In 1862, he enrolled at Charles Gleyre’s academy in Paris, where he met the painters Renoir and Sisley. Monet left France in 1871 to avoid having to participate in the Franco-German war. He went to London, where he saw Turner’s paintings at the National Gallery. Like Turner, Monet went to Venice, where he was deeply impressed by the special light and atmosphere of the city.
In 1874, Monet showed his painting Impression: soleil levant at an exhibition in Paris, prompting a sceptical critic to coin the term impressionism. The impressionists painted directly at the site of their motif, attempting to capture the moment as it appeared on the retina. They were fascinated by the optical effects of light, shadow and colour, and often painted with fluent, rapid brushwork.
In the 1880s and 1890s, Monet produced several series of paintings: depictions of an object in various weather conditions and at different times of day. One series features the cathedral in Rouen from different angles in different daylight. He preferred painting en plein air but often put the finishing touches to his work in the studio.
In 1882, Monet rented a house in Giverny, 80 kilometres west of Paris, and was able to buy it in 1890. He lived there for the rest of his life. In Giverny he created the pond that inspired his many well-known paintings of water lilies.
The 1910s were a difficult time for Claude Monet. His wife Alice died in 1911, followed shortly by the death of the eldest of his two sons. The First World War was raging in Europe and many of his friends had sons who were killed on the battle fields. Monet lost his self-confidence and felt outmoded compared to the new art emerging in France and Germany, headed by fauvists such as Henri Matisse and expressionists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. He also suffered from cataracts, leading to a gradual deterioration of his eyesight. In 1922, doctors diagnosed that he could only differentiate between shades of blue and yellow. In the face of these adversities and bouts of depression, he nevertheless continued to paint. The subject of his later works is limited to the garden in Giverny. His canvases grew larger and the paint was applied in broader brush strokes. Some areas of the canvas are covered with thick paint layers, while others are left almost bare. In 1914, he embarked in earnest on Les Grandes Décorations, a project that was to occupy him for the rest of his life. These paintings, which Monet donated to the French government, were created for the orangery in the Tuilerie Gardens in Paris.
Claude Monet died in Giverny in 1926, as one of France’s most highly revered artists.