Lessons Photographers Can Learn From Claude Monet

Currently super-inspired by Claude Monet, with his use of colors, his compositions, depictions of everyday life, people, nature, and how he was able to show his love of life through his paintings.

I feel that we as photographers can draw a lot of inspiration from Monet, by studying how he arranged his scenes (note how he spaces out his subjects), his use of light, and his asymmetrical (yet balanced/dynamic) compositions.

Lessons from Monet

Some of my personal lessons studying Monet:

  1. Observe how he combines different color combinations to enhance his colors. For example, his use of violet, orange and red.
  2. Note his compositions of multiple subjects: how he spaces them out, and how his compositions are balanced. Some of his paintings of people look quite photo realistic, almost like they were shot with a 28mm wide angle lens. I especially like studying his urban street scenes.
  3. Often Monet painted the same scene, over and over again, experimenting with different color combinations. Lesson: As photographers and artists, we can also photograph the same subject matter over and over again, using repetition and iteration to improve our photographic skill.
  4. Monet painted lots of different subject matter. Not only nature, trees, the beach, and mountains, but also train stations and urban life. Lesson: We should also photograph everything and all subject matter and not discriminate. For example we can shoot street photography and nature/landscape photography. Let us just photograph anything that breathes life into us!

Paintings by Monet

Some of my favorite paintings of his below:

Full title: The Beach at Trouville
Artist: Claude-Oscar Monet
Date made: 1870
Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/
Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk
Copyright (C) The National Gallery, London


Öl auf Leinwand (um 1915)
Claude Monet [1840 – 1926]
Objektmaß Öl auf Leinwand
Inventar-Nr.: 14562

In early 1888 Monet went back once more to the Mediterranean shores, four years after his first trip to the Riviera. He stayed at Château de la Pinède, a noble residence that had been turned into an artists’ centre: he was welcomed there on the recommendation of Maupassant, whom he met on one of his trips to the Normandy coast. After scouting around the area for two days, he found a few subjects, especially the views of Antibes town from Juan-les-Pins. ‘I am painting Antibes as a small fortified town glistening golden in the sun, and standing out against the beautiful blue and pink mountains.’ When his initial attempts presented him with problems, Monet immediately became fixed on the idea of returning to Giverny, but he ended up staying in Antibes for five months.
Now settled in Poissy, a town he did not particularly like, Monet set out for Dieppe to paint the cliffs which he soon decided were less impressive than the ones at Fécamp. His dissatisfaction was in part due to happy memories of his stay in Fécamp in 1868, a peaceful time in his career thanks to the presence of his wife and son. The cliffs at Dieppe, painted here during his second trip to the region, can be identified by the large building that sits on top of them, and by the houses on the edge of the void, with the beach and its bathers distinguishable far below. The painter was assisted at this time by a fellow artist from the town who put his studio at his disposal. But Monet felt dissatisfied with being in Dieppe, being overly confined to the town, and he decided to travel through the countryside, rejecting the urban aspects of modernism.

Monet was unhappy in Poissy, where he lived from this time with Anne Hoschedé, and wanted to take a trip to Normandy in the early summer of 1882. So he rented a house where he could bring all of his family to join him. He could not wait to rediscover the subjects he already knew well: ‘the countryside is wonderful at the moment and I long to get back to it.’ This allowed Monet to paint the east side of Val Saint-Nicolas on this canvas, inserting two female figures into the landscape, possibly Madame Hoschedé and one of her daughters; easy access to the spot gave his models the opportunity to pose there. But his initial enthusiasm and being reunited with his former circle were soon replaced by a mediocre summer in which he waited impatiently for sunny spells, and his work proved difficult.
Following his first trip to Holland in 1871, Monet went back there in the spring of 1886 for a brief stay, in The Hague, of just under a fortnight. At that time, he discovered the tulip fields between Leiden and Haarlem, which inspired five canvases. To begin with, he felt impotent in the face of nature’s beauty, saying ‘it cannot be rendered with our paltry colours’, but then – fascinated by this motif – he attempted to reproduce it. He constructed a geometric landscape, divided into square sections by the canals, juxtaposing differently coloured areas with vivid tonalities. For Huysmans, this painting created ‘a real feast for the eyes’ when it was shown at the Fifth International Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture in 1886, at which Monet met with success in selling all the paintings he exhibited.
Executed in the summer of 1882 during his second trip to the region, this painting was part of an intensely productive campaign: Monet himself declared that he had worked ‘like a maniac’. He covered the cliffs in all directions, from Aval to Varangeville, where he painted several pictures of the fisherman’s house, seen from different angles and in a range of sizes and compositions. Each view conveys a particular aspect of the light and weather. This work anticipates the series paintings that the artist would complete in years to come. The locale allowed the painter to play around with the curving cliffs which stand out against the sea. During this period with Alice Hoschedé at his side, Monet was coping with a difficult situation, because her husband still wanted to pay regular visits to his wife.
When Camille was pregnant with Jean, Monet, who was penniless, left her in Paris and returned to Le Havre to stay with his aunt. He then immersed himself frantically in his work. His relations with his family (especially his father) at that time seem to have improved perceptibly. The way Monet represents his father on this terrace suggests that the two men were on good terms: he is seated in the foreground beside the woman who would finance the early years of the painter’s career to a large extent, his aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre. They are both looking at two other people, Monet’s cousin Jeanne-Marguerite Lecadre and a man whose identity remains unknown. The flowers spreading out from this terrace combine with the sea, boats and sky, heralding the major works of Impressionism.

After Jean was born, Monet travelled to Paris on several occasions to visit Camille and his son. As winter approached, he moved back there for a short time. When the really cold weather set in, he went to Bougival, which had been transformed by the railway into a place where the Parisian middle classes went on trips, and would become one of the essential locations for Impressionist painters. In that winter of 1867 he painted what became a recurring subject for him: ice floes on the Seine. The river is depicted here flowing towards Rueil, with Ile de Croissy on the left. With this winter landscape, Monet rediscovered the joy he felt in conveying his impressions of snow. What is most striking here, however, is the way the landscape is depicted in blocks of solid colour.

While the surrounding vegetation did not appear as often in the water-lily paintings, Monet devoted a few canvases to the wisterias that had invaded the Japanese bridge and to the irises on the edges of the water-lily pond that displayed their long petals and their velvety sheen. In 1952, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard gave the following description of the painter’s works in the arts quarterly Verve: ‘If he dared, a philosopher musing over one of Monet’s water paintings would develop dialectics of the iris and the water lily, the dialectic of the upright leaf and the leaf that rests calmly, quietly and heavily on the water. This is surely the very dialectic of the aquatic plant: one wants to rise up, fired by some unknown revolt against the vital element, and the other is faithful to its element.’
Claude MONET (1840-1926)
Vétheuil c 1880
oil on canvas, 59.7 x 80 cm
During his first stay in Normandy, Monet moved on quickly from Dieppe and set up in Pourville, a small fishing village three miles from the town. As summer bathing had proved so successful in this seaside resort, a villa had been erected at the west end of the beach and the artist took lodgings there. Monet represented the beauty of the landscapes around the village, with its high cliffs gouged by steep hanging valleys. Here he depicts the Amont cliff at the eastern end of Pourville beach, and the coastline stretching from Dieppe to Le Tréport in the background. He would return to this location at a later date, spurred on by the success of the 35 works he showed during the Seventh Exhibition of Independent Artists, especially his Normandy seascapes.

Monet’s trip to Brittany was probably inspired by the work of Renoir, who was staying near Dinard, but Mirbeau’s advice also played a part; the latter was on holiday off the Vendée coast on the island of Noirmoutier and offered Monet accommodation. However his discovery of the Côte Sauvage, which Renoir had never visited, was most likely prompted by a tourist guide. He thought he was alone in Belle-Île-en-Mer, but he soon met John Peter Russell, a painter from Sydney, Australia, who had been staying in the little hamlet next to Monet’s for four months. A trip they took together almost went badly wrong. After being dropped off in a huge cave, the two painters had to wait for the fishermen’s return as they watched the rising tide. They were taken back on board just in the nick of time, experiencing very heavy seas which Monet described as ‘wonderful and delightful’. When he was about to leave, Russell found someone to help Monet carry his equipment as he moved from one site to the next.
The Gaudiberts were a family of merchants from Le Havre, collectors of art who were open to innovative trends. In 1868, Louis-Joachim Gaudibert commissioned Monet to do a portrait of him and then his wife, so that his parents would have a true image of their children. However, they described the portraits as ‘terribly vulgar’. The profile view of the model’s face, a pendant to the Camille à la robe verte portrait, focuses the eye on the treatment of the fabrics. The portrait then becomes primarily a pretext for depicting a bourgeois interior. The poor reception given to this portrait by the family – together with Monet’s relative failure at the International Maritime Exhibition in Le Havre – proves that his boldest work was not yet universally recognized, and marks a step towards the end of his official ambitions.
On 27 April 1867 Monet approached the Louvre superintendant for permission to execute some views from the rooms in the museum. Once this was granted a few days later, he was able to begin three bird’s eye views looking towards the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois and the Seine. These dense, busy canvases reveal the painter’s particular liking for vividly portraying the play of light and shadow. The meticulous architectural representation was a way of conveying urban life, a theme that soon became part of the Impressionist world. The schematic silhouettes of figures, horses and cars seem to move or stand still at the dictate of the painter’s brush.
Monet’s boat-studio allowed him to add to the views of the Seine around Argenteuil, which were entirely executed en plein air. The painter described the studio quite simply as ‘a barge with a cabin where I had just enough space to set up my easel’. He was thus able to paint this canvas which features in warm tones the small houses in front of the boat-builder’s yard at Petit-Gennevilliers. This double image, of real life and its reflection, shows a regular, concise system of brushstrokes. The background motifs, the road bridge and the house with dormer window, are superficially sketched. Monet came closer than ever to the traditional marine format with this canvas and other views of the Seine at Argenteuil.
From the front windows and garden of the Hôtel Britannia, his second residence when he stayed in Venice, Monet enjoyed a wonderful view over the lagoon and the little island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which provided him a new subject. He was thus able to paint away from the crowds, in the same way that he had been able to paint almost a decade earlier from the Savoy Hotel, his London residence. Monet depicts the church as if appearing suddenly out of the water: its architectural features blend into the luminous Venetian atmosphere, the variations of which become the main subject of the painting. The Venice canvases, purchased in their entirety by the Bernheim brothers, were not exhibited until 1912, after the painter had carried out numerous retouches in his studio.
The shadow in the foreground of the picture is thrown by the Varengeville cliffs; Monet positioned himself at the bottom, next to the Pont Ailly gorge, so that he could paint facing eastward. To the right in the background, the Amont cliffs stretch from Pourville towards Dieppe. While he usually faced the setting sun when painting the cliffs in Normandy, Monet sometimes – as in this case – turned in the opposite direction for his views. At this point in the summer of 1882, the painter found himself in a state of disarray: the numerous studies he had begun were not considered satisfactory, and few were completed. What is more, his spirits fell at the thought of going back to Poissy after the summer break, and of the bills he would have to pay. These paintings, which were started en plein air, had to be completed in the studio on his return.
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