Claude Monet, 1840–1926

Claude Monet 1840-1926


Claude Monet also known as Oscar-Claude Monet or Claude Oscar Monet (November 14, 1840 – December 5, 1926) was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term Impressionism is derived from the title of his painting Impression, Sunrise.

Claude Monet was born on November 14, 1840 on the fifth floor of 45 rue Laffitte, in the ninth arrondissement of Paris. He was the second son of Claude-Adolphe and Louise-Justine Aubrée Monet, both of them second-generation Parisians. On May 20, 1841, he was baptized into the local church parish, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette as Oscar-Claude. In 1845, his family moved to Le Havre in Normandy. His father wanted him to go into the family grocery store business, but Claude Monet wanted to become an artist. His mother was a singer.


On the first of April 1851, Monet entered the Le Havre secondary school of the arts. He first became known locally for his charcoal caricatures, which he would sell for ten to twenty francs. Monet also undertook his first drawing lessons from Jacques-François Ochard, a former student of Jacques-Louis David. On the beaches of Normandy in about 1856/1857 he met fellow artist Eugène Boudin who became his mentor and taught him to use oil paints. Boudin taught Monet “en plein air” (outdoor) techniques for painting.


On 28 January 1857 his mother died. He was 16 years old when he left school, and went to live with his widowed childless aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre.

Working Title/Artist: The Bodmer Oak, Fontainebleau Forest Department: European Paintings Culture/Period/Location:  HB/TOA Date Code:  Working Date: 1865 scanned for collections
Working Title/Artist: The Bodmer Oak, Fontainebleau Forest
Department: European Paintings
HB/TOA Date Code:
Working Date: 1865
scanned for collections
Working Title/Artist: Garden at Sainte-AdresseDepartment: European PaintingsCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 10Working Date: 1867 Digital Photo File Name: DT48.tif Online Publications Edited By Steven Paneccasio for TOAH 2/20/14
Working Title/Artist: Garden at Sainte-AdresseDepartment: European PaintingsCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 10Working Date: 1867
Digital Photo File Name: DT48.tif
Online Publications Edited By Steven Paneccasio for TOAH 2/20/14


When Monet traveled to Paris to visit The Louvre, he witnessed painters copying from the old masters. Monet, having brought his paints and other tools with him, would instead go and sit by a window and paint what he saw. Monet was in Paris for several years and met several painters who would become friends and fellow impressionists. One of those friends was Édouard Manet.


In June 1861 Monet joined the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry in Algeria for two years of a seven-year commitment, but upon his contracting typhoid his aunt Marie-Jeanne Lecadre intervened to get him out of the army if he agreed to complete an art course at a university. It is possible that the Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind, whom Monet knew, may have prompted his aunt on this matter. Disillusioned with the traditional art taught at universities, in 1862 Monet became a student of Charles Gleyre in Paris, where he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille, and Alfred Sisley. Together they shared new approaches to art, painting the effects of light en plein air with broken color and rapid brushstrokes, in what later came to be known as Impressionism.


Monet’s Camille or The Woman in the Green Dress (La Femme à la Robe Verte), painted in 1866, brought him recognition, and was one of many works featuring his future wife, Camille Doncieux; she was the model for the figures in The Woman in the Garden of the following year, as well as for On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt, 1868, pictured here. Shortly thereafter Doncieux became pregnant and gave birth to their first child, Jean. In 1868, due to financial reasons, Monet attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Seine.

Working Title/Artist: La Grenouillere Department: European Paintings Culture/Period/Location:  HB/TOA Date Code:  Working Date: 1869 photographed by mma in 1984/94, transparency 23ad (8x10) scanned by film and media 9/10/04 (phc)
Working Title/Artist: La Grenouillere
Department: European Paintings
HB/TOA Date Code:
Working Date: 1869
photographed by mma in 1984/94, transparency 23ad (8×10)
scanned by film and media 9/10/04 (phc)


After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (July 19, 1870), Monet took refuge in England in September 1870. While there, he studied the works of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner, both of whose landscapes would serve to inspire Monet’s innovations in the study of color. In the Spring of 1871, Monet’s works were refused authorisation to be included in the Royal Academy exhibition.


In May 1871 he left London to live in Zaandam, where he made 25 paintings (and the police suspected him of revolutionary activities). He also paid a first visit to nearby Amsterdam. In October or November 1871 he returned to France. Monet lived from December 1871 to 1878 at Argenteuil, a village on the Seine near Paris, and here he painted some of his best known works. In 1874, he briefly returned to Holland.


In 1872 (or 1873), he painted Impression, Sunrise (Impression: soleil levant) depicting a Le Havre landscape. It hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and is now displayed in the Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris. From the painting’s title, art critic Louis Leroy coined the term “Impressionism”, which he intended as disparagement but which the Impressionists appropriated for themselves.


Monet and Camille Doncieux had married just before the war (June 28, 1870) and, after their excursion to London and Zaandam, they had moved into a house in Argenteuil near the Seine River in December 1871. She became ill in 1876. They had a second son, Michel, on March 17, 1878, (Jean was born in 1867). This second child weakened her already fading health. In that same year, he moved to the village of Vétheuil. At the age of thirty-two, Madame Monet died on 5 September 1879 of tuberculosis; Monet painted her on her death bed.



After several difficult months following the death of Camille on 5 September 1879, a grief-stricken Monet (resolving never to be mired in poverty again) began in earnest to create some of his best paintings of the 19th century. During the early 1880s Monet painted several groups of landscapes and seascapes in what he considered to be campaigns to document the French countryside. His extensive campaigns evolved into his series’ paintings.


In 1878 the Monets temporarily moved into the home of Ernest Hoschedé, (1837-1891), a wealthy department store owner and patron of the arts. Both families then shared a house in Vétheuil during the summer. After her husband (Ernest Hoschedé) became bankrupt, and left in 1878 for Belgium, in September 1879, and while Monet continued to live in the house in Vétheuil; Alice Hoschedé helped Monet to raise his two sons, Jean and Michel, by taking them to Paris to live alongside her own six children. They were Blanche, Germaine, Suzanne, Marthe, Jean-Pierre, and Jacques. In the spring of 1880 Alice Hoschedé and all the children left Paris and rejoined Monet still living in the house in Vétheuil. In 1881 all of them moved to Poissy which Monet hated. From the doorway of the little train between Vernon and Gasny he discovered Giverny. In April 1883 they moved to Vernon, then to a house in Giverny, Eure, in Upper Normandy, where he planted a large garden where he painted for much of the rest of his life. Following the death of her estranged husband, Alice Hoschedé married Claude Monet in 1892.



At the beginning of May 1883, Monet and his large family rented a house and two acres from a local landowner. The house was situated near the main road between the towns of Vernon and Gasny at Giverny. There was a barn that doubled as a painting studio, orchards and a small garden. The house was close enough to the local schools for the children to attend and the surrounding landscape offered an endless array of suitable motifs for Monet’s work. The family worked and built up the gardens and Monet’s fortunes began to change for the better as his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel had increasing success in selling his paintings. By November 1890 Monet was prosperous enough to buy the house, the surrounding buildings and the land for his gardens. Within a few years by 1899 Monet built a greenhouse and a second studio, a spacious building, well lit with skylights. Beginning in the 1880s and 1890s, through the end of his life in 1926, Monet worked on “series” paintings, in which a subject was depicted in varying light and weather conditions. His first series exhibited as such was of Haystacks, painted from different points of view and at different times of the day. Fifteen of the paintings were exhibited at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1891. He later produced several series of paintings including: Rouen Cathedral, Poplars, the Houses of Parliament, Mornings on the Seine, and the Water Lilies that were painted on his property at Giverny.


Monet was exceptionally fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine.


Between 1883 and 1908, Monet traveled to the Mediterranean, where he painted landmarks, landscapes, and seascapes, such as Bordighera. He painted an important series of paintings in Venice, Italy, and in London he painted two important series — views of Parliament and views of Charing Cross Bridge. His second wife Alice died in 1911 and his oldest son Jean, who had married Alice’s daughter Blanche, Monet’s particular favourite, died in 1914. After his wife died, Blanche looked after and cared for him. It was during this time that Monet began to develop the first signs of cataracts.

Working Title/Artist: Monet: The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog)Department: European PaintingsCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date:  photography by mma, Digital File DT1893.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 12_7_10
Working Title/Artist: Monet: The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog)Department: European PaintingsCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date:
photography by mma, Digital File DT1893.tif
retouched by film and media (jnc) 12_7_10


During World War I, in which his younger son Michel served and his friend and admirer Clemenceau led the French nation, Monet painted a series of Weeping Willow trees as homage to the French fallen soldiers. Cataracts formed on Monet’s eyes, for which he underwent two operations in 1923. The paintings done while the cataracts affected his vision have a general reddish tone, which is characteristic of the vision of cataract victims. It may also be that after surgery he was able to see certain ultraviolet wavelengths of light that are normally excluded by the lens of the eye, this may have had an effect on the colors he perceived. After his operations he even repainted some of these paintings, with bluer water lilies than before the operation.

 ‘Cataracts the key to Monet’s blurry style’

Image 1 of 2

Monet painted Water-Lily Pond in 1899

By Stewart Payne

12:01AM BST 16 May 2007

Scientists claim to have proved what many in the art world have long suspected – that Claude Monet painted in his distinctive style because cataracts blurred his vision.

Monet, a founder of French Impressionist painting, suffered from cataracts for much of his later life, during which time he produced some of his most characteristic work.

Using computers, researchers recreated the scene of Monet’s Water-Lily Pond as the artist would have seen it.

The pond was the subject of a series of canvasses he painted in 1899, showing the same view in differing light conditions. He exhibited them the following year, when he was aged 60.

Related Articles

30 Sep 2004

09 Aug 2006

16 May 2007

The results of the study, led by Dr Michael Marmor, a professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University, California, show how badly Monet’s vision may have been affected. The picture he and his team recreated was blurred and the colours varied, creating dark, muddy shades of yellowish green.

As Monet’s sight worsened, his works turned from fresh, bright colours to blurred visions of heavy browns and reds, abandoning the floral vision of his famous garden at Giverny, north of Paris.

Dr Marmor looked at scenes and models that Monet painted repeatedly, and found that the changes in colour and detail run parallel to the changes in his sight.

Monet underwent two surgeries for his cataracts in 1923, two years before his death aged 85.

Although Monet’s eyesight problems were not recognised until after he painted Water-Lily Pond, Dr Marmor believes his sight was already deteriorating. The cataracts severely limited his colour discrimination, which may explain the muddied tone of his later paintings. “He couldn’t really judge what he was seeing,” said Dr Marmor. “His vision was becoming progressively more brownish in essence. It was getting harder to see, and more blurred, but he was probably more bothered by the progressive loss of colour vision than the blur alone.

“Monet may have used strong colours in these paintings because he was using them from memory or because he was over-compensating for his yellow vision by adding more blue.”

Dr Marmor, whose findings appear in the Archives of Ophthalmology, also recreated some scenes painted by Edgar Degas, who also suffered sight problems.

He said: “Here we can see for ourselves what they were seeing through their eyes.

“Critics have known that these men had failing vision, but I don’t think they could appreciate what it meant to these artists. It gives both new respect for what they could do with limited vision, but also gives us reason to re-examine perhaps what these paintings mean in the evolution of their style and work.” Chris Riopelle, curator of 19th century paintings at the National Gallery, said: “I think there has always been a great mystery behind Monet and how much influence his eyesight problems had on his work.”

However, he said the research did not answer all the questions. “After surgery, Monet’s style did not alter radically.

“He also painted for 60 years before having problems, so developed a vast amount of skill.

“There will always be something of a mystery here.”

Images A and C show two of Monet’s “The Japanese Bridge at Giverny” (1918-1924/Musee Marmatton, Paris) from around the time when his vision was at its worst. Images B and D respectively show the two paintings as they might have appeared to Monet through his cataract. The oranges and blues of the two paintings become almost indistinguishable.

Credit: Archives of Ophthalmology/Musee Marmatton/Michael Marmor

Monet’s visual disorder: Cataracts

Although Monet was diagnosed with nuclear cataracts in both eyes by a Parisian ophthalmologist in 1912, at the age of 72, his visual problems began much earlier. Soon after 1905 (age 65) he began to experience changes in his perception of color. He no longer perceived colors with the same intensity. Indeed his paintings showed a change in the whites and greens and blues, with a shift towards “muddier” yellow and purple tones. After 1915, his paintings became much more abstract, with an even more pronounced color shift from blue-green to red-yellow. He complained of perceiving reds as muddy, dull pinks, and other objects as yellow. These changes are consistent with the visual effects of cataracts. Nuclear cataracts absorb light, desaturate colors, and make the world appear more yellow.

Monet was both troubled and intrigued by the effects of his declining vision, as he reacted to the the foggy, impressionistic personal world that he was famous for painting. In a letter to his friend G. or J. Bernheim-Jeune he wrote, “To think I was getting on so well, more absorbed than I’ve ever been and expecting to achieve something, but I was forced to change my tune and give up a lot of promising beginnings and abandon the rest; and on top of that, my poor eyesight makes me see everything in a complete fog. It’s very beautiful all the same and it’s this which I’d love to have been able to convey. All in all, I am very unhappy.” – August 11, 1922, Giverny.


Treatment Received: Surgery and corrective lenses

Monet sought the help of many ophthalmologists. The French ophthalmologist Charles Coutela, M.D, prescribed eydrops to dilate the pupil of the left eye and Monet was very happy with the results intially. The good vision afforded by the drops, however, didn’t last long and surgery was recommended. Monet was aware of the poor outcome of cataract surgery for his contemporary Impressionist Mary Cassatt, and so was reluctant initially to undergo the same surgery. Doctor Coutela finally performed a cataract operation on Monet’s right eye in January of 1923, when Monet was 82.

At first, Monet was very disappointed with the results of the operation. Immediately after the surgery he did not want to rest his eyes, that doing so interfered with his work. Depressed, he tried to rip off the bandages. He expressed this frustration in writing to Doctor Coutela: “I might have finished the Décorations which I have to deliver in April and I’m certain now that I won’t be able to finish them as I’d have liked. That’s the greatest blow I could have had and it makes me sorry that I ever decided to go ahead with that fatal operation. Excuse me for being so frank and allow me to say that I think it’s criminal to have placed me in such a predicament.” – from letter to Doctor Charles Coutela, June 22, 1923, Giverny.

Monet adamantly refused to have his left eye operated on. The left eye, clouded by a dense yellow cataract, could not see violets and blues; the right eye however, could see these colors clearly. As a result of their difference in color perception and acuity, Monet was never again able to use both eyes together effectively.

Coutela fitted Monet with spectacles specialized for cataracts, enabling Monet to read easily and continue his correspondence. Although Coutela recorded Monet’s vision as near perfect with correction, he found it hard to adjust to the new lenses complaining about seeing distorted shapes and exaggerated colors that were “quite terrifying”. He tried a new pair of glasses in 1924, and was somewhat happier with those.


Impact on his work

Monet’s exquisite sensitivity to light, color, and detail was central to his work. Cézanne characterized Monet as “only an eye– yet what an eye”. As his cataracts advanced Monet’s work was increasingly affected. His paintings of water lilies and willows over the period 1918-1922 as Monet entered his eighties, exemplify this change. Tones became muddier and darker, and forms became less distinct as his contrast sensitivity declined. His later works are typified by large brush strokes, indistinct coloration, and an often an absence of light blues. The sense of atmosphere and light that he was famous for presenting in his earlier works disappeared. In order to distinguish colors, Monet carefully read the labels on his paints, and kept a regular order of colors on his palette. Monet also experienced problems with glare that made working outside difficult. He took to wearing a wide-brimmed panama hat and ceased painting outside in the middle of the day.

While other possible explanations, such as stylistic change or age-related changes in manual dexterity, may account for the dramatic alterations in his work, Monet attributed them to the effects of the cataracts. He wrote, “in the end I was forced to recognize that I was spoiling them [the paintings], that I was no longer capable of doing anything good. So I destroyed several of my panels. Now I’m almost blind and I’m having to abandon work altogether. It’s hard but that’s the way it is: a sad end despite my good health!” – letter to Marc Elder, May 8, 1922, Giverny. Throughout his letters, Monet comments on his good physical health with the exception of his vision. There is no evidence for a great decline in manual dexterity. Thus, it does not seem unlikely that the broad brush strokes of his later paintings are a result of his declining vision and the psychological distress accompanying it.


The absence of form and detail in the paintings below contrasts starkly with those done earlier in Monet’s life.

060502-0114001 18995


Japanese Bridge 1924



Monet died of lung cancer on December 5, 1926 at the age of 86 and is buried in the Giverny church cemetery. Monet had insisted that the occasion be simple; thus about fifty people attended the ceremony.


Leave a Reply