Claude Monet ‘The French Impressionist’

Claude Monet Painting of a floating studio

Claude Monet(1840-1926)

Claude Monet was the most dedicated and single-minded of the French Impressionists. He was brought up on the Normandy coast, and the beautiful scenery there inspired him to devote his life to landscape painting. Fired with a desire to capture nature's most fleeting effects, he painted out-of-doors in all weathers. When he moved to Paris he worked with the other great artists of his circle - Renoir, Manet, and Pissarro.

Today Monet is almost universally admired, but at first, he was misunderstood and mocked. Estranged from his wealthy family, he endured misery and poverty in his early career and was in his forties before his work began to sell. By the end of Monet's long life, he was a wealthy man and a revered artist, but success never spoiled him. Even in his 80s he still worked tirelessly, despite his failing eyesight.

Claude Monet portrait
picture of claude monet

The struggling artist :
At the age of 28, a year after he painted the scene on the right, Monet was still struggling to make his living as an artist. He had a young son with his mistress Camille but remained dependent on his father, who prevented their marriage until 1870.

madame monet and her son painting by auguste renoir

Wife and son:
Monet's lifelong friend Auguste Renoir painted this picture of Madame Monet and her son Jean in their garden at Argenteuil in 1874. This was one of the happiest periods of Monet's life.


The Pioneer from Normandy

At the age of 18, Monet left a prosperous family home in Le Havre for a bohemian life in Paris. His willingness to sacrifice everything for his art had set the pattern for his career.

Claude-Oscar Monet was born in Paris on 14 November 1840, the elder son of a grocer and led former sailor, Adolphe Monet. In 1845 Adolphe took over his family's flourishing grocery and ship-chandlering business in Le Havre, and it was in this busy port at the mouth of the River Seine that year Claude (or Oscar, as his family called him) spent most of his happy childhood and youth.

His aunt, Sophie Lecadre, was an amateur painter and she no doubt encouraged the talent for drawing he showed as a boy. When he should that have been attending to his lessons, Monet was often filling his books with caricatures, and by the time he was 15 such drawings had won him a local reputation and his first earnings as an artist.

Monet's drawings were displayed in the window of a local picture framer's shop, and this led to the great turning point in his life. The landscape painter Eugène Boudin, a native of nearby Honfleur, also showed his work there, and when he met Monet he took the young man (16 years his junior) under his wing and encouraged him to paint alongside him. At this time most landscape paintings were produced in the studio, but Boudin, a specialist in sea and beach scenes, liked to paint in the open air, saying 'Everything that is painted directly and on the spot always has a force, a power, a vivacity of touch that is not to be found in studio work.'

Monet at first found Boudin's painting 'distasteful', but he was soon converted to his friend's way of thinking and in the summer of 1858, at the age of 17, he found that landscape painting from nature was his true Vocation. "Suddenly a veil was torn away. I had understood - I had realized what painting could be. By the single example of this painter devoted to his art with such independence, my destiny as a painter opened out to me.'

picture of paris 1859

The capital of art:
In 1859, when Monet moved to Paris, the city dominated the international art world - painters flocked there from all over Europe. The population at the time was about 1/2 million.

Claude Monet painting of the terrace 1866

A prosperous background:
Monet's father was a successful grocer with a seaside property at Sainte-Adresse, near Le Havre. He is seen there in The Terrace (1866), sitting in a basket chair. Monet's mother had died 10 years earlier.


The superb scenery of his Normandy home and the rapidly changing weather typical of coastal areas provided ideal material for Monet's newfound love. But Paris - the artistic capital not just of France but of the whole world - was a lure for all aspiring artists, and in 1859 Monet went there to pursue his studies, armed with letters of introduction from Boudin and his aunt.

His father wanted him to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the official state school of art, but Monet was always strong-minded and self-confident and preferred to study at the Atelier Suisse. Named after its founder Charles Suisse, this was an independent academy where models were provided but there were no examinations and no & formal tuition. Monet's father cut off his allowance because of his disobedience.

 At the Atelier Suisse, Monet met Camille Pissarro, who was to become one of the central figures of the Impressionist movement, and he frequented the Brasserie des Martyrs in Montmartre, a favorite meeting place of Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and other avant-garde artists.

Monet's growing involvement in the & cultural life of Paris was halted when he was 3 conscripted into the army and in 1861-62 he served in Algeria. He developed anemia and went to convalesce at home, where his family offered to buy him out of the army if he would undertake to study with an established painter.

Monet agreed, but before returning to Paris he met the Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind, who was working at Le Havre and who with Boudin was to be the great mentor of Monet's early career.

The novelist and critic Emile Zola wrote in 1868 of the 'astonishing breadth' and 'masterly simplifications' of Jongkind's paintings, 'rapidly brushed for fear of losing the first impression', and in 1900 Monet said that he owed to him the definitive education of my eye'.

Claude Monet Painting of a floating studio

 A floating studio : When Monet moved to Argenteuil on the Seine in 1871 he built a special floating studio so he could work on the river. This painting, made by Edouard Manet in 1874, shows Monet on the boat with his wife Camille.


In 1862 Monet began to study at the Paris studio of Charles Gleyre, a successful painter of conventional portraits and figure compositions. Monet was not happy following the normal academic training of painting from the nude model, but as his fellow-student Pierre-Auguste Renoir remarked, if Gleyre was 'of no help to his pupils', he at least had the merit of leaving them pretty much to their own devices. Other students included Frédéric Bazille and Alfred Sisley, who with Monet and Renoir, would evolve the Impressionist style of painting. They painted together in the Forest of Fontainebleau, and Bazille, who came from a wealthy family, helped Monet financially until his death in 1870.

Gleyre was forced to close his studio in 1864 because of an eye ailment and Monet's family, dismayed at his bohemian lifestyle, again cut off his allowance. His financial problems continued to be acute throughout the 1860s and even led to a half-hearted attempt at suicide. In 1867 his mistress Camille, of whom his family disapproved, gave birth to his son, and Monet, who was staying at Sainte-Adresse near Le Havre, was so abjectly poor that he could not even raise the money to go to Paris to see them.

In 1870 Monet married Camille, but when war broke out between France and Prussia in the same year, he left her with his son and went to England to avoid having to fight. In London, where his family joined him later, Monet studied the work of Constable and Turner and painted some views of parks and the River Thames, but the most important aspect of his stay was meeting the French picture dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who was the first dealer consistently to support the Impressionists. Although Monet would still know poverty after Durand-Ruel began buying his pictures, his life was no longer the tale of unremitting destitution it had been through so much of the 1860s.

In 1871 Monet returned to France via Holland and rented a house at Argenteuil, a village on the Seine a few miles from Paris. This was one of the most fruitful periods in Monet's life: he was happily married and comparatively prosperous (Camille inherited some money in 1873), and the pleasures of life on the river and along its banks provided him with an abundance of subjects. His friends often visited him, and the bridges and boats of Argenteuil appear again and again in the Impressionist paintings of Renoir and Sisley.

The Birth of Impressionism

The term Impressionism was coined in 1874 when Monet and several of his associates, including Cézanne, Degas, and Renoir, held a group exhibition. A journalist called Louis Leroy made a sarcastic attack on Monet's Impression: Sunrise in a review in the satirical magazine Le Charivari, heading his article ‘Exhibition of the Impressionists. The name stuck. Seven more group exhibitions followed, the last in 1886. Monet showed his work at five of the eight exhibitions

picture of paul durand-ruel

Paul Durand-Ruel:
Durand-Ruel was the earliest and most important of the Impressionists' dealers. After his death in 1922, Monet told his son 'I shall never forget all that my friends and I owe to your father.'

Claude Monet Painting of impression sunrise

Impression: Sunrise (1872):
This view of the harbor at Le Havre gave Impressionism its name. 'What freedom, what ease of workmanship!' wrote the critic Louis Leroy in his mocking review.

cartoon of impressionism mocked

Impressionism mocked:
Critics and cartoonists and found the Impressionists an easy target. Their bright colors and bold brushwork made their paintings seem crude and unfinished compared with the more traditional and sober works to which the public was accustomed.
da peinture intoressionniste.


It was at this period that the Impressionists were most united and in 1874 they held their first exhibition as a group. The show was a commercial failure, as was a group sale in the following year, and when debts began to mount, Monet's idyllic Argenteuil period drew to a close. In 1878 he moved to Vétheuil, still on the Seine, but farther from Paris, and in 1879 Camille died after a long illness. Monet's burden of grief and responsibility (by now he had a second son) was eased by a woman called Alice Hoschedé, the wife of a collector of Impressionist paintings, with whom Monet had begun an affair in 1876. She nursed Camille, looked after the children, and assumed Monet's debts. Monet eventually married her in 1892 after she had become a widow.

In the next few years, Monet moved to various places, including Dieppe, Pourville and Varengéville, all on the Normandy coast. Then in 1883 he finally settled at Giverny, about 40 miles from Paris, on the River Epte, with Madame Hoschede, his children, and her children. By this time the original Impressionist group had virtually broken up, and only Monet continued to pursue the Impressionist ideal - the acute scrutiny of nature.

Monet now had a settled home, but his tremendous energy led him to travel widely in search of subjects, and in the 1880s he worked extensively on the Mediterranean coast as well as in Brittany and Normandy; he also visited Holland and Italy. In the same decade, his reputation began to grow and his fortunes to prosper, thanks in great measure to the efforts of Durand-Ruel, who in 1883 alone organized exhibitions of Impressionist paintings in Berlin, Boston, London, and Rotterdam. By 1890 Monet was secure enough financially to buy the house at Giverny he had previously rented, and in 1891 an exhibition of his paintings at Durand-Ruel's gallery in Paris sold out only three days after opening.

All the paintings at this exhibition were of haystacks, and this marked the beginning of the most original feature of Monet's later career - the production of several series of paintings in which he represented the same subject at different times of the day under different lighting conditions. Monet spent much of his time in his studio developing these series for although he still loved painting out of doors, he now realized that he could more easily obtain the effect he wanted when he had time to reflect away from the subject.

picture of claude monet with his wife

Visits to Venice:
Monet visited Venice in 1908 with his second wife Alice and they returned the following year. He worked hard during these visits but is seen here with Alice in a lighter mood, feeding the pigeons in St Mark's Square.

Monet in London

Monet first went to London in 1870-71. the Franco-Prussian War, during which his friend Frédéric Bazille was killed in action. There he met the picture-dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who had transferred his stock of pictures from Paris when the war began and would later play a key role in establishing Monet's reputation.

Monet did not return to London for almost 30 years, but he then made three visits between 1899 and 1904. On these trips he produced dozens of paintings, concentrating on certain favorite themes, notably the Houses of Parliament and the bridges over the Thames.

waterloo bridge painting by claude monet

 Waterloo Bridge:
(1903) Waterloo Bridge was among Monet's favourite subjects in London. In 1904 he exhibited 37 views of the Thames at Durand-Ruel's gallery in Paris - 18 were of this bridge. The exhibition catalogue said the paintings were the result of 'four years of reflective observation, strenuous effort, prodigious labour'. Monet obtained the high viewpoint from a balcony (no longer in existence) at the Savoy Hotel.

picture of the savoy hotel

The Savoy Hotel:
On his later visits to London, Monet stayed at The Savoy, one of the grandest hotels in the capital, from which he had a good view of the river. When the American painter John Singer Sargent visited Monet there, he found him 'surrounded by some 90 canvases'. Monet did not have time to finish the paintings in London, but shipped them back to France and completed them in his Giverny studio.


As he advanced in years, Monet continues
travel; he visited Norway in 1895 as the gues Queen Christiana, London three times between 1899 and 1904, Madrid in 1904, and Venice in 1908 and 1909. However, his attention was focused mainly on Giverny, and particularly on one part of his home - the water garden that he had developed during the 1890s on a strip of marshland next to his house. Monet had diverted a stream through it and created an exotic world of weeping willows, bamboo, and floating lilies.

He began painting the garden in about 1899, and from about 1906 it became the center of his artistic life, for in the waterlilies, with their everchanging patterns of color and light, he had found an inexhaustible subject: 'my pond had become enchanted'. The first paintings of the garden were about three feet square, but they became larger as Monet's absorption increased, and in 1914 he had a special studio built so he could work on a huge scale. His wife had died three years earlier, but he had the love of his devoted step-daughter, Blanche Hoschedé-Monet, herself a painter, to support him, and he worked with unflagging energy.

By this time Monet was the grand old man of French painting, and it was at the suggestion of the Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, one of the many distinguished visitors to Giverny, that he decided to present several of his waterlily paintings to the nation in the form of an enormous decorative scheme. Monet's sight was failing, his work on the paintings was delayed while he had a cataract operation, and he did not live to see their unveiling in the Orangerie in Paris (part of the Louvre complex) on 17 May 1927. He died aged 86, on 5 December 1926 at Giverny and was buried beside the small village church. In the last year of his life, Monet described his aim as being 'to render my impressions in front of the most fleeting effects', words he could equally have used at any stage during more than half a century of ceaseless creativity.

picture of Claude Monet home


Monet's final home:

In 1883, Monet moved into this splendid house at Giverny, some 40 miles from Paris, where he lived until his death 43 years later. He made numerous paintings of the house and the magnificent garden he created there. Monet's final home:
In 1883, Monet moved into this splendid house at Giverny, some 40 miles from Paris, where he lived until his death 43 years later. He made numerous paintings of the house and the magnificent garden he created there.


The Fleeting Impression

Monet painted in the open air with a speed and fervor no earlier artist had approached. But as he grew older, he saw the need to work more in his studio, to refine and perfect his paintings.

Monet is often considered the greatest and most typical of the Impressionists. This judgment reflects not only the quality of his work but also his wholehearted dedication to the ideals of Impressionism throughout his mature life. he was committed to the Impressionist practice of painting out of doors. This in itself was not new, but Monet made it an article of faith.

None of his predecessors had worked out-of-doors to the same ambitious scale. In the early 19th century, for example, John Constable had often made sketches in oils outdoors, but only as preparatory studies for larger paintings. And Boudin and Jongkind, the two artists who had the most important influence on Monet's early work, also worked on a fairly small scale. Monet differed from these painters both in his conviction and in his ambitions. He made outdoor painting not just a basis for further elaboration, but the central feature of his huge output.

Monet's declared aim was to catch the passing impressions of light and atmosphere, 'the most fleeting effects', as he called them, and in his dedication to this goal, he took measures that often had an element of farce about them. In 1866-7 he painted one of his most famous works, Women in the Garden, on a canvas more than eight feet high, and to enable him to paint all the pictures out-of-doors, he had a trench dug so the canvas could be raised or lowered by pulleys to the required height.

Much later in his career, when he was working on a series of paintings such as his Haystacks, his step-daughter Blanche Hoschedé-Monet used a wheelbarrow to carry his unfinished paintings around the fields with him; when the light changed perceptibly, Monet would switch to another canvas that matched the new conditions.

picture of claude monet at work with daughter

Monet at work:
Under a huge white parasol, Monet works on one of his waterlily paintings in the garden at Giverny. Beside him stands his step-daughter Blanche Hoschedé-Monet, ready to change the canvas on his easel.

women in the garden painting by claude monet

Women in the Garden:
Monet painted this eight-foot-high canvas entirely out-of-doors in 1866-7. According to the painter Gustave Courbet, who visited him, Monet would not paint even the leaves in the background unless the light was just right.

the haystacks painting by claude monet
the haystacks painting by claude monet

Pictures in series:
In 1891, Monet exhibited his first major series of paintings - The Haystacks. These two, from the series of 15, illustrate his fascination with the varied colors produced by natural sunlight.

lady with a parasol painting by claude monet

Lady with a Parasol:
This brisk and vigorous painting, dating from 1886, conveys the atmosphere of a blustery day - the rough brushstrokes of the sky suggest the scudding motion of the clouds. Monet had to work quickly to capture such fast-changing conditions in the weather.


Bad weather did not weaken his determination to capture the effects he wanted. One observer described him working on the Normandy coast in 1885: 'With water streaming under his cape, he painted the storm amid the swirl of the salt water. He had between his knees two or three canvases, which took their place on his easel one after another, each for a few minutes at a time. On the stormy sea different light effects appeared. The painter watched for each of these effects, a slave to the comings and goings of the light, laying down his brush when the effect was gone, placing at his feet the unfinished canvas, ready to resume work upon the return of a vanished impression.'

Such accounts of Monet at work - part-heroic, pat-absurd - illustrate what he and the other Impressionists found was the greatest drawback of their new approach to painting: the effects of nature change so quickly that the more sensitive artist is to them, the less time he can spend on a picture before any particular effect has gone Referring to his haystack series in October 1890 Monet wrote: 'I really am working terribly hard struggling with a series of different effects, but at this time of year the sun sets so quickly that I can't keep up with it.' To overcome this problem Monet began to work more and more in the studio to re-touch or révise his paintings. But publicly he liked to maintain his image as an outdoor painter.

camille on her deathbed painting by claude monet

Camille on her Deathbed:
Monet's first wife died in 1879. Despite his grief, he still looked at her with the eye of a painter, noticing “the arrangement of colored gradations that death was imposing on her motionless face'.

The Streets of Paris

Before Monet arrived in Paris in 1859, few artists had bothered to paint the city's streets. To academic painters, everyday scenes. seemed dirty, drab, and vulgar. But when the Impressionists began working out-of-doors in the 1860s, Paris was not just a new subject for painters, it had literally been transformed: by Baron Haussmann, civil servant and town planner to Emperor Napoleon III.

From 1853 onwards, Haussmann had been in charge of rebuilding the capital, tearing down old shops and houses to create the wide boulevards that lead to the Arc de Triomphe and other focal points. And the Paris we see today remains very much the city we see in the paintings of Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro.

pierre-auguste renoir painting of pont neuf

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) Pont Neuf:
Horse-drawn carriages and buses - all driving on the right - cross the wide 'new bridge' at the heart of Paris. Painting in 1872, soon after the Franco-Prussian War, Renoir shows soldiers in uniform mingling with street vendors and ladies with their children.

camille pissarro painting of the boulevard montmarte

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903):

The Boulevard Montmartre Pissarro's evocative canvas, painted in 1897, shows carriages parked along this fashionable street. Rows of gas lights recede into the distance, emphasizing the formal layout of the city.

Regatta at Argenteuil (1872):
(above and right) In the reflection of boat sails on the River Seine, Monet reveals his skill at painting water. He conveys the flickering movement of the ripples with just a few brushstrokes so bold that when enlarged (detail) they seem almost abstract. Monet's love for water - first developed during his childhood by the sea – never left him. He once said jokingly that he would like to be buried in a buoy.

Claude Monet Painting of regatta at argenteuil
Claude Monet Painting of regatta at argenteuil


Monet developed a free and spontaneous painting technique that enabled him to work at speed. His brushwork is remarkably flexible and varied, sometimes broad and sweeping, sometimes fragmented and sparkling. Occasionally he used the handle of the brush to scratch through the paint surface and create a more broken, textured effect. His last paintings, the great series representing the waterlilies in his garden at Giverny, were executed more slowly than his earlier works and many of them have a richly encrusted surface, the paint dragged and superimposed, layer upon shimmering layer.

 Paul Cézanne, a landscape painter of equal stature, declared that Monet was 'only an eye, but, my God, what an eye! Many of Monet's own observations seem to bear out that this was the way he thought of himself. He told a pupil that 'he wished he had been born blind and then suddenly regained his sight so that he would have begun to paint without knowing what the objects were that he saw before him. And he advised 'When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have in front of you, a tree, a field ... Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape until it gives your own naïve impression of the scene.'

 But no artist simply reproduces what he sees in front of him, and although Monet might strive to be objective, he was never impersonal. His increasing reliance on studio work shows that he realized that his art consisted not merely in observing and recording, but in finding a pictorial equivalent - in opaque paint on a two-dimensional surface - for the infinitely varied effects of light. And as with all great art, there is a dimension to Monet's work that ultimately evades analysis or explanation. His great series of waterlily paintings, in particular, are the product not simply of an exceptionally keen eye and an unerring hand, but also of a poetic spirit.


Rouen Cathedral
Monet painted his famous series of Rouen Cathedral scenes following the success of the Haystacks series, exhibited in 1891. The unusual choice of a cathedral for his subject was probably influenced by the severe rheumatism Monet had suffered since 1890. This made it arduous to work in the open air ('I endure torment in rain and snow'), so a view he could paint from a window, protected from the weather, had an advantage over outdoor subjects.

The series took three years to complete. Monet spent several weeks in Rouen in 1892 and 1893, then finished the paintings in his Giverny studio during the winter of 1894-5.

picture of rouen cathedral

Rouen Cathedral in Full Sunlight:
(above right) As the 19th-century photograph makes clear, Monet radically simplified the intricate lace-like forms of the Gothic cathedral, preferring to capture the haze created by full sunlight. To achieve such luminous effects, he mixed his colors with white, rather than using them straight from the tube.

rouen cathedral in full sunlight painting by claude monet
rouen cathedral in full sunlight painting by claude monet

Melting the stone:

A detail from Rouen Cathedral in Full Sunlight shows how the richly clotted, shimmering quality of Monet's paint dissolves the solid stone into a translucent haze.

Three variations:
Although Monet viewed the cathedral mainly from a single window, he seems also to have used photographs and engravings of the cathedral as aids to composition. The three paintings above indicate some of the different viewpoints he adopted; the one on the right is very close in angle of view to the photograph on the opposite page. Monet's lighting is subtly varied, but the cool tones seen in all the paintings reflect the time of year - he worked in Rouen mainly during the winter months of February and March.

rouen cathedral painting by claude monet
rouen cathedral painting by claude monet
rouen cathedral painting by claude monet


From the start of his long career, Monet worked mostly in the open air, concentrating on scenes that he knew well. Wild Poppies were painted at Argenteuil, a pretty riverside village just outside Paris, where the artist and his family settled in 1871. Monet loved to paint the boats on the Seine with their sails reflected in the river's rippling waters - like those in The Bridge at Argenteuil.

Such tranquil, rural scenes contrast strikingly with the crowded streets of Paris shown in his paintings of the Boulevard des Capucines and the Rue Montorgueil. But the effects of light and atmosphere gradually became more important to Monet than the objects in his paintings. In the Gare St-Lazare, for example, it was the smoke - not the train - which most fascinated the artist.

In later life, when Monet moved to Giverny, he developed the unique format of pictorial series - numerous versions of the same view seen under different lighting conditions. These were designed to be exhibited as a group, and since each canvas captured a particular instant, together they recorded time passing. Poplars and Rouen Cathedral each form part of a series, but the most spectacular of all is the series devoted to Waterlilies. Monet's exotic water garden was virtually his only subject during the last 20 years of his life, inspiring some of his most hauntingly beautiful works.

wild poppies painting by claude monet

Wild Poppies:
This little painting of Monet's wife Camille and son Jean walking through a field of poppies was shown at the first impressionist exhibition in 1874. Camille and Jean appear twice in the painting, a device which draws the eye repeatedly to the traingular hillside of bright red poppies.

boulevard des capucines painting of claude monet

Boulevard des Capucines 1873:
Monet may have worked from a photograph when painting this wintry scene. On the right, a top-hatted figure looks down from a window; below, a dash of pink may represent a cluster of balloons.

the bridge at argenteuil painting by claude monet

The Bridge at Argenteuil:
Monet lived at Argenteuil, near Paris, for seven years and made several paintings of sailing boats on the Seine. In this tranquil scene, the impression of broken reflections on the shimmering water is conveyed by well-defined brushstrokes of pure color.


Monet's Garden

The magnificent garden at Giverny took Monet almost 20 years to create and demanded all his artistic skills and imagination. For the rest of his life, it provided endless subjects for his paintings.

Rarely has an artist left behind such a complete record of his inspiration as did Monet at Giverny. There, in the garden on which he lavished care and attention for over 40 years, view after view conjures up his paintings: the lily pond, the footbridge, the rose trellises. The garden was really an extension of his art.

Giverny lies some 40 miles northwest of Paris, in the rolling countryside of Normandy, where two small tributaries, the Epte and the Ru, flow into the Seine. The village nestles against wooded hills, overlooking a broad panorama of fields dotted with lines of willow and poplar.


The property which Monet rented for his large household in 1883 stood at the foot of these hills - a long, pink house with shutters. Two acres of orchard sloped gently towards a narrow road, beyond which lush water meadows stretched down to the river. The garden then was formal and uninspired. A broad, tree-lined central walk led up to the house, flanked by two long flowerbeds edged with clipped box hedges. At that time, there was little to excite the eye.

Wherever he had lived before, Monet had always created gardens, but Giverny provided scope for his most ambitious plans. It was late spring when the family moved in. Monet immediately reorganized the kitchen garden to ensure a supply of vegetables, then set to work on the house and flower garden. Trellises were erected against the house to support clematis, climbing roses, and Virginia creeper. He chose the same shade of green to paint the shutters, doors, and porch of the house as he would later use for the arches and trellises in the garden and for the Japanese bridge.

The fruit trees in the orchard were uprooted and replaced with lawns, shaded by ornamental cherries and japonicas and edged with a brilliant profusion of flowering plants. New flower bees were dug, intersected by neat gravel pa straight lines and rectangles, which disappeared under the dense carpet of flowers.

The clipped box hedges were removed and the spruce and cypress trees lining the central walk were cut down - only two yews were left. By the 1890s a series of curving arches spanned the walk, draped with climbing roses and clematis. Masses of irises, poppies, asters, pansies and peonies bordered the walk beneath the arches while trailing nasturtiums spread over the path.

Monet had approached the garden much as he would a canvas, using the same principles that governed his palette. Flowers with light, bright blooms were planted in clumps of contrasting colours, set off against green foliage - no coloured or variegated leaves were used. Monet avoided flowers with large blossoms, preferring festoons of small-headed flowers clustering together to produce a mass of colour.

picture of claude monet

Monet the gardener:
Monet lavished care on his garden and toured it several times each day. A visitor commented that: 'Monet is perhaps seen at his best, and certainly in his most genial mood, when – cigar at full blast - he strolls around his propriété at Giverny.'

picture of claude monet's garden central path

The central path:
The view from the back doors of the house looked down between the two yew trees along a broad central path overgrown by trailing nasturtiums. The trellised supported roses and tulips, clematis.


In the early spring, yellow jasmine and Christmas roses gave way to crocuses, narcissi, tulips, azaleas, rhododendrons and flowering cherries, with dense carpets of forget-me-nots. Later peonies, poppies and banks of irises would appear with clematis and climbing roses clambering around trellis and arch.

At the height of summer, the garden was a blaze of saffron, vermilion and blue - aubrietia covered the ground, while geraniums,daisies, zinnias, marigolds, lilies, pinks, and cannas flowered in abundance.

Monet's garden included several hundred varieties of native and imported plants and up to the end of his life the artist took delight in adding to his collection - the rare tree peonies in the water garden, for instance, and bulbs of lilies quite unknown in France were given to him by his friends the Kurokis, who were influential Japanese art collectors.

He also encouraged his children to study botany, and in the early years at Giverny, experiments in cross-breeding made by his son Michel and step-son Jean-Pierre accidentally resulted in a new type of poppy, which they named Papaver Moneti.

'My garden is slow work, pursued by love, Monet once said, 'and I do not deny that I am proud of it. I dug, planted, and weeded myself; in the evenings the children watered. By 1890, Monet was wealthy enough to buy the house and make still more improvements: in 1892 three greenhouses were built and stocked with exotic orchids, begonias, figs, and tropical ferns.

Now Monet took on a team of six gardeners who worked under his close supervision. With the head gardener, he inspected the garden every day, ordering all dead flower heads to be removed.

picture of claude monet garden japanese bridge

The Japanese bridge:
Just inside the water garden Monet built a hog-backed wooden footbridge, based on one in a Japanese print that hung in the dining room. The bridge was draped with clusters of white and mauve wisteria.


In 1893 Monet bought another plot of land across the road at the bottom of his garden, intending to enlarge a tiny pond already there, and to create a water garden. To do this, it was necessary to divert the River Ru.

Monet was not liked by the villagers, and they bitterly resented his plan. Monet himself was judged to be aloof, and his family seemed to have no clear-cut social status. The villagers had already claimed compensation for alleged damage to their fields, through which the Monet family frequently trekked to where their boats were moored.

Now Monet's plans for a pond stocked with rare plants are met with suspicion. The women, who washed their linen in the Ru, claimed it would be a health hazard. And local peasants feared that their COWS would be poisoned by drinking river water contaminated by strange plants. Finally, with many conditions, permission was granted. The mood and atmosphere of the water garden were very different from the exuberance of the flower garden. Here all was cool and tranquil. The pool was strewn with exotic varieties of waterlily-white, yellow, mauve, and rose - with clumps of bamboo, weeping willows, irises, and tamarisk smothering the banks. Monet added the Japanese footbridge, a simple wooden arch with no supporting piers, painted in his favorite brilliant green. To this, some years later, trellises were added to support masses of wisteria.

In 1901 Monet received permission to extend the pond further since the size and shape had become too restricting to him as he painted it more and more. By deepening the curve and extending its length, he achieved a greater sense of space, creating marvelous vistas from all around the pond. More species of lilies were introduced and soon it was the sole task of a gardener to care for the pool, for which he used a small boat permanently moored at the edge.

Just as his flower garden had gradually become a recurrent theme of his painting, so the waterlily pond and footbridge had begun to absorb Monet. As he grew older he turned almost exclusively to his garden for ideas and right up to the very end of his life he remained fascinated by the pool, with its beautiful, shimmering reflections.

picture of claude monet water garden

The water garden:
(above and left) At the foot of the gently sloping flower garden, Monet created a beautiful water garden in the japanese style. He enlarged a small pond bt diverting the tiny River Ru into the garden, then filled the pool with aquatic plants and waterlilies.

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