13 Lessons Claude Monet Has Taught Me About Art

Claude Monet: I love his colors, and his personal writings. Here are some practical lessons I’ve learned from him:

1. The intoxication of beauty

It is beautiful here [in Etretat, Normandy], my friend; every day I discover even more beautiful things. It is intoxicating me, and I want to paint it all – my head is bursting.. ..I want to fight, scratch it off, start again, because I start to see and understand. It is by observation and reflection that I discover how.

As photographers let us never stop observing and reflecting on all the beauty around us!

2. Keep grinding away!

It is by force of observation and reflection that one finds. So let us grind away and grind away constantly. Are you making any progress? Yes, I am sure of it, but what I am sure of is that you do not work enough and not in the right way. It is not with carefree guys like your Villa and others that you will be able to work. It would be better all alone, and yet, all alone there are plenty of things that one cannot make out.

To make progress, you must keep grinding away (like what video game players do). Don’t lose hope, and put in the hustle!

3. Don’t resemble anyone else but yourself!

In Paris one is too preoccupied by what one sees and what one hears, however strong one is; what I am doing here has, I think, the merit of not resembling anyone, because it is simply the expression of what I myself have experienced.

Ignore what’s happening on the internet or social media. Don’t worry about what others are doing, just stay focused on yourself!

4. Even the best get disillusioned

Even the best can lose hope in themselves:

I am absolutely sickened with and demoralized by this life, I’ve been leading for so long. When you get to my age, there is nothing more to look forward to. Unhappy we are, unhappy we’ll stay. Each day brings its tribulations and each day difficulties arise.. .So I’m giving up the struggle once and for all, abandoning all hope of success.. .I hear my friends are preparing another exhibition this year [the Impressionists, in Paris, 1880] but I’m ruling out the possibility of participating in it, as I just don’t have anything worth showing.

As an artist, don’t lose hope in yourself. Claude Monet didn’t know how famous (he would) become. So for us as well, let us keep making our art and marching on!

5. Capture the surrounding atmosphere

For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the air and the light which vary continually. For me, it is only the, surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.

Don’t just capture your subjects, capture the mood and the air around it! Create an atmosphere in your pictures, to transport the viewer into your images.

6. We are never truly finished

I tell myself that anyone who says he has finished a canvas is terribly arrogant. Finished means complete, perfect, and I toil away without making any progress, searching, fumbling around, without achieving anything much.

Nothing is perfect nor ever will be perfect. Let us overcome this notion from the philosopher Plato that something can be perfect. Nature isn’t “perfect”, she is actually quite cruel and harsh; yet in the chaos is where the beauty comes from.

7. Give yourself time to work on masterpieces!

One should live here for a year in order to accomplish something of value, and that is only after having seen and gotten to know the country. I painted today, a part of the day, in the snow, which falls endlessly. You would have laughed if you could have seen me completely white, with icicles hanging from my beard like stalactites.

Spend time to work on whatever you’re working on, and strive to make it into a masterpiece!

8. Create the air

To me the motif [subject matter] itself is an insignificant factor; what I want to reproduce is what lies between the motif and me.. .Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat.. .I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house and the boat are to be found – the beauty of the air around them, and that is nothing less than the impossible

9. Study Ruskin

Ninety percent of the theory of Impressionist painting is in.. ..Ruskin’s Elements.

I found the book, you can download it for free here:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/30325

10. Express what you feel in art!

It’s quite beyond my powers at my age, and yet I want to succeed in expressing what I feel.

As an artist, express your inner soul through the art works you give birth to!

11. Create your direct sensations

Impressionism is only direct sensation. All great painters were less or more impressionists. It is mainly a question of instinct, and much simpler than Sargent thinks.

Follow your instinct and gut. Create what you feel.

12. Self schooling

I was born undisciplined. Never, even as a child, could I be made to obey a set rule. What little I know I learned at home. School was always like a prison to me, I could never bring myself to stay there, even four hours a day, when the sun was shining and the sea was so tempting, and it was such fun scrambling over cliffs and paddling in the shallows. Such, to the great despair of my parents, was the unruly but healthy life I lived until I was fourteen or fifteen. In the meantime I somehow picked up the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic, with a smattering of spelling. And there my schooling ended. It never worried me very much because I always had plenty of amusements on the side. I doodled in the margins of my books, I decorated our blue copy paper with ultra-fantastic drawings, and I drew the faces and profiles of my schoolmasters as outrageously as I could, distorting them out of all recognition.

To create a generation of artists, let’s not helicopter parent our kids. Let our imagination run free!

13. Refresh your vision

I felt the need, in order to widen my field of observation and to refresh my vision in front of new sights, to take myself away for a while from the area where I was living, and to make some trips lasting several weeks in Normandy, Brittany and elsewhere..

Traveling is good to refresh your eyes. When you need some change, go on a small trip!

Some of my favorite Monet paintings:

 

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During his trip to the Riviera, Monet discovered Cap Martin, a location where he spotted subjects that were crying out to be painted. He decided to stay there briefly just before he went back to Giverny. So at the beginning of April he travelled to Menton from Italy and stayed at the Hôtel du Pavillon du Prince de Galles, near Cap Martin. He set to work the very next day at a spot where he felt ‘much more relaxed’ than in the place he had just left. He ended up staying far longer than anticipated on account of exceptionally good weather. The painter gave more emphasis here to the sea than in Bordighera, echoing his Normandy coast works.

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.
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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.

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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.

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.

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On 13 February 1900, during his second stay in London, Monet began to paint the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British Parliament. A first canvas showed the full width of the monument, with Victoria Tower as its main subject; to the right we can see the spire of the Central Tower, itself flanked on the right by a small square tower. It soon became apparent that London offered few opportunities for the painter to paint in favourable light. All progress was hampered by a blanket of clinging smog, but if the sky cleared too much, it created an atmosphere that was not sufficiently typical of London. So Monet was on constant lookout, waiting for the effect to come back: as soon as it appeared, he rushed to the canvas in question.

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For his London views, Monet chose as his only real theme the light and atmospheric variations created by the fog in the English capital. The brushstrokes are fragmented into myriad coloured flecks, rendering the density of the thick mist. Monet allowed himself a few liberties with the architecture, which he had no hesitation in flattening, lengthening and slimming down. These canvases would be completed when he was back in Giverny: ‘No, I am not in London, except in my thoughts, but working hard on my canvases which are causing me a great deal of trouble.’ So he finished these works in his studio, grouping them together with the aim of taking the systematic approach to the series process to its extreme: his desire was to reproduce the numerous variations he had observed in the appearance of the subject.

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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.

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When painting Antibes from Juan-les-Pins, Monet sometimes stood further back so that he could get a panoramic effect. He set up his easel in the Salis gardens to the south of Antibes on the east side of the Cap. The painter positioned himself at the far end of these gardens, a short distance from the sea. He could then compose a picture by creating a contrast between the different perspectives: the olive trees in close up, the town of Antibes in the distance, and between them, the sea. The tree’s golden yellow hue infuses the canvas with intense light. This painting was sold to Théo Van Gogh in 1888, forming part of a very successful small-scale exhibition, ‘Ten Seascapes from Antibes’.
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.

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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.

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When Monet returned to the Paris region, he settled in Bougival, a place frequented by rowers and artists. He met up with Renoir there, and began to work collaboratively with him. The two painters devoted themselves to depicting a place called La Grenouillère, a floating inn by the banks of the Pot à Fleurs islet on the Seine. It was also known as ‘the Camembert’, and was overlooked by a small tree and connected to the embankments by footbridges. Monet’s style gained a hitherto unseen shimmering effect at that point, a stage on the journey to Impressionism. Central to the painting was the study of reflections, broken into wavelets caused by the bathers’ movements. A canvas on the same theme was rejected by the Salon in 1870, resulting in the resignations of Daubigny and Corot, who supported the master of ‘the school of nature for nature’s sake’.

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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

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