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Claude Monet

(1840—1926) French painter


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(1840–1926)

French Impressionist painter. He is regarded as the archetypal Impressionist in that his devotion to the ideals of the movement was unwavering throughout his long career, and it is fitting that one of his pictures—Impression: Sunrise (1872, Musée Marmottan, Paris)—gave the movement its name. Early in his career he often endured great poverty, but he began to prosper in the 1880s and by 1890 was successful enough to buy the house at Giverny (about 40 miles from Paris) where he had lived since 1883. From 1890 he concentrated on series of pictures in which he painted the same subject at different times of the day and in different lights—Haystacks or Grainstacks (1890–91) and Rouen Cathedral (1891–5) are the best known, but he also did many pictures of the Thames, for example, during three visits to London between 1899 and 1904 (he stayed at the Savoy Hotel, from which he had a good view of the river). In 1904 he exhibited thirty-seven views of the Thames at Durand-Ruel's gallery in Paris, including eighteen of Waterloo Bridge. In addition to his trips to London, Monet visited Venice several times during his later years and in 1895 he painted in Norway, with his beard ‘covered in icicles’. However, his attention was focused increasingly on the celebrated water-garden that he created at Giverny, which served as the theme for his series of paintings on Waterlilies (Nymphéas) that began in 1899 and grew to dominate his work completely (in 1914–16 he had a special studio built in the grounds of his house so he could work on the huge canvases). In his final years he was troubled by failing eyesight (he had a cataract operation in 1923), but he painted until the end, completing a great decorative scheme of waterlily paintings that he donated to the nation in 1926, the year of his death. They were installed in the Orangerie, Paris, in 1927.

Apart from the relatively minor figure of Armand Guillaumin (1841–1927), who died the year after him, Monet was the last survivor of the group who had exhibited in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, and in his later years he was the Grand Old Man of French painting, the friend of the Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and other notables. As a central figure of Impressionism, he exerted a huge influence on late 19th-century art, and it is sometimes claimed that the almost abstract forms of his final waterlily paintings influenced later art. Certainly there is a resemblance between Monet's late works and some forms of abstraction, which has long been noted: Kandinsky seems to have been aware of the abstract suggestions of Monet's work as early as 1895, and in 1937 Meyer Schapiro referred to ‘the Water Lilies, with their remarkable spatial forms, related in some way to contemporary abstract art’, but he was not specific about which contemporary art he had in mind. In the 1960s the revaluation of Monet's late work coincided with the emphasis on pure colour in the work of painters such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. See also Abstract Impressionism.

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