically, impressionism is an extremely complex phenomenon. In some respects it represents merely the logical development of naturalism. For, if one interprets naturalism” (Hauser 147). The paintings have become the core element of Impressionism. This style provokes opposition among the masses on the score of the Impressionism, is considered to be aristocratic and refined which was not preferable to the bourgeois.
The founder of the Impressionism, Oscar Claude Monet was born in Paris, on November 14, 1840 and at the age of 5 his family moved to Le Havre. Since early years Monet was overwhelmed with nature, particularly with the sea. He wasn’t good at school and this fact ruined his complicated relationship with his father. Monet was 15 years old when he found eagerness for drawing caricatures. The artist was so successful in it that he sold a lot of works and gained some money.
His first teacher Eugene Boudin encouraged young Monet to paint the nature. When Boudin and Monet met, the young painter practically felt disgust of his teacher’s works, they were small paintings of nature made in a plain and very realistic form. “One day Boudin invited Monet to join him in painting at the beach. Monet wasn’t so sure he wanted to go. He liked to draw, not paint. Besides, like many others in Le Havre, he didn’t really care for Boudin’s little paintings—they were so different.” (Sabbeth 24) That was the time when artists were working indoors in painting schools and considered that displaying simple things had any artistic value. It is necessary to remember that the 19th century was occupied with Academic approach to art. Realistic and naturalistic view of things was mocked and not required by the customers. In spite that fact, Boudin persuaded the future artist to try to work with him outdoors and paint nature sights. He was the first tutor who opened Monet’s eyes on the nature’s beauty. In mature years Claude Monet will say that his passionate love of nature was only Boudin’s merit. First work of the artist named O. Monet 58 (1858)is a landscape of Rouelle’s suburbs. Now Claude understood that his future had to be connected with visual arts and decided to become fully fledged painter.
The most important for Monet was to capture on the painting the light and how it glowed on different surfaces. His point was to recreate the view at the right moment with concrete refraction of the sun light. The artist painted on the canvas without previous drawings, like the majority of the other painters did. As the sun position changes very quickly the painter had to be quicker. Sometimes Monet painted the same scene within different parts of a day which looked like different paintings. The purpose of this was to give the viewer the perspective of how different the same place can be with only the light change. One of his passions was to paint rivers and ponds, especially with the reflections on the water. “One time a journalist spotted him after a snowstorm, painting outdoors in the freezing cold. “We noticed a foot-warmer, then an easel, then a man, swathed in three coats, his hands in gloves, his face half-frozen. It was Monet, studying a snow effect.” (Sabbeth 29)
His mother died and his father who hadn’t ever been very enthusiastic about artistic future, refused to give allowance for Monet’s artistic education. In 1859 Claude using his savings stayed on his own and entered the artistic school École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Very quickly, the painter understood that he didn’t share Academic indoors style views. Gloomy-coloured paintings of his classmates plunged him into boredom. In 1960 he changed École for Académie Suisse, where the artists could paint whatever they wanted without any criticism or advices.
In a year Monet was called up for military service and sent to Africa. Claude haven’t served for 7 years, he felt ill with typhoid fever and was sent home. After the recovery his aunt, who was herself amateur painter and has always supported Monet in the artistic career, paid for his future military service and saved him from duty. During the recovery period Claude meets Johan Barthold Jongkind (he will be acknowledged as the forerunner of the Impressionism) who was a good friend of Boudin. Jongkind becomes his tutor and shapes Monet’s artistic views. The progress of the artist we can see in The Coast in Sainte-Adresse (1864), Monet learned the spontaneity and wise substantiality of Jongkind’s works.
Monet went to Paris again and tried to learn in École. Here the artist met Frédéric Bazille, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley who will soon become the main representatives of Impressionism. Monet has drawn his new friends in exploring and painting the nature around them. He and Bazille were going to forest of Fontainebleau near Paris. The result of the journey is the landscape Road in Forest Fontainebleau (1864). Rouen trip brings Farmyard in Normandy (1864). Both paintings have vivid marks of influence of Bodin and Jongkind. Claude learned to capture the moment when the sun lights up the road and trees in the forest. In his Farmyard, Monet uses his most favourite trick, reflection on the water. However Farmyard was influenced by Gustave Courbet whom he met in 1865 and had the ability to get some advice concerning his painting technique. Same year Claude Monet brought two of his works to the Salon and gained success among critics. This pushed him even forward in exploration of the role of figures in the pictures. He was inspired by the scandalous picture Luncheon on the Grass (1863) by Édouard Manet which was rejected by the Salon. Monet decided to impress critics and developed a new idea. He asked his girlfriend Camille and his friend Bazille to pose in the open air for the picture. The method of painting the people outside was a complete Monet’s innovation. It was the reason for the Courbet’s critic, and Monet, influenced by the teacher, has left the picture unfinished. His next work, Camille or Woman in the Green Dress (1866) projected a lot of enthusiasm among critics. They admitted the effect of tangibility of the green dress on the picture. “Among the choristers of praise was Emile Zola: "Here is a man among eunuchs," he had managed to proclaim before getting the sack from L'Événement?” (King 182)
During the period of 1866-1867 Monet was painting Paris. He wasn’t a big fan of urban landscapes, but 3 of his works were significant displays among the other 30 paintings of this town. The biggest problem Monet suffered was the inability to earn money due to the desire to spend a lot. He was always in debts, sometimes he sold his woks, and sometimes his wealthier friends patronized him. At the same time Monet wore expensive cloths even if he had nothing to eat. Once his father cut off his allowance, Monet stayed with his girlfriend Camille on their own. Soon they had a son, Jean. This period gives life to the picture Terrace at Sainte Adresse (1867) which probably was influenced by Japanese drawings. Monet liked to paint Camille and Jean. 1869 was known as the experimental for Monet and Renoir, they tried to catch and depict changeable and vibrant impression of natural phenomena in colour, form and light. The result resembled, but had several differences. Monet portrayed the figures of people on the canvas in general sense, not paying attention to details, unlike Renoir. Blurred figures, wide brush strokes are reflected in his Hotel de Roches Noires (1870). It is the picture of contrasting highlights, the harmonious interlacing of which gives the light for the whole canvas.
1871 was the year of Franco-Prussian war which brought France to defeat. Emperor was overthrown and before treaty of peace the popular uprising stroke, which transformed into Paris Commune. “The policy, strategy, administration of the government and all similar continuations of Empire are condemned,’ it read; ‘make way for the people! Make way for the Commune!” (Roe 85) Its existence was doomed from the first moment as it didn’t get bourgeois’ support. The fight between Commune and the military forces was short, but extremely bloody, and at the end the Commune fell. Monet supported the socialists and decided to move with family to London to avoid the duty to fight for the emperor. London period was remarkable for Monet as he acknowledged with English art works, and touched by the canvases of John Constable and William Turner Claude depicted steam and fog effects in his works. He worked on Hyde-Park and The Thames at Westminster depicting gloomy and foggy landscapes of London. Here in England, Claude tried to improve his financial situation with the help of a new friend, Charle Dobigny, who helped to sell some of his works. After France and Prussia signed the treaty of peace, Monet and his family decided to return to France, but before that they went to Holland where he painted bright buildings, sky with running clouds on it, channels.
In France Monet experienced the most financially positive and fruitful periods in his life. Together with Renoir and Sisley they paint landscapes of Argenteuil, where Monet moved after the Holland period. During this time he painted his bourgeois pictures like Breakfast in the Garden (1873) and Jean Monet in the Artist House (1875). In 1872 Monet had bought his famous boat-workshop. In 1874 the collaboration between Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Manet and the French collector Gustave Caillebotte gave a powerful impulse for creating the trend which will be called Impressionism.
In 1873 Claude Monet submits the idea of creating collective exhibition which included works of Monet, Camille Pissarro, Sisley, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Renoir and other 30 painters of naturalistic trend. The most negative critical review went to Monet’s Impression Sunrise (1872) which made Lois Leroy write his famous words and call this trend Impressionism. “Reviewers seized on this - Castagnary, for example, wrote “If one wants to characterize them with the single word that explains their efforts one would have to create the new term of Impressionist.” (Powell-Jones 15) First exhibition failed among critics and public which still couldn’t accept the creations with bright colours and irregular forms. The association of painters broke up and Monet, Renoir and Manet went to Argenteuil to depict snowy sight of Seine. In 1875 Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Berthe Morisot organized the exhibition of their works which suffered an epic fail. In 1876 Monet tried to exhibit his works again and his picture of Camille in Japanese dress called Camille in Japanese Kimono (1876)was successful.
Monet moved to Paris in 1877 where he became obsessed with Saint-Lazare railway station and painted several canvases. Next year Camille gave birth to their second son Michelle. In 1879 Camille died and this event changed the character of Monet’s works. He blurs his images with double force to depict the bold impression of nature phenomenon. Hoarfrost (1879) and Garden at Vetheuil (1880) were the conformation of Monet’s thirst for smoky broad brush strokes landscapes. Soon he moved to Normandy and depicted the sights of fishing villages, which brought him positive comments of the critics. After that he moved to Pourville and experimented with depicting the rough sea in Clifftop Walk in Pourville (1882) and Storm at Etretat (1883).
In 1884 Monet started his journey from the Mediterranean Sea to Italy to Liguria and Bordighera. The artist was overwhelmed with the exotic views and, according to his words, he couldn’t know where to start, because everything was so impressing and beautiful. Italian life gave birth to the works Mannport (1883), The Rocks at Belle-III (1886), Antibes (1888). Claude Monet riched his peak of esthetical and artistic techniques while experimenting with the changes of natural phenomena on the architectural object. The pictures of Rouen Cathedral display this transformation in the best form. Rouen Cathedral in the Morning Rouen (1894), Cathedral in the Afternoon (1894) show how different the building becomes in the rays of sunlight in different time of a day.
“The city’s foggy weather and wonderful museums filled him with new ideas about painting. Monet loved London’s fog. He painted foggy scenes at all times of the day. When he wasn’t painting, he visited London’s art museums.” (Sabbeth 33) In 1899 the artist worked on so called London series which includes 98 canvases. In these pictures Monet used the method of depicting the same place in different day times and weather; he tried to express the feeling of changing character of nature and light. He applied the “enveloppe” method that is very thin atmosphere haze, which gives the composition entity erasing details and creating the felling of incompleteness. The examples of “enveloppe” style were Charing Cross Bridge (1903), Waterloo Bridge, Sun Effect (1903).37 of his works were of the greatest success of the master’s life. However, it was very difficult for the Londoners of the 19th century to accept Monet’s blurred and water reflected works. People preferred descriptive art, not abstract expressions Monet wanted to bring to their minds.
Claude Monet had the desire to paint Venice and in 1908 he moved there. His eyesight became worse, but he painted with double passion trying to depict everything he saw around. He said that, at last, he found the place where his dreams came true. It is a well-known fact that Monet was crazy about painting reflections on the water, so Venice became the ideal place for the master to show his talent. The canvases of this period are Venice Twilight (1908) Dodge’s Palace (1908), San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk (1908).
Last 29 years of his life Monet devoted to Nimpheas series which include 250 works of the same poetical topic. Real materiality of space and description of the subject went to the second role; the main object now was the inner environment, soul, which will be illustrated by the artist in the 20th century. The master suffered from eye diseases but still worked on his pictures. Due to this illness Claude went into depression, because he was loosing the perception of the colour which was always main feature in his works. In 1927 his Nimpheas series was picked up for decoration of the Orangery Museum, but, unfortunately, Claude Monet died in 1927. “The late paintings which have inspired twenties-century artists from Kandinsky to the Abstract Impressionists, represent the final paradox of Impressionism... His last paintings seem about to break through to the ultimate naturalism.” (Powell-Jones 23)
The massive figure of Claude Monet who is the purest trend of Impressionism didn’t gain wide success, especially in his young years. The problem with his paintings lied beneath difficult political and social situation of the country. Another important cause is within the fact that the 19th century was the period of massive changes in all spheres of life, industrialization, urbanisation, extreme poverty and, at the same time, the high prosperity of royal clan made the public not ready for the monumental changes in art. Nevertheless, his fervour to project his images on canvas and doing it only his own way, while nobody accepted his works, was remarkable. It is interesting how Realism and Naturalism interlace with foggy and blurred effect and creates the phenomenon of realistic presence in the pictures. The self-sufficiency of the artist is impressive so as the aftertaste of his canvases.