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Claude Monet or Oscar-Claude Monet in full, was a French artist and one of the most celebrated painters of all time. Born on November 14, 1840, he is credited to be a leading figure in initiating and advocating the Impressionist style of painting. Some of the later works by Monet also paved way for post-impressionist and expressionist moment, giving space to modern art as we know of it today. He is famous for producing a series of paintings on the same subject painted at different times, capturing the effects of changing light and perspectives across seasons and states of mind. The best and arguably the most famous example of this approach is his last series of paintings, inspired by a pond with water lilies.
Today, exhibitions of his work attract record-breaking crowds, and his paintings fetch millions. While each and every work of his is a masterpiece, there are some more famous than others. The following list provides a detailed description of some of his most famous works:
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Impression, Sunrise, painted in 1872, depicts the port of Le Havre in France. Le Havre is the same place he and his family moved when he was five, spending most of his childhood here. He was 32 at the time he painted this masterpiece. This painting is only one among a series of paintings based on Le Havre, all painted around the same time.
Paris Salon, the official art exhibit of the French Academy of fine arts, usually refused to display Monet’s style of work. As a result, the painting was exhibited at the “Exhibition of the Impressionists” in 1874. Monet, along with several other artists, had to organize this exhibition on their own. The painting attracted criticism from M. Louis Leroy, a leading art critic of the time. He went on to write an article about the exhibition, which eventually became very famous. In this article, he used the term “Impressionists” in an attempt to mock Monet and the other artists. The artists reclaimed the word initiating the moment Impressionism after this incident.
The primary focus of the painting is on color and light. The brilliant contrast between the shades of orange, blues, and greens beautifully depicts the mist and provides a hazy background to the painting. There is a use of loose and fluent brushstrokes for the backdrop. It sets the context and the sense of atmosphere of the seascape. The striking and candid colors used to paint the boat, the sun, and its reflection in the sea, make them the focal points of the painting. There is a contrast between the brushstrokes used in the backdrop for depicting the sky and the river. It almost gives an impression that the boat is propelled by moving water.
Monet himself commented that the painting could not pass for a view of Le Havre. Impression, Sunrise, was aimed to record impressions developed while looking at the landscape.
The Poppy Field
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On his return from the United Kingdom in 1871, Monet settled in Argenteuil, with his family. Despite the degrading health of his first wife Camille, this was the time that provided him fulfillment and inspired him to make some of his best-known works. Supported by his art dealer, he could focus on his work. He went on to develop most of his Plein air work during this period. It was a relatively calm and peaceful phase of his life. This painting of his reflects the same.
The people depicted in the painting are probably Monet’s wife and son, strolling through a vibrant poppy field. It is a depiction of a beautiful summer day in all its glory. The use of a vibrant color scheme perfectly captures the liveliness and zest of the landscape. There is a use of complementary colors, dominated by blues, greens, and reds. The shades of blues and greens are restrained, allowing red to dominate. The contrast between the lush green fields and clear blue sky provides a soothing effect, while the red poppy in the foreground is eye-catching. Another subtle yet common theme to notice in the painting is the use of diagonal positioning of various elements. The pair of mother and son in the background and another in the front is one example of this diagonal pairing.
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Water Lilies is not a single painting, but a series painted by Monet throughout his lifetime. He got the inspiration for these paintings from a pond filled with water lilies in his garden. This garden was constructed by him at his house in Giverny. He managed to plant all sorts of exotic plants and trees in his garden. Monet’s garden remained his favorite subject to paint, inspiring several of his artworks.
There are a staggering 250+ paintings of water lilies he painted at different points in his life. The first series of Water Lilies was displayed at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1900. It included a set of 25 paintings. The water lilies next made an appearance nine years later when a series of 48 paintings were displayed. Monet kept revisiting this subject several times, himself admitting that painting the surface of water and reflections in it has become an obsession for him.
He painted these canvases in different sizes and color shades. The primary focus of Monet in these paintings seems to be the surface of the pond. Apart from his signature impressionist style of painting, characterized by freely flowing brushstrokes, the only common link in these paintings is the absence of any representation of land and sky.
Another significant thing to note is that during later stages of life, his eyesight started to take a toll as he developed a cataract. It explains the use of an unusual color scheme in some pieces he produced during this stage.
Water Lilies remain one of the most iconic Impressionist artwork ever made. These, along with van Gough’s Starry Nights are two artworks that immediately come to mind while talking about Impressionism.
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Haystacks is one of the most notable works by Monet. It is the title of a series of paintings, capturing the effects of light, season, and perspective on a subject. The subjects under consideration for this series were piles of haystacks in a field near his home in Giverny, France. The series included more than 25 canvases that he painted across a period of 18 months, between 1890 and 1891. Monet struggled a lot while depicting the changing light and color across the day and seasons. He admitted that he had to put in a great amount of work for succeeding in representing the nuances he desired.
The best way to study the effect of light and color in a painting is to paint the subject in different environmental situations. Monet demonstrated the same through this series. Each one of these paintings contains distinct details. While painting various thematic variations across natural conditions, the use of colors becomes pivotal. To paint the haystacks in clear weather, Monet used bright colors and sharp details. On an overcast day, the features were similar to clear weather, except he used a darker scheme. Similarly, he used different combinations of brush strokes and color shades to paint the haystacks under diverse conditions.
In May 2019, “Meules”, the most glorious painting of the Haystacks series, became the first-ever Impressionist artwork to be auctioned for more than $100 million.
San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk
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Painted by Monet in 1908, this world-famous oil painting is currently owned by the National Museum Cardiff in Wales. He painted this masterpiece during his visit to Venice. Accompanied by his wife Alice, he first stayed at Palazzo Barbaro and then at the Hotel Brittania. Also referred to as Sunset in Venice, this 65.2 cm x 92.4 cm art piece is also a part of a series of paintings. The series focuses on views of the monastery-island of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The painting depicts a view of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and its church during sunset, as seen from the room of the Hotel Brittania.
It was also the time Monet began losing his eyesight due to a cataract. The pain of a suffering artist produced a great piece. He uses vibrant blue, red, and yellow color shades to depict the romantic sunset.
With reflection on the water surface seen in typical Monet style, the painting is a remembrance of his time in Italy.
Exhibited at the seventh Impressionist exhibition, the sunflowers for this Monet classic were taken from his own garden in Vetheuil. He received global praise from his critics for this still life.
The painting is often compared with another painting of sunflowers by Vincent van Gough. Despite some similarities between Monet’s and Van Gough’s sunflowers, there are several fundamental differences. While Vincent van Gough focused on the details of individual flowers, Monet’s focused more on the overall composition. Vincent van Gough himself went on to praise Monet for this painting in a letter to his brother. This and several other masterpieces of his received genuine admiration from Vincent.