Claude Monet Biography

In Brief
Born in Paris, 14 November 1840; grew up in Le Havre. Died in Giverny, 5 December 1926. Married 1) Camille Doncieux, 1870 (died, 1879), two sons; 2) Alice Raingo Hoschede. 1892 (died, 1911). Attended the Academie Suisse, Paris (student with Pissarro), 1859-60; Gleyre Academy, Paris (student with Renoir and Bazille) 1862; military service, 1860-61; exhibited first picture in the Salon, 1865; in England, 1870, and in the Netherlands, 1871-72; lived in Argenteuil, 1872-78, Vetheuil, 1878-83, and in Giverny, 1883-1926; exhibited at the first Impressionist Exhibition (in fact, the name is derived from his painting Impression: Sunrise); several famous series of paintings, including Rouen Cathedral, Water-Lilies, etc.

Major Collections: Boston; Chicago; New York: Paris: d'Orsay,Marmottan.
Other Collections:
Berlin; Bremen; Buffalo; Cambridge,Massachusetts; Dallas; Frankfurt; Lisbon: Gulbenkian; Moscow; Munich: Neue Pinakothek Pittsburgh; Rouen; Stockholm; Vienna; Washington.
On MONET: books- Alexandre, Arsene, Monet, Paris, 1921.
Geffroy, Gustave, Monet: Sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre, Paris, 1922, 2 vols., 1924.
Elder, Marc, Chez Monet a Giverny, Paris, 1924.
Mauclair, Camille, Monet, Paris and New York, 1924.
Fels, Florent, Monet, Paris, 1925.
Gillet, Louis, Trois variations sur Monet, Paris, 1927.
Fosca, Francois, Monet, Paris, 1927.
Clemenceau, Georges, Monet: les Nympheas, Paris, 1928; as Monet: The Waterlilies, New York, 1930; as Monet: Cinquante ans d'amitie, Paris, 1965.
Fels, Marthe de. La Vie de Monet, Paris, 1929.
Leger, Charles, Monet, Paris, 1930.
Werth, Leon, Monet, Paris, 1930.
Gwynn, Stephen L., Monet and His Garden: The Story of an Artist's Paradise, London, 1934.
Grappe, George, Monet, Paris, 1941.
Cetto, A. M., Monet, Basel, 1943.
Malingue, Maurice, Monet, Monaco, 1943.
Roger-Marx, Claude, Monet, Lausanne, 1949.
Besson, George, Monet, Paris, 1951.
Westheim, P., Monet, Zurich, 1953.
Rouart, Denis, Monet, Geneva, 1958.
Stokes, Adrian, Monet, London, 1958.
Seitz, William Chapin, Monet, New York and London, 1960. concise edition, 1984.
Seitz, William Chapin, Monet: Seasons and Moments (cat), New York, 1960.
Hamilton. George H., Monet's Paintings of Rouen Cathedral, London, 1960.
Hoschede, Jean Pierre, Monet ce ma! connu, Geneva, 2 vols., 1960.
Mount, Charles Merrill, Monet: A Biography, New York, 1967.
Wildenstein, Daniel, Monet: Impressions, Lausanne and New York, 1967.
House, John. Aspects of the Work of Monet, London, 1969.
Daulte, F, and C. Richebe, Monet et ses amis (cat), Paris, 1971.
Rouart, Denis, and Jean Dominique Rey, Monet: Nympheas, ou les nuroirs du temps, Paris, 1972.
Isaacson. Joel. Monet: Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe, London and New York. 1972.
Bartolatto. Luigina Rossi, L'opera completa di Monet, Milan, 1972; as L'Oeuvre complet de Monet, Paris, 1981.
Wildenstein, Daniel. Monet: Biographic et catalogue raisonni, Lausanne. 3 vols., 1974-79.
Joycs. Claire. Monet at Giverny, London, 1975, New York. 1976
Levine, Steven Z., Monet and His Critics, New York, 1976.
House, John. Monet, New York and Oxford, 1977, 1981.
Murphy, Alexandra, and Lucretia H. Giese, Monet Unveiled, Boston, 1977; as Monet in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 1985.
Isaacson, Joel, Monet: Observation and Reflection, Neuchatel, New York, and London, 1978.
Hoog, Michel, Monet, Paris and London, 1978.
Wildenstein, Georges et al., Monet's Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, New York, 1978.
Petrie, Brian, Monet, The First of the Impressionists, Oxford, 1979.
Hommagea Monet (cat), Paris, 1980.
Leveque, Jean Jacques, Monet, Paris, 1980.
Seiberling, Grace, Monet's Series, New York, 1981.
Tucker, Paul Hayes, Monet at Argenteuil, New Haven, 1982.
Taillandier, Yvon, Monet, Naefels and New York, 1982.
Shore, Stephen, The Gardens at Giverny: A View of Monet's World, Millerton, New York, 1983.
Aitken, Genevieve, and Marianne Delafond, La Collection d'estampes japonasies de Monet a Giverny, Paris, 1983.
Gordon, Robert, and Andrew Forge, Monet, New York, 1983.
Guillaud, Jacqueline and Maurice, Monet au temps de Giverny (cat), Paris, 1983.
Rewald, John, and Frances Weitzenhoffer, editors. Aspects of Monet, New York, 1984.
Hoog, Michel, Les Nympheas de Monet au Mus'ee de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1984.
Sagner-Diichting, Karin, Monet: Nympheas: Eine Annaherung, Hildesheim, 1985.
Joyes, Claire, Monet: Life at Giverny, London, 1985; as Monet: The Gardens at Giverny, New York, 1985.
Stuckey, Charles F, editor, Monet: A Retrospective, New York, 1985.
House, John, Monet: Nature into Art, New Haven, 1986. Monet: Nympheas (cat), Basel, 1986.
Skeggs, Douglas, River of Light: Monet's Impressions of the Seine, London, 1987.
Wildenstein, Daniel, Monet, London, 1988.

The Art
A founding member of Impressionism who exhibited in five of the eight group shows, Monet was the kind of artist Degas described rather disdainfully as making "paintings by which you can tell the time of day as by a sundial." According to Cezanne's famous epithet, Monet was "nothing but an eye, but what an eye." This sort of purely empiricist assessment of Monet led to the construction of a myth of an artist reponding instantaneously to plein-air motifs, painting spontaneously and even hastily on successive canvases around the clock, despite inclement weather and with no regard for either traditional pictorial structure based on chiaroscuro or the significance of subject matter. Paradoxically, Monet the empiricist soon became, from the hindsight of 20th-century modernism, Monet the abstractionist, valued for his pure chroma, painterly "formlessness," and apparently improvisational surfaces. But as critical perspectives have shifted in recent years from abstraction back to representation, and as historical methods have shifted from formalism towards more contextual concerns, so the interpretation of Monet has changed. Along with lingering formal and empirical issues, there has emerged, on the one hand, a concern for social iconography in an historical context and, on the other hand, a psychoanalytical approach to Monet's biography and the meanings of his art.

Levine's study of critical responses to Monet during his own lifetime traces a trajectory from naturalist praise of the works of his early and middle career ( 1860's- 1870's) by, for example, Castagnary and Zola, along with negative formalist assessments by the like of journalists Leroy and Wolff, to both symbolist and formalist appreciations of the late series paintings. Perhaps the strongest reiteration of the empiricist interpretation in the early 20th-century came from the American Impressionist painter Lilla Cabot Perry, who proclaimed the primacy of Monet's vision over all else and asserted that subject matter was a mere pretext. The latter issue was underscored and shifted into a more abstract mode by the Expressionist painter Kandinsky, who claimed not to have recognized the subject matter of one of Monet's Haystacks— something he saw as indicative of Monet's "pure painting." Similarly, the Abstract Expressionist generation in post-war America came especially to admire late Monet, whose mural scale and swirling surfaces it read as a precedent for and vindication of its own notions of painting as the expression of inner emotion. This kind of "abstract" reading was articulated most clearly in the 1950's by the critics Seitz and Greenberg, who emphasized above all Monet's "rhythmic brushstrokes and coloristic pulsation."

Subsequent historical studies of Monet, most notably the catalogue raisonne by Wildenstein and a monograph by Isaacson, have documented his chronological and stylistic development (including the influence of artists like Boudin, Courbet, and Jongkind and of photography and Japanese prints) and favored motifs. These include: early caricatures of local personalities in Le Havre, where the artist grew up in the 1850's; rural landscapes painted in the mode of the Barbizon school in the early 1860's in Fontainebleau forest, for example, Le Pave de Chailly, c. 1865 (Musee d'Orsay, Paris); large-format depictions of the effects of colored light on fashionable city people in the country and in gardens—most notably Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe, 1865-66 (known now only in fragments and sketch form) and Women in the Garden, 1866 (Musee d'Orsay, Paris); scenes of the harbors, beaches, and new resorts on the Normandy coast, for example. Terrace at Saint-Addresse, 1866 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); flickering cityscapes of bustling modern life in Paris, for example, The Quai du Louvre, 1867 (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague); the incipient Impressionism of scenes of bourgeois leisure painted in the company of Renoir at suburban bathing and boating establishments along the Seine, for example the several views of La Grenouillere, 1869; the paradigmatic Impressionist depictions of similar sites at Argenteuil and the more rural Vetheuil in the mid-to-late 1870's; the series of representations of the Boulevard des Capucines, the Gare Saint-Lazare, and the Pare Monceau in Paris, likewise in the mid-to-late 1870's; the shift to more solitary, apparently isolated natural sites in the 1880's, including Etretat, Pourville, Varengeville, Belle- Ile, and La Creuse; the development of the series paintings in and around Giverny in the 1890's, including the haystacks and poplars (1891) and Rouen Cathedral (1894); subsequent scenes of the Thames, Venice, and Norway; culminating with the water lilies painted in various campaigns until the artist's death.

Individual works and motifs in Monet's early and middle career have been singled out for formal analysis and iconographical identification, including: Isaacson's studies of the Dejeuner sur l'herbe and the cityscapes painted from the Louvre balcony in 1867; Pickvance's exploration of the renditions of La Grenouillere; House's documentation of sites painted in London during the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune (1870-71); and Levine's account of the window motif. More attention has been given to the formal and technical development of the later series paintings, including Hamilton's published lecture on the cathedrals. Seiberling's dissertation on the series as a whole, and two exhibitions on the paintings in and around Giverny, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1987) and at the Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris (1983). Stuckey and Gordon have further explored the chronological development of the idea of the Nympheas mural rooms (eventually installed in the Orangerie. Paris, after Monet's death) and the complicated and conflicted relationship between the artist and the French state during the long process of securing and completing the commission (1897-1927).

Interest in Monet the empiricist has meanwhile continued in both art historical and medical studies of his eyesight— especially the cataracts he developed during late life and for which he wore special glasses and was operated upon in 1923. Such studies include those by Stuckey. Moreau, and Ravin. Continuing formalist interest in Monet's techniques, including canvas, priming, pigments, and brushwork, has resulted in extensive critical description by Forge and Gordon and exacting historical analysis by House.

The issue of Monet's method has led Herbert in particular to a complete reassessment of the artist's meanings in relation to social iconography. Arguing from a close scrutiny of Monet's complex layering of brushstrokes, including, among others, "corrugations," "texture strokes," and "surface colors," Herbert rejects the myth of Monet's mindless spontaneity and suggests that throughout his career the artist was as painstakingly concerned about the careful and calculated structuring of compositions as Cezanne. This technical revision of Monet leads Herbert to a new reading of subjec. matter in light of social history, ranging from the commerce and leisure of early suburban idylls to the "sublime" neo-Romanticism of the solitary later landscapes and the "psychological structure" of the series paintings. In related studies Herbert has opened up an assessment of Monet's changing attitudes to the enchroachment of the Industrial Revolution upon the landscape—from the seemingly peaceful coexistence of nature and industry in the depictions of the leisure industry at Argenteuil, to the intense concentration on "progressive" technology at the Gare Saint-Lazare, to the eventual retreat from the industrial world into the carefully cleansed nature found in parks, gardens, and seacosts from which tourism has been expunged.

This particular kind of social approach to Monet's industrial and suburban scenes has been further elaborated by Tucker in studies of Monet at Argenteuil and of the painting Impression, Sunrise, 1872 (formerly Musee Marmottan. Paris)—the latter being interpreted in light of contemporary politics as well. Clark has examined the same material at Argenteuil from a Marxist perspective and concluded that Monet and others were acting out a specifically petty-bourgeois construction of suburban leisure in which industry was masked and bourgeois class identity confirmed. Further studies by Herbert suggest that the Rouen Cathedral series responded to Ruskinian notions of the decorative and the natural so as to oppose the mechanical and the industrial, but that Monet's later creation of his own elaborate water gardens commemorated "a bourgeois version of an aristocratic estate" and that the paintings depicting the gardens symbolized "industrial man's mastery over nature." that is, an "artifically incubated nature."

There has been less historical assessment of Monet's art from a cultural point of view than from a social one, but occasional studies do appear. Bondeville, for example, has examined analogies between the art of Monet and the music of Debussy. In a study of the Nympheas, Sagner-Diichting has likewise traced the analogy to music, as well as to late 19th-century literature, including works of Mallarme and Proust. This kind of study would seem to merit further exploration.

The major counterpoint to the social-historical approach is, however, provided by the psychoanalytical one. Although Rewald laid the basis for later biographical studies of Monet, the psychoanalytical exploration of possible relationships between his states of personality and visual products is a recent development. Monet's own letters, especially in the 1890's, speak moodily of frustration in attempting to render, not what he sees, but what he feels ( ce que j'eprouve). Citing the symbolist poet and critic Jules Laforgue, who described the "flashes of identity between subject and object" in Impressionism, the art historian Shiff has suggested that the artistic goal of Impressionism as a whole, that is, the unification of objective and subjective "truth" to nature, was codified at exactly the time when psychology was being born as a science in the work of Emile Littre and others. The more specifically psychoanalytical approach to Monet by Levine takes a pronouncedly Freudian slant, yet seeks documentation for this interpretation not only in Monet's biography and works (most notably the repeated motif of water reflections), but also in his verbal statements and those of his friends and contemporary critics. Levine connects Monet's works with the Narcissus complex and with obsessive, even morbid, melancholy. The fact that Mary Gedo, evidently working from the same material in a forthcoming study, reaches the opposite conclusion that the artist had a basically healthy temperament, indicates the contradictions, and perhaps shortcomings, of the psychoanalytical approach to Monet. In some ways, this approach seems to reinvent Monet's biography without Rewald's reassuring set of certainties. In any event, historians and critics who take social and especially feminist points of view often see this kind of Freudian interpretation as reinforcing and retrenching myths of the hero-artist.

Alternative approaches to Monet not yet explored (albeit hinted at by Herbert and others) include feminist readings of the artist's problematic relationship with women and with nature mythified as feminine passivity, and more economic explorations of his aggressive pursuit of, and accomodations to, dealers and the art market. (What effect, for example, did the shift from group to one-man shows have on the development of the series?) Whether deconstructionist, Lacanian. or other approaches to Monet might prove fruitful remains to be seen.