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Bright Beginnings

How does Claude Monet paint daily life outdoors?

Shimmering water, radiant flowers, trees, and sunshine—these natural sights mesmerized Claude Monet (klawd moh-NAY). The artist was born in Paris, France, in 1840. Throughout his life, Monet found inspiration in nature to paint sun-soaked scenes. The artist explored light in ways most people at the time had never seen before. Monet was committed to the idea that light is color.  

Claude Monet (klawd moh-NAY) was born in Paris, France in 1840. He loved spending time outdoors. He painted sunny scenes showing daily life. The artist used light in ways people had never seen before. Monet believed that light and color are connected. 

Claude Monet, Garden at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. Oil on canvas, 38 5/8x51 1/8in. (98x130cm). Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1967 (67.241). Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA Image copyright ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Image source: Art Resource, NY.

What does Monet achieve by painting en plein air?

Defiant Youth

Claude Monet photographed in his garden in Giverny, France 1923. ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

When Monet was a young man, he and his classmates abandoned traditional training in the studio to paint en plein air, or outdoors. They were interested in capturing natural light and scenes of daily life. This radical move outraged their teachers, who excluded the young artists from prestigious art exhibitions for years. 

But that didn’t stop the rebel artists. They became known as the Impressionists

Monet painted his 1867 Garden at Sainte-Adresse, above, en plein air in Normandy, a region on the coast of northern France. He uses bold hues, or colors, to capture natural light. Long shadows stretch across the scene, indicating where the sun is in the sky, even though it is outside of the picture plane

Critics rejected works like the one above, and Monet lived in poverty for many years. In the 1860s and ’70s, he struggled to afford food and even sold his possessions so he could buy paint. 

When Monet was a young man, most artists painted indoors. But he and his classmates painted outside. These artists were interested in painting natural light and daily life. Their teachers disapproved. For years, they excluded the young artists from art shows. But that didn’t stop the rebels. They became known as the Impressionists

Monet painted his 1867 Garden at Sainte-Adresse, above, using bold colors to show natural light. Long shadows stretch across the scene. This suggests the sun’s location in the sky. 

At the time, many people rejected works like this one. As a result, Monet was poor in the 1860s and ’70s. He struggled to buy food and sold his belongings so he could afford paint.

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment.” 

Claude Monet

Claude Monet, Camille Monet (1847-1879) on a Garden Bench, 1873. Oil on canvas, 23 7/8x31 5/8in. (60x80cm). The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 2002, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (2002.62.1).  Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Image copyright ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

How does Monet use light symbolically in this scene?

Innovative Techniques

In Monet’s 1873 Camille Monet (1847-1879) on a Garden Bench, above, the artist uses light and shadow to create symbols of life and death. Monet paints his wife in mourning after her father died. She sits in the foreground surrounded by soft shadows representing her sorrow. Monet juxtaposes these colors with a bright background, where a woman wears light clothing in the sunlit garden, a symbol of life. 

In this painting, Monet uses a technique called optical color mixing. He applies dabs of blue and yellow pigment next to one another. At a distance, the viewer’s eye blends the colors together, mixing to make lush green plants. Then the artist adds flowers, using dots of red paint. Monet was among the first artists to explore this technique, which was revolutionary at the time. 

In 1873 Monet painted Camille Monet (1847-1879) on a Garden Bench, above. He uses light and shadow to create symbols of life and death. The artist paints his wife, Camille, mourning after her father’s death. In the foreground, Monet surrounds her with shadows. They represent her sadness. 

He juxtaposes the dark colors with a bright background: A woman wears a light outfit in a sunny garden. The bright colors symbolize life.

Claude Monet, San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight, 1908. Oil on Canvas, 25x36in. (65x92cm). Location: National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, Wales, Great Britain. Photo Credit: HIP/Art Resource, NY.

How does Monet experiment with color to capture light?

Toward Abstraction

Monet enjoyed spending evenings watching the sunset. In his 1908 San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight, above, he renders the sky and reflections on the water in vibrant color. Monet rarely uses black paint. Instead he shows the church’s silhouette against the sky by adding dabs of purple, blue, and red. Monet captures the dazzling sunset with warm pink and orange along the horizon, where the earth meets the sky. The warm hues gently fade to cool green and blue in the sky. Monet paints the mirrored light on the water with horizontal lines in darker blues.

Toward the end of his life, Monet’s vision began to deteriorate. His paintings became more abstract, until it appeared that he was capturing pure light and color alone. Monet eventually achieved enormous critical success. Today he is considered one of the most important artists in history. Turn the page to learn about his most iconic series. 

Monet loved watching the sunset. He painted San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight, above, in 1908. He uses vibrant colors to paint the sky and reflections on the water.

Monet rarely uses black paint. Instead he uses purple, blue, and red to create the church’s silhouette. He captures the sunset with warm pink and orange that fade to cool green and blue. He uses the same colors to paint the light reflected on the water’s surface. 

Toward the end of his life, Monet began to lose his eyesight. His paintings became more abstract. It appeared that he was painting pure light and color instead of more realistic images. 

Monet eventually gained huge success. He is considered one of the most important artists in history. Turn the page to learn about one of his most famous series.

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