Claude Monet (1840-1926)
French artist, Claude Monet, is undoubtedly one of the leading influential artistes of the 20th century. Pioneer of the French art movement, Impressionism, Monet wowed the world with his sensuous art pieces that have since made an indelible impact on the world of art.
In commemoration of it’s 20th anniversary, Swiss art museum, Fondation Beyeler (located just outside of Basel) has dedicated an entire exhibition to the works of Claude Monet. After learning about this special exhibition, I knew I had to visit.
The Exhibition Monet (which runs from Jan 22-May 28) chronicles the works of the famous French artiste from the years 1880-1905. In these years Monet shifts his focus from the objectivity of Impressionism and more toward his own personal perceptions of his surroundings.
Throughout the exhibition I was able to explore the mind of the artist as well as see the gradual transformation in his works. Slowly his work changed from the use of subtle colours, as is evident in his earlier works, to more bold & bright colours. There were always recurring themes in his paintings which certainly were not hard to miss. Monet focused a lot on capturing changing light and color effects in the course of a day and in different seasons. He also mastered the technique of capturing shadows and reflections.
Within the late 19th century and early 20th century his subject focuses varied. Throughout the exhibition I witnessed Monet’s passion and nurturing of particular subjects from which he was able to master his own artistic expression. Some of his most notable subjects and artistic focuses as seen throughout this time period are as seen below.
1.) Seine + Epte River
In 1878 the Monets (his son & wife Camille) moved to Vétheuil, a little village on the Seine, a few kilometers away from his home city of Paris. In the first summer there, Monet built a boathouse so that he could explore his environs in search of suitable motifs by boat. He fell in love and nurtured a deep love for the rivers Seine and Epte. Subsequently they became a major focus in his works in the late 1800s.
In the summer of 1896 Monet began work on his “Matinée sur la Seine” series, for which he set off for work in his boat at half past three in the morning.
The French artist’s paintings, “Water on the Seine”, took on a more abstract quality. These paintings are achieved in such a manner that they beg the question, “Where is up and where is down?”. As was his consistent focus, Monet captured this scenery with a study of light and dark. The paintings look quite similar, however, subtle changes in color make them distinguishable from each other.
The painting of the two boys by the Epte became one of his last few painting with human subjects.
The winter of 1879–80 was exceptionally cold and the Seine froze over. On January 5, 1880, the Hoschedé-Monet family awoke to the sound of the ice breaking apart, and Monet spent the next few days painting dozens of impressions of this spectacle.
2.) Poplar Trees
In the spring of 1891 Monet began painting a series of a row of poplars on the Epte River two kilometers away from his home, which he visited in his studio boat. When the poplars came up for auction in August of that year, he paid the timber merchant to leave them standing until he had finished painting them. As was Monet’s usual fascination, he explored the play of light on the Poplars and painted them in different times of day.
3.) Mediterranean Landscapes + Atlantic Coastal Scenes
In December 1883 Monet accompanied fellow French Impressionist artist, Auguste Renoir on a short trip to the Mediterranean. Monet was so captivated by its beauty that he returned in 1884 (without Renoir) so that he could paint the marvelous scenery. He was quickly enamored with the light and warm colours of the Mediterranean and can be quoted as saying,
“I am living in a wonderland. I do not know which way to turn: everything is superb and I want to do everything. It is terribly difficult, you need a palette made of diamonds and precious stones. As for blue and pink, there is no shortage here.” Claude Monet, 1884
He was especially taken with the little town of Bordighera.
Claude Monet was also quite mesmerized by the Atlantic coast, finding inspiration in the rugged cliffs and ocean landscapes. Among his inspirations was the customs officer’s house near Varengeville of which he has over 14 paintings.
In his visit to the village of Étretat, famed for its precipitous cliffs and arches, he sought out remote beaches with views of the Manneporte Arch, which he proceeded to paint in different light conditions.
Many of Monet’s paintings of the early 1900’s were focused on his time in London. He expressed his love for London especially in the autumn and winter times, saying, London wouldn’t be as beautiful without the fog. Most of his paintings from this time reflect London in these times of year.
While there he enjoyed painting 3 particular subjects: the Waterloo Bridge, Railway Bridge and the House of Parliament.
He has also painted over 100 views of the river Thames.
5.) Water Lilies
In the final years of his life Monet began focusing his paintings on water and reflections.
In one of the few pieces where Monet paints human figures, he captures the images of three girls (daughters of Alice Hoschedé, his love interest after his wife Camille died). The painting is mystifying as it captures the tranquility of the water in such a way that it feels like time has stood still.
In the 1900’s water lilies were becoming an increasingly important subject. Monet enlarged his water lily pond in his home and often drew inspiration from these ponds. His paintings at the time were in high demand and though he developed cataracts and was visually impaired, he met the high demand for his water lily paintings.
Fondation Beyeler: Featured Artists + Architecture
Although the exhibition was focused on the works of Claude Monet, Fondation Beyeler most certainly displayed paintings of other quite popular artists. Some of the featured artists were: Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso.
Another noteworthy piece of art was the museum itself which was designed by star architect Renzo Piano.
“Claude Monet was a great pioneer, who found the key to the secret garden of modern painting, and opened everyone’s eyes to a new way of seeing the world. ” Fondation Beyeler