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Monet and Impressionism

Oscar-Claude Monet was a French painter and founder of impressionist painting who is seen as a key precursor to modernism, especially in his attempts to paint nature as he perceived it. Today, Monet is known for his ability to capture light in dramatic landscapes, but at age fifteen, it was the landscape painter Eugène Boudin who inspired Monet to leave caricatures behind. In 1856, Boudin taught Monet to paint outdoors, or “en plein air,” on the beaches of Normandy, where he studied the changing weather and light.

At the time, painting outside was relatively uncommon, though it later became an important part of the Impressionist movement. Monet later said his success as a painter was due to Eugène Boudin. Boudin taught Monet to paint from direct observation, outside, en plein air.

Monet loved plein air so much that he built gardens at his home in Giverny for the express purpose of painting. He made over 250 paintings of the bridge and the lily pads, and over 500 paintings of the gardens.



Though he didn’t know it when he titled it, Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise, painted in 1873, became the inspiration for the name of the artistic movement for which the artist is so well known.

In 1874, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Édouard Manet, and Paul Cézanne, founded the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers, etc., along with several other artists whose works were rejected by the Salon de Paris. The group held an exhibition of their work that year in Paris. This showing later became known as the first Impressionist exhibition.



The works at the exhibition received many critical reviews, one of which was written by Louis Leroy, who latched onto Monet’s use of the word “impression” in the title of his painting as a derogatory description of what called the “unfinished” nature of Monet’s painting.

The artists then defiantly adopted the term “impressionist” to describe their work, and it became the name of the movement.

In 1905, Monet was sixty-five and began to notice changes to his vision. The colors he saw were no longer as bright, and his paintings began to feature more yellow and purple tones. In 1912, when he was seventy-two, Monet was diagnosed with nuclear cataracts in both eyes. 

Because Monet so often repainted the same subjects over the years, viewers can trace the way cataracts affected his vision over time. Scientists have even studied changes in the color and style of Monet’s paintings over time—along with the works of his fellow Impressionist, Degas, who also had eye disease. By using computers to simulate the blurriness one would see with eye disease, scientists have been able to find out how the artists likely saw their own paintings, which has given new insights into the artists’ works.


Monet was known for destroying his own work when he was dissatisfied with paintings or angry. In 1908, he cut at least fifteen water lily paintings with a knife, which caused a show of his work in Paris to be postponed. Later, after his cataract surgery, he destroyed many of the paintings he created when he suffered the worst of his vision problems. Altogether, he is thought to have destroyed up to 500 of his own paintings.


To understand Monet's process, we are taking a beautiful reference photo from Meghan Wheeler of waterlilies and looking at it through Monets' eyes. This is about how he would see it....


Start off by blocking in the darks exactly as you see them here-like blurry shapes and brushmarks. Put in all the darks, being careful to make the darks in front a bit darker than the darks in background.



Once you have the darks in place, start mixing greens. Greens in the front are warmer (more yellow) and darker. Greens in the back are cooler and lighter (more white and blue). Make your brushstrokes horizontal so that the waterlilies in the background lay flat. Make the ones in front more elliptical. After the greens, put in the sky color and lilies. Your goal is to cover the whole canvas with paint, then you are ready to step back and evaluate.


This is the painting as Monet would see the scene. Loose and painterly, not mant details or hard edges. when you look at it from a distance you really see the the whole scene. It comes together in your eyes (called optical mixing) and is a trick of the Impressionists. If you've ever seen Monet's epic waterlilies painting up close, its very pixelated and you dont see any detail until you step back about 30 feet.


Now here's Meghan's photo:


Us this to refine any edges that need it. I suggest you only add detail to the lower half of the painting. THat way the lilies look closer to you. Here's my finished painting:


It's not an exact reproduciton of the photo...it's an Impression. Remember, we are not trying for perfection, we are trying to give our impression!


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Thank you for this wonderfully valuable class. I can see and feel my progress.


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I enjoy the softness of colors in the impressionistic style. It relaxes my mind. Thank you for sharing.

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