SPOTLIGHT STORY

6 Things You Never Knew About Claude Monet

Discover more about his life and iconic works 

Oscar-Claude Monet (Nov 14, 1840 - Dec 5, 1926) is one of the most famous Western painters of all time. The founder of Impressionist painting, creator of the iconic Water Lilies series, and a symbol of French painting, Monet is a household name, but have you ever come across these lesser-known facts about him?

Scroll on to discover 6 things you may not have known about Claude Monet...

1. Impressionism was named after one of Monet's paintings

The term "Impressionism" is derived from the title of his painting Impression, soleil levant, which was exhibited in 1874 in the first of the independent exhibitions mounted by Monet and his friends as an alternative to the Salon de Paris.

The name 'Impressionist' was first intended as a dig at the group by humorist Louis Leroy. Leroy wrote a derisive review of the Impressionists first exhibition entitled 'The Exhibition of the Impressionists', but, strangely enough, the name caught on and made the group famous.

Sunrise (Marine), March or April 1873, by Claude Monet (collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum)

2. Monet not only painted the Water Lilies, he planted them too

Monet began work in 1883 in the small village of Giverny down stream on the Seine from Paris. Then in 1893 he bought the land in front of his home and built a Japanese-style garden in the space. Monet used a small stream that ran through his property to build a huge pond which he filled with water lilies and crossed with a humpbacked bridge. He lined the banks with willows and shrubbery and retired to this watery realm isolated from the outside world to create his final series, "The Water Lilies". He built a glass-walled studio on the side of the garden and set up a wheeled easel that he could freely roll around the room. There he created painting after painting of the changing images of the pond, its water lilies and the reflecting light at all hours of morning, day and evening. In different works of the series he included images of the willows on the shore, the humpback bridge and the evening sky. But he finally concentrated solely on the pond itself.

Claude Monet in front of his House at Giverny, 1921, Anonymous (collection: Musée d’Orsay, Paris)
Water Lilies, 1890 - 1910, taken by Eugène Atget (Collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum)
Water Lilies, 1916, by Claude Monet (collection: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo)

3. Monet was inspired by ukiyo-e Japanese art

Monet didn't just base his landscape gardening on Japanese styles, his painting subjects and method were also greatly influenced by Japanese art.

Take this Hiroshige woodcut. Does it seem familiar? Japanese color woodcuts such as this scene, with its detailed close-up of purple wisteria blossoms falling gracefully along a pole with an arched bridge beyond, inspired Claude Monet’s paintings of his water-lily garden at Giverny.

No. 57, Grounds of Kameido Tenjin Shrine (from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo), 1856, by Utagawa Hiroshige (collection: Cincinnati Art Museum)
The Japanese Footbridge, 1899, by Claude Monet (collection: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)

4. Monet's life was marred by tragedy

Despite his growing fame, Monet was often plagued by financial hardship. In 1868, shortly after the birth of his first son Jean, Monet grew increasingly exasperated at his economic situation and he attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Seine.

Luckily, he failed, but this was not the last misfortune Monet would face. His wife Camille became ill in 1876 during her second pregnancy. She died at the young age of thirty two in 1879.

These two paintings are touching, intimate portraits of Monet's wife and their young son.

Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, by Claude Monet (collection: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)
A Corner of the Apartment, 1875, by Claude Monet (Collection: Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

5. Modern Monet

Monet's legacy has had a vast and important impact on Modern and Contemporary art in many different genres and artistic forms. Take these three contemporary works...

Detail of "De la Ciudad Luz al Mictlán" Day of the Dead Offering, 2013 (collection: Museo Dolores Olmedo)

Monet influenced artists like Roy Lichtenstein. This artwork, Red Barn, follows Lichtenstein's celebrated Haystack and Cathedral Series, what Lichtenstein himself referred to as "manufactured Monet's". Between 1969 and 1993, the artist, like Monet, completed more than twenty extended print series, most of which comprise six to eight images.

Red Barn, 1969, by Roy Lichtenstein (collection: Huntington Museum of Art)

Monet even gets a seat at the table in Kyung Min Nam's Artists' Banquet.

Artists' Banquet, 2009, by Nam, Kyung Min (collection: Korean Art Museum Association)

Bonus Fact: submerge yourself in Monet's vast Water Lilies series

Did you know that Monet designed a special room for his Water Lilies series? Even better, did you know that you could take a look around it in Street View?

Offered to the French State by Claude Monet on the day that followed the Armistice of November 11, 1918 as a symbol for peace, the Water Lilies were installed according to his plan at the Orangerie Museum in 1927, a few months after his death.

The set is one of the largest monumental achievements of early 20th-Century painting. The dimensions and the area covered by the paint surrounds and encompasses the viewer in almost 100 meters which immerses them in a landscape dotted with water lilies, water, willow branches, tree and cloud reflections, giving the "illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore", in the words of Monet.

Take a look around for yourself...

Or click here to zoom into the Water Lilies of 1916 digitized in super high resolution Gigapixel.

Water Lilies, 1916, Claude Monet (Collection: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo)

Continue exploring Monet's life and work here.

Words by Léonie Shinn-Morris
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