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Claude Monet was born in 1840 and began serious study of painting at the age of nineteen. Advised by the painters Boudin, Troyen, and others, he studied in the atelier of Couture. While convalescing in Algeria during his army service, he met the Dutch painter, Jongkind, whose explanation of "the ways and wherefore of his manner" completed the teaching as begun by Boudin. From that time on Monet said that Jongkind was his real master, and it was to him that Monet owed the final education of his eye.
He there upon began the studies of color in light which, along with his associates in their various ways, formed the new mode of painting and visual approach which separated them from the academic current and which led to the style of painting termed Impressionism. Monet observed, studied, and painted the landscape about him where he could find subjects which provided the aspects of painted light. The earliest landscapes, deriving traditionally, were achieved in a palette with high intensity of color.
The variations of light and shade-whether figures in landscapes or women in gardens-made his next projection. The banks of the Seine, the Channel coast, the wheat fields-each specific outlet provided a new venture and achievement. Monet married his model, Camille, in June of 1870, and crossed the Channel to London at the beginning of the Franco Prussian war. Working with Sisley and Pissarro in London, he continued to study and observe the projection of light ini paint and became familiar with the work of JMW Turner. In Holland, in 1871, Daubigny introduced him to the dealer, Durand Ruel, of whom Monet writes that he "was our [the Impressionist's] savior. During fifteen years or more, my paintings and those of Renoir, Sisley, and Pissarro had no other outlet but through him."2 Durand-Ruel's faith in these young innovators eventually brought their works to the United States. Large quantities of their paintings came in the nineties and early twentieth century and remain, today, some of the most representative examples of their work. The first impressionist group-exhibition was held in Paris in 1874. One of the twelve paintings shown by Monet, Impression, Sunrise, gave the movement its name. Monet was to become the chief innovator of the impressionist revolution, though the beginning had been implied in the work of Boudin. As time went on, Monet specialized in many variations on specific themes. With Renoir in 1884 he visited the Riviera, Bordighera, and Ventimiglia, where he painted the Antibes series. In 1885 it was the Etretat group. In 1890 he began on the Haystacks; 1892-93, the Cathedral of Rouen series and the Poplars; 1896, Morning on the Seine. Although water lilies were the last of the series, Monet devoted more than a quarter-century to perfecting his ideas and invention of the Nympheas; Paysages d'eau; developing the freedom of technique, the observation of the flowers on water, and the shade and accent of surrounding foliage. Monet had settled at Giverny in 1890 and soon thereafter, by diverting the waters of the Epte, had created a small pond in which were planted water lilies of all colors. Clumps of bushes, trees, flowers, meticulously selected by the artist, a little wooden bridge a la japonaise, made up a delightful water landscape which was to serve his painting for many years to come. He employed gardeners to prune the groups of pads and flowers into circular units. There he began painting around 1895. He destroyed many of his earliest efforts out of dissatisfaction. Beginning with the year 1899, the little bridge, the profusion of shore plants, the willows, and the nympheas provided a theme which, though occasionally interrupted by trips to London and Venice, continued to be the principal occupation for the remainder of his life. Every view and approach, every element of experiment in which he searched to express the range of composition, came into this framework. The earlier series of 48 canvases were the results exhibited by Durand Ruel in 1909, which he referred to as "water landscapes." Their popularity is attested by the fact that today they are spread the world over. Between 1908 and 1912 there were few pictures.
During this time Monet's second wife, the former Mme. Hoschede, became ill and died in 1911. Thereafter, it was with difficulty that he returned to paint at all. Eventually he did, though he was also suffering during this period from an operation for cataract. From 1912 on, Monet began to paint once more in his garden. Working in large size, and with a freedom no longer a part of his impressionist past, his approach was wholly new. The observation was for actual size, and the finished product was the aquatic landscape cycle given to France in 1921. These great oval spaces, with unbroken wall sequence, were in stalled in the Orangerie in Paris after Monet's death in 1927. In the process of this arduous and unique effort Monet worked on many panels beside the finished cycle. A group of these latest paintings is now in American public collections, including the Museum's Water Lilies. Predominantly violet and green, free and vigorous in treatment, it is painted in many thick layers. The upper areas of the canvas are the violet, shimmering surface of the pond. A floating mass of flowers, largely formless except for their circular character, is congregated in the center. To right and left in the foreground are other isolated lilies, especially in the dark right corner. A semblance of the whole surface of the water is maintained across the canvas. At the same time, the green spectrum of the water's depth shows visibly in its opalescent reflection of light, penetrating to the water plants along the bottom-suggested and indicated rather than defined. In arranging and composing these color areas, Monet proceeded further and further from verisimilitude into the realm of pure expression. These essays gained only scorn for Monet from the younger generation at this period. He was to live in bitterness to see his innovations passed by and his logical procedure in exploration decried as reducing the impressionist principle to absurdity. Today's artist maintains another attitude. What was considered formless is now comprehended as penetrating expression derived in fullest extent from his observation. Monet thus virtually carried the full cycle of experimental analysis in refracted light, as depicted in paint, to its logical conclusion. The abstract-expressionist today recognizes the extent of his attainment. Monet was a severe critic of his own work. Knowing that any remaining after his death would be preserved for posterity, he destroyed many of his canvases. Yet at the time of his death in 1926 the studios at Giverny contained a wealth of these large canvases, most of them unsigned and unfinished. In addition to the water lilies, many other motifs around the pond and its banks were represented-weeping willows, agapanthus, iris, and wisteria. Most of this wealth remained forgotten for more than twenty years, some damaged by bombs from the Second World War, as was the garden. Only after 1950 did they come into review, and then as a link to the most recent concept in the styles of painting. The Museum's acquisition comes directly from the studio and from the Monet family.