10 Facts You Should Know About Claude Monet

Photo Portrait Claude Monet

Portrait of Claude Monet. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons

The first time I saw a piece by the renowned painter Claude Monet, it was at the Musée d’Orsay. There, I was blown away by La Pie (The Magpie), a snow-covered landscape piece from the 1860s. When you step back and look the attention to detail is astounding. What struck me was his ability to masterfully portray the shadow from a gate using oil on a canvas. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg with him. Monet is perhaps best known for his impact on the Impressionism art movement and his famed gardens in Giverny, but there are many fascinating aspects of his life.

1. Monet was raised on the Normandy Coast 

But he’s Paris-born! He was born to Adolphe and Louise-Justine Monet on Rue Lafitte in the Ninth Arrondissement on Nov. 14, 1840.  He was born two days after fellow painter and lifelong friend, Auguste Rodin.

Monet’s father, a merchant, moved the family to a seaside area near Le Havre when Monet was 5 years old — a move which would shape his artistic life to come. Ten years later he was creating caricatures and would also make detailed sketches of the many ships in the area. 

It seems the artist took more after the creative side of his mother, who was a singer. His aunt, too, was an amateur painter. If you want to get in touch with Monet’s Norman roots, I’d recommend a trip to Rouen! It’s about an hour and a half bus ride from Paris, and Ouibus tickets go for as low as 5 euros!

There, you can check out the Rouen Cathedral, a monument that so impressed the painter he set up a studio nearby, 

2. The painter wasn’t a fan of traditional art schools 

In 1859, he returned to Paris to study painting at The Swiss Academy (Atelier Suisse), a more liberal school, because places like the School of Fine Arts didn’t match his unorthodox views on art. Afterward, he was at the Charles Gleyre’s Studio between 1862 and 1864. His first teacher, however was the painter Jacques-Francois Ochard. Orchard himself had been taught by the noted neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David. 

3. Monet’s mentor encouraged him to paint his now iconic landscapes 

In 1858, a year before Monet went off to art school, he met Eugène Boudin. Monet’s charcoal caricatures had been making a buzz, and Boudin noticed him.  Boudin became his mentor, and encouraged him to paint “en plain air.” The rest is history.

In Monet’s early years in Paris, he’d often write letters to Boudin talking about his experiences in the artistic hub. French author Gustave Cahen published the letters. In fact, Monet is said to have told his biographer, French journalist Gustave Geffroy, of Boudin’s major role in his life. Monet told Gefrroy, “I consider Eugene Boudin as my master. […] I said and I repeat: I owe everything to Boudin and I am grateful to him for my success. ”

One of Monet’s most famous landscape pieces, as you all know, is his series of water lilies called  Les Nymphéas. If I were you, I’d head down to The Musée de l’Orangerie to check out the eight panels from his collection that they have on display.

The museum is right by the Jardin des Tuileries and easily accessible by metro lines 1, 8, and 12 at the Concorde Station.

Monet paintingThe Magpie by Claude Monet. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons

4. Monet’s military service likely influenced his painting style

Claude Monet in Uniform

Claude Monet in uniform. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons

Monet was drafted to serve France in the Franco-Algerian war in 1861 at 20 years old. The painter came from a prosperous family that had the financial means to buy his discharge, but his family was not satisfied with his rejection of traditional art forms.

Instead, Monet served two years of a seven-year assignment in Algers. But, even amid the war, the artist was surrounded by natural light, sunshine and vegetation, according to his biographer Geffroy. Monet, who had fallen ill in the climate, was able to end his service early with the help of his family. 

5. Monet’s painting style was not always accepted

Along with his parents, France’s traditional art organisations were no fans of the Monet’s style. His style focused on perception, capturing open-air scenes by using rapid brush strokes. In 1867, the Salon refused his piece, Femmes au Jardin.

The jury saw his style as “casual” and “incomplete.” One member of the jury went as far as to say, “Too many young people only think of continuing in this abominable direction, it is high time to protect them and save art!”

Of course, now the work is displayed at Musée d’Orsay in Paris and was praised by Emile Zola for it’s masterful portrayal of shadow and sunlight . 

Musée d’Orsay is one of my favorite museums in Paris. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you take a trip there. You can get to it by taking the metro line 12 to the Solférino station. Or, take the RER to the aptly named Musée d’Orsay station. There’s a big rhino statue out front. Tell your friends to meet there! 

Musée d'Orsay Monet

Le Musée d’Orsay. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons

6. The Impressionism Art movement was named after a Monet painting 

Monet didn’t invent Impressionism – he wasn’t the first painter to use this style. But he is perhaps by far the most famous “Impressionist” out there. That’s because the very term Impressionism came from one of his own paintings.

It was 1874, and the artist had depicted a scene from a port in Le Havre that he would show at an exhibition. The name of the work was Impression, Sunrise.  Monet and his contemporaries — like-minded artists like Degas, Bazille and Pissarro — were often rejected by the Salon.

Monet painting

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons

Instead they came up with their own independent exhibition called L’Exposition des Révoltés. But in a scathing critique for Le Charivari newspaper, Louis Leroy used the painting’s name to mock and criticise the style, titling his review “Exhibition of the Impressionists.” 

Leroy went as far as to write, “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.” Needless to say, the painting went on to symbolise the radical art movement as the group of avant garden artists decided to take the name and make it their own. 

You can find this iconic piece in Paris at the Marmottan Monet Museum in the 16th arrondissement. The museum boasts the largest Monet collection in the world! It is easily accessible by the  La Muette stop on the line 9 metro and the Boulainvilliers stop on RER C.

To learn more about the Impressionism art movement, join one of our 90-minute walking tours, which includes a skip-the-line ticket to the Orsay Museum.

7. Argenteuil is where Monet’s art prospered 

Monet lived in Argenteuil from 1871 to 1878, not the first artist to escape the busy, bustling life of Paris to admire the quiet natural beauty of the the riverside town just northwest.

While Argenteuil drew many boat racing enthusiasts to the city, Monet was drawn to the natural beauty — the heart of his style was working from nature. He painted 170 canvases during his time in Argenteuil. For the year of the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, Monet painted the Argenteuil Bridge seven times. 

8. The model in many of Monet’s famous paintings is his wife, Camille

Monet’s first major recognition came in 1866 from the piece, La Femme à la Robe Verte (The Woman in the Green Dress). It was Monet’s first successful venture in the Parisian art world, featuring 19-year-old Camille Doncieux, who would later become his wife.

The life-size painting was done in a more conservative style to please critics, and it worked. At the height of his work in Impressionism he would paint  Woman with a Parasol — a portrait featuring Camille, who was now his wife, and his son. It was accepted with much praise when revealed at the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876.

But their story was not without scandal. Rumor has it, when Camille fell ill Monet had a liaison with a married woman, Alice Hoschedé, who the author eventually married after Camille’s death.

The Woman in the Green Dress, by Claude Monet. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons

9. Monet admired Japanese art 

In the latter half of the 19th century, Japanese art fascinated many Europeans, Monet included. He reportedly admired a Japanese exhibition in the 1890s, fascinated by the style. He amassed a collection of more than 200 Japanese prints over the years. And of course, the famous Japanese bridge to this day remains at his home in Giverny.

Water Lilies, by Claude Monet. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons

10. Monet didn’t just paint the flowers at Giverny — he planted them, too

French painter Claude Monet

Monet at his Giverny home by Étienne Clémentel – Wikimedia Commons

Monet moved to the small village In 1883, immediately charmed by it and determined to turn it into a paradise for himself and his family. He spent 10 years building the water garden where he painted perhaps his most famous work, “Nympheas” or Water Lillies. Here are 10 reasons why you should visit his remarkable home. 

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