Who Are They?

Who is Claude Monet?

Have you ever wanted to capture a moment? To make a picture that shows not just how something looks, but also how it makes you feel? Meet the man who did just that!

Claude Monet, ‘Water-Lilies’ after 1916
Claude Monet
Water-Lilies after 1916
Lent by the National Gallery 1997
Courtesy National Gallery, London 2003. Photo:Tate

Can you tell what this is a picture of?

It's not immediately obvious as it looks a bit blurry; but the clue is in the name of the painting. It's called Water-Lilies. Can you see the shapes of the flat leaves and pale flowers on the shimmering water? It was painted by artist Claude Monet who was one of the main impressionist artists.

Impressionism is a style of painting that began in France in the early 1860s when artists started painting pictures outside, rather than in their studios. This was called 'en plein air' (which is French for open air). They wanted to capture moments in time. Because the light conditions kept changing, they had to work very quickly, using quick, gestural brushstrokes of paint. This picture by another impressionist artist shows Claude Monet painting outside.

John Singer Sargent, ‘Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood’ ?1885
John Singer Sargent
Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood ?1885
Tate

Monet was born in Paris in 1840 and as a child he showed great talent as an artist. In 1872 he painted a picture of a harbour using very loose brushstrokes. He called the picture Impression, Sunrise and exhibited it along with paintings by his friends who also painted 'en plein air'. The artists became known as the impressionists after the title of Monet's painting.

This picture of water lilies was part of a series Monet painted of his water garden at his house at Giverny. They are the most celebrated paintings of Monet's career. Today we call these pictures abstract-impressionist paintings, because the surface of the pond fills the entire canvas with light and colour and the picture looks almost abstract.

Detail of Claude Monet's Water-Lilies after 1916

Claude Monet
Water-lilies [detail], after 1916
Courtesy National Gallery, London 2003. Photo: Tate

If you look closely at the painting, can you see how Monet has tried to capture light and reflection on the surface of the water by using dabs of white paint?

Monet painted water-lilies in all seasons and in all weathers for over 30 years.

This particular painting of water-lilies was painted after 1916, during a very sad time in Monet's life. His wife had died and his son had been killed in the First World War. The fighting was so close to Monet's house that he could hear the guns from his garden.

Do you think it is strange that he painted such a calm and beautiful picture when there was chaos all around him? Perhaps he wanted to paint something that made him happy, like his pond.

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