Claude Monet is probably the best-loved of all the impressionist painters, and he was certainly the most influential. His paintings attempting to capture the fleeting effects of sunlight at different times of the day and in various environments are still captivating nearly 100 years after his death. If anything, in our era of visual overload, the freshness of how Monet saw the world is even more striking.
What was Impressionism All About?
Impressionism emerged in France around 1870, when a group of painters worked loosely together, attempting to capture their fleeting impressions of a scene, or the emotions a scene created in them.
They painted in a new way, in a style that wasn't highly finished nor realistic, and their subjects were neither classical nor historical. At the time it was a dramatic departure from convention, and the painters were ridiculed by critics and society.
What Painting Techniques Did Monet Use?
The painting technique fundamental to impressionism is that of broken color, which is supposed to achieve the actual sensation of light itself in a painting. Monet worked primarily in oil paint, but he also used pastels and carried a sketchbook. He used quite a limited range of colors in his paintings, banishing browns and earth colors from his palette. By 1886, black had also disappeared.
Asked in 1905 what colors he used, Monet said: "The point is to know how to use the colors, the choice of which is, when all is said and done, a matter of habit."
Create Your Own Monet Painting
Sort out a palette of colors like Monet’s, then either select one of your favorite paintings by him or a subject that inspires, and get painting. Remember that Monet developed his skill and technique over decades, so don’t be discouraged if your first Monet-style painting doesn’t turn out exactly like his. Take inspiration from him and treat it as the first in a series.
Where to See Monet’s Paintings
Most large museums in the United States and Europe have a Monet or three in their collection, which can usually be viewed online, such as MoMA, The Met, and Tate. The Musée Marmottan in Paris has the world's largest collection, thanks to donations by Monet’s son Michel and Victorine Donop de Monchy, the daughter of Georges de Bellio, a friend of Monet and his doctor. Unfortunately, very little of this museum’s collection can be seen online, but if you ever get to Paris, it’s worth a visit.
Recommended Books on Monet
- "The Unknown Monet Exhibition Catalog: Pastels and Drawings" by James A. Ganz and Richard Kendall. If you admire Monet's paintings and want to learn more about his working methods, how he learned to paint, how he developed as an artist, what role drawing and sketching played in his painting, then this is indispensable reading.
- "Paint Like Monet" by James Heard. This is an easy-to-read book that'll have you reaching for your paints to try painting your own Monet while at the same time teaching you a lot about this important impressionist, his work and life. It's not written in a stuffy art-history style, nor are the reproduced paintings done so impeccable that you'll be too intimidated to try yourself.
- "Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies" by Ross King. If you want to get a feel for the Parisian art scene that Monet was trying to break into, read this dual biography of the lives of the painters Meissonier and Manet.