French artist Claude Monet (1849-1926) sought to find the perfect fusion of light and subject, capturing the spontaneous impressions of nature. His 1874 painting, Impression, Sunrise gave the Impressionist movement its name.
"Light is the most important person in the picture," he explained.
The son of a grocer, Monet began painting outdoors when he was 18. "Suddenly," he said, "a veil was torn away. I had understood--I had realized what painting could be."
He painted simple landscapes, seascapes and river scenes with subtle harmonies. As his style developed, he violated one traditional artistic convention after another. He experimented with outdoor sunlight, with direct, sketch-like application of bright color.
"I am following Nature without being able to grasp her... I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers," he said. With confidence, he became more and more daring, painting things as if he were seeing them for the first time.
Monet explained, "No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition."
At Giverny, a small village fifty miles northwest of Paris, he cultivated the garden that was to dominate his work for forty years. Zinnias, fuchsias, hollyhocks, daisies flourished under his painstaking attention and spiritual grace.
The water lilies were his greatest prize and he recorded their beauty, their changes in light and atmosphere, in every season.
An art dealer, overwhelmed by one of Monet's 3,000 works, described the painting's water and sky as having "neither beginning nor end. It is mysterious, delightfully unreal."
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