9 Interesting Facts About Claude Monet

Claude Monet was an iconic impressionist artist who created around 2500 artworks and lived quite a captivating yet sorrowful life.

May 16, 2024By Mihaela Gutu, MA Literary Translations, BA EN/DE Language and Literature

claude monet facts


One cannot discuss Impressionism or plein air painting without referencing Claude Monet. His artworks revolved around light, shade, and color. Monet was so obsessed with these things that he painted the same scene multiple times just to show how light and seasons changed the look of something. Nonetheless, Monet’s artworks were not always widely praised and he struggled financially for many years. Keep reading to discover nine things you may not have known about the artist.


1. Monet’s Father Did Not Want Him to Be a Painter

Portrait of Claude Monet by Charles Emile Auguste Carolus Duran, 1867. Source: Meisterdrucke


Claude Monet was the son of Louise Justine Aubree Monet and Claude Adolphe Monet. His mother was a singer passionate about poetry, while his father was working in the family’s grocery business. When Monet expressed his desire to become a painter, he received all but praise from his father. Adolphe Monet wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and run their family business.


This was a turning point in their relationship, which had repercussions throughout Monet’s life. In 1867, when Monet’s first son Jean was born, the artist found himself struggling financially. It is believed that his father stopped giving him money because he was not legally married to Camille, Jean’s mother. This wasn’t the only situation when Adolphe refused to help his son.


2. Monet’s Served in the Military

algeria military service
Algeria. Vue sur la Basse Ville et la Marine. Source: HistoryToday


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In 1861, Claude Monet was called for military service. His father had the means to keep him in France. The thing is, he was only willing to do so if Monet gave up on his career as a painter. Obviously, Monet refused and subsequently left for Algeria where he served under the Chasseurs d’Afrique.


The artist later stated that Algeria was among the few places that had such a big impact on how he perceived light and color, as they were so different there than in his native France.


Of the seven mandatory years, Monet served only one. He contracted typhoid, and his aunt, whom he lived with after his mother’s death, paid to get him released. He returned to Paris and continued studying art. During his classes, Monet met his close friends Frédéric Bazille, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. That’s when the four realized their interests leaned toward painting landscapes and scenes from everyday life rather than historical events.


3. Monet Attempted Suicide

ships riding seine rouen claude monet
Ships Riding on the Seine at Rouen by Claude Monet, 1872-1873. Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington


It is not surprising to learn that many artists who changed the course of art were not too praised at the beginning of their careers. It wasn’t until the 1880s that Monet started being appreciated for the artworks that represented his creative means and perspectives the most.


Until then, he struggled financially. His depression deepened after the birth of his son, who brought upon him both tremendous joy and terrible worry caused by the rising debts. These circumstances put him in a tight spot, which culminated in his attempt to kill himself by drowning in the Seine.


Luckily, he came to his senses in time and swam back to the shore. Afterward, he confessed to a friend that he had tried to kill himself.


4. Monet Founded the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers

impression sunrise claude monet
Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet, 1872. Source: Google Arts and Culture


After discovering their passion for outdoor painting and alienating themselves more and more from the dominant styles of art, Monet and other painters who adopted the same technique began submitting their works to the Salon. All were rejected. They were rejected even by the Salon des Refusés, organized particularly for pieces that had been rejected by the jury of the official Salon.


The artists did not give up, though. They decided to exhibit their paintings independently. As such, in 1873, they founded The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers. Its members were Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Dega, Jacob Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, and Berthe Morisot. Their first independent exhibition took place in April of 1874 and presented the works of 30 artists.


This particular exhibition gave rise to the term Impressionism. Louis Leroy wrote about the exhibition, mentioning Monet’s work Impression, Sunrise, in an article entitled The Exhibition of the Impressionists. Shortly after, the public started using the term Impressionism to refer to the artworks signed by the Anonymous Society’s members. At first, it was used in a hostile way, pointing to the fact that the pieces of art were unfinished.


5. Monet’s Greatest Inspiration Was His Garden

claude monet garden giverny
Claude Monet in His Garden at Giverny, Étienne Clémentel, 1917. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Because Monet consolidated the foundation of the en plein air painting, it is not surprising that he found peace in gardening. It is believed that his first garden was cultivated in Argenteuil and served as inspiration for and motif of multiple paintings. However, it wasn’t until 1883, when he moved to Giverny, that Monet felt he was finally at home. Even though the house his family rented had a small garden, this was not enough for him. The artist hired several gardeners and provided them with thorough instructions on how to design the soon-to-be expanded gardens.


Luckily, he now had the means to pursue this passion of his and he even purchased a territory in the vicinity with a small pond, which would eventually become a big water garden. He bought rare plants that originated from all over the world, enriched the soil, and, once he expanded his water garden, added more and more water lilies. The garden in Giverny inspired Monet to begin working on his famous series of paintings. Monet’s garden in Giverny still exists, enriching every visitor’s experience with bright colors, serene places, and out-of-this-world tranquility. It is open seven months a year and welcomes half a million visitors annually.


6. Monet Executed 250 Oil Paintings of Water Lilies

water lilies claude monet
Le matin clair aux saules (Water Lilies series) by Claude Monet, 1914-1926. Source: Wikimedia Commons


In 1899, Monet began working on his most remarkable series of paintings—his Water Lilies. He executed around 250 oil paintings depicting water lilies that were growing in his garden. He was already famous for his series of artworks. The Rouen Cathedral series, for example, included approximately thirty different works showing the same cathedral. The Water Lilies series focused primarily on the surface of the pond and somehow lacked a well-outlined understanding of space, as he painted horizontal surfaces on vertical ones. The sky, the trees, and other surrounding elements were depicted only as reflections. Monet continued working on his Water Lilies series up until his death.


7. Monet Was Obsessed with Light, Color, and Shade

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Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son by Claude Monet, 1875. Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington


To say that Monet was passionate about light, color, and shade is an understatement. While working on the Rouen Cathedral series, Monet dreamed about it every night. He labeled these dreams as nightmares. He dreamed of the cathedral in so many colors and with so many elements that he started feeling desperate. Even after his wife, Camille, had died, Monet could not help but analyze the light and colors on her wife’s dead face. It was only years later that he confessed these thoughts to his friend, Georges Clemenceau. He ended up painting the image he was obsessed with in Camille on Her Deathbed, an artwork that was never sold or displayed. It is now one of Monet’s most powerful and complex oil paintings.


8. Monet’s Art Was Influenced by Ukiyo-e art

garden sainte adresse claude monet
Garden at Sainte-Adresse by Claude Monet, 1867. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Monet had an extensive collection of Japanese woodcut prints, otherwise known as ukiyo-e, a Japanese art genre. He first immersed himself in the universe of Japanese art in 1871 when he bought some Japanese prints that served as wrapping paper. The Japanese woodblock prints depicted scenes from history, folk tales, beautiful women, sumo wrestlers, landscapes featuring plants and animals, as well as shunga or erotic scenes. Ukiyo-e artists focused on producing prints outlined by a bold, flat line in a flat-spaced composition. Other characteristics that defined ukiyo-e prints included asymmetrical composition, unusual viewpoints, cropped images, and sharply defined contours.


Although Monet did not actually borrow anything from the Japanese prints, he was inspired primarily by the unconventional angles and compositions. When analyzing his Jardin à Sainte-Adresse, for example, one becomes slightly confused regarding the angle the painter used and its two-dimensional aspect. The main three horizontal lines do not seem to fade into space and depict close and far views but rather rise parallel to each other. It is thought that the painting was inspired by a print signed by Hokusai, Turban-shell Hall of the Five-Hundred-Rakan Temple.


9. Claude Monet Had Cataracts

reflection weeping willow claude monet
Reflection of a Weeping Willow (Water Lilies series) by Claude Monet, 1916-1919. Source: Wikimedia Commons


In his 60s, Monet started having problems with his eyesight. In 1913, Richard Liebreich, a German ophthalmologist, suspected Monet had cataracts and recommended surgery. The artist refused. Apparently, Honoré Daumier and Mary Cassatt’s cataract surgeries were unsuccessful, which frightened Monet. As he said: I prefer to make the most of my poor sight and even give up painting if necessary, but at least be able to see a little of these things that I love.


Over time, Monet’s perception of colors changed, which can be seen in his works. His paintings started going increasingly darker while his style was slowly changing. To prevent his poor vision from changing his artworks, Monet started labeling his tubes of paints. He also wore big straw hats when he painted outside to avoid sunlight glare. He relied on his memory and imagination.


Specialists believe that his poor vision was the reason behind the more abstract style observed in his paintings signed after 1914. Most likely, it was not a conscious experimentation of a new style. This is indicated by the fact that the paintings executed after his surgery resembled the artworks signed before 1914. Still, had it not been for them, the bridge between impressionism and modern abstract art might not have been as solid. In 1923, Monet agreed to undergo cataract surgery, which was successful. Once his vision improved, he returned to the works he had already painted, choosing to retouch some pieces and destroying others.

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By Mihaela GutuMA Literary Translations, BA EN/DE Language and LiteratureMihaela is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. She’s an avid reader of classic literature with a background in literary studies and literary translations. She is obsessed with language grammar and syntax, so spending hours dissecting sentences and texts is a pleasure for her. Mihaela grew up in a family full of artists. Although she pursued a career in literary arts, she’s also passionate about performing arts (particularly dance) and visual arts. In her free time, Mihaela plays with her cat Cappuccino, binge-watches TV series, rereads her favorite books for the tenth time, and spends time online learning new stuff.