How Claude Monet Continues to Shape Modern and Contemporary Art

Isabella de Souza
written by Isabella de Souza,
Date of publication23 Feb 2024
Last updated26 Apr 2024
This painting by Claude Monet shows a wooden bridge over a lily pond. The colour palette is almost entirely done in shades of green.Image © Philadelphia Museum of Art / Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny © Claude Monet 1899
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Claude Monet (1840-1926) was a foundational figure in the Impressionist circle, a pivotal art movement that emerged in France in the late 19th century. His work, life, and enduring legacy are interwoven with the evolution of modern art, marking him as one of the most influential figures in all of art history. From Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein to David Hockney and Banksy, modern and contemporary artists have continuously paid homage to his techniques and approach to capturing life.

A view. ofthe Rouen Cathedral, done in large, blurred brushstrokes. The colour palette is mostly tone in tones of gold, with some blue to depict shadows and the skyImage © Public Domain / Rouen Cathedral © Claude Monet 1894

Claude Monet: The Man Who Painted Time

Monet was born in Paris, France, but grew up in Le Havre, Normandy. Early in his life, he developed an interest in art, initially gaining recognition for his caricatures. However, his artistic direction changed after meeting Eugène Boudin, a local landscape artist who introduced him to outdoor painting – a practice that would become a cornerstone of his work and influence millions of artists after. Monet's early work already hinted at what would become the hallmarks of Impressionism: a focus on light, colour and the immediate visual impression of a scene rather than detailed, realistic representations. The term "Impressionism" itself comes from Monet's painting Impression, Sunrise, which was showcased in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Critics initially used the term derogatorily, but the artists embraced it, and it eventually became synonymous with one of the most important movements in the history of art.

Monet's approach to painting was characterised by loose brushwork and an exquisite sense of light and colour, aimed to capture the fleeting moments of the natural world. He often painted the same scene multiple times to capture the changing conditions of light and weather, a technique evident in his series paintings like those of the Rouen Cathedral, Haystacks, and Water Lilies. His garden in Giverny, where he moved in 1883, provided the subject matter for some of his most famous series, including the water lily pond that he meticulously designed and is perhaps best known for. In his later years, as his sight deteriorated, Monet's work became more abstract – a transition that some art historians see as a precursor to Abstract Expressionism. Despite suffering from cataracts, he continued to paint until his death in 1926. His last series of water lilies, massive panels intended to envelop the viewer in their natural scene, are considered some of his masterpieces and are displayed in the Orangerie Museum in Paris.

Monet's legacy in art history is monumental and has influenced generations of artists. His techniques and approach to capturing the essence of the natural environment opened new avenues for artistic exploration.

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Beyond Impressionism: How Claude Monet Paved the Way for Modern Art

Monet’s approach to painting and perception laid the groundwork for various art movements that emerged in the 20th and 21st centuries. Even in his own lifetime, he was incredibly influential and his work was the basis of the Post-Impressionist movement, a group of artists including Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. These artists took Impressionism's preoccupations in different directions, experimenting with colour theory. form and line to express more subjective and symbolic content. His emphasis on the painterly qualities of his brushstrokes was also influential to the Fauves, including Henri Matisse and André Derain, who pushed Monet's explorations to new heights. They used colour in bold, non-naturalistic ways, emphasising its emotional impact.

Monet's later works, particularly his water lilies series – which verged on abstraction, largely due to his cataracts – had a significant impact on Abstract Expressionists in the mid-20th century. Artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were influenced by Monet's emphasis on the physical act of painting and his focus on the canvas as an arena to express inner states. Monet's gradual abstraction of the natural world can be seen as a precursor to their interest in portraying emotion through abstract forms.

Some of the greatest masters of the 20th and 21st centuries have paid homage to Monet’s contributions to the discipline.

Roy Lichtenstein: Haystacks, Cathedrals, Water Lilies

Throughout his career, Roy Lichtenstein has referenced Monet’s work several times. By substituting Monet's fluid brushstrokes with precise Ben Day dots and vibrant colours, Lichtenstein transforms the subtle interplay of light and colour into graphic, comic book-style images that engage with the commercialisation of visual culture. This reinterpretation not only pays tribute to Monet's exploration of the transient effects of light but also reexamines themes of perception and repetition within the context of contemporary art.

Haystacks

Lichtenstein's 1969 Haystack series directly references Monet’s haystacks, which the Impressionist master painstakingly represented in all weathers and times of the day. Lichtenstein’s adaptation of the theme diverges from Monet's focus on natural light and the passage of time, emphasising instead the process of seeing through the replication and manipulation of iconic images using his signature Ben Day dots and bold outlines.

Cathedral

At the same time, Lichtenstein created the Cathedral series, which references Monet's Rouen Cathedral. While the series pays homage to Monet's painterly investigation of light's ephemeral qualities on the cathedral's facade, Lichtenstein characteristically introduces a critical dialogue on the modern art practice of borrowing and transforming historical styles and techniques. Through these cathedrals, Lichtenstein bridges the gap between the commercial and the canonical, recontextualising Monet's Impressionist brushwork within the framework of Pop Art's critique of art history.

Water Lilies

In 1992, Lichtenstein once again paid homage to Monet, with his series Water Lilies referencing the iconic Nymphéas. This collection of six screen prints on stainless steel encapsulates Lichtenstein's enduring fascination with the interplay between naturalistic imagery and the artificiality intrinsic to the historical style of nature painting. In distilling the essence of Monet's water lilies to their most basic pictorial elements, Lichtenstein shifts focus from the overall landscape to the meticulous details within, transforming organic forms into exaggerated contours and solid bands of colour.

The methodological shift from Monet's evocative brushstrokes to Lichtenstein's mechanised dots reflects a broader investigation into the nature of art creation, perception, and the role of seriality in art. By projecting and tracing his compositions, Lichtenstein's approach mirrors pointillism through a distinctly 20th-century lens, showcasing how technology influences the reinterpretation of historical art. Lichtenstein's work, by merging industrial aesthetics with Impressionist motifs, invites a reconsideration of Monet's legacy, suggesting the enduring relevance of his concerns in a new era dominated by screens and mass media, thus redefining our understanding of art historical seriality and the authenticity of repetition.

Andy Warhol's Cologne Cathedral

Andy Warhol, primarily known for his profound impact on the Pop Art movement and his exploration of commercial and popular culture, ventured into a somewhat unexpected territory with his Cologne Cathedral series. Showcasing his unique ability to infuse contemporary art with historical and architectural themes, it turns the iconic Gothic structure into a subject of High Pop drama. By capturing the Cologne Cathedral from a low angle, Warhol highlights its architectural grandeur, one of Germany's most visited landmarks, but also injects a sense of modern vibrancy typical of his artistic sensibilities. The cathedral's rich history, dating back to 1248, is reimagined through Warhol's lens.

Similarly to Lichtenstein, there is a distinct connection between Warhol's Cathedral and Monet's Rouen Cathedral series, as both artists selected a Gothic cathedral as their muse, each through a different aesthetic lens. In both instances, however, the building remains the same – changed only in its hues and slight variation. Both series underscore the artists' fascination with the cathedral as a subject, exploring its aesthetic and symbolic significance through the repetition of imagery. Warhol's exploration of Cologne Cathedral stands out as a rare foray into architecture, suggesting a personal connection or fascination with the building's historical depth. Unlike the majority of his work, which often centred around consumerism and celebrity, this series offers a different facet of Warhol's artistic oeuvre – one that bridges a unique connection to Monet's Impressionist depictions of Rouen Cathedral.

David Hockney: Painting En Plein Air

David Hockney has drawn inspiration from a wide range of artistic movements and styles throughout his career. Among these influences, Impressionism holds a significant place, particularly in shaping his approach to the depiction of the natural world. The Impressionist fascination with the ever-changing quality of light and its impact on colour is a theme that Hockney has seamlessly incorporated into his work, as Hockney has adopted the Impressionist technique of painting en plein air – which allows him to observe and respond to the immediate nuances of the natural world. This approach is particularly evident in his landscape paintings such as those on the Yosemite series, where he skilfully recreates the vibrant interplay of light on water, the shifting hues of the seasons and the luminous qualities of the California sun. Hockney has also embraced their use of loose and visible brushwork, often employing small, distinct brushstrokes in his paintings. His brushwork, like that of the Impressionists, allows viewers to see the individual marks and strokes, inviting them to engage with the painting's surface and appreciate the artist's creative process.

The influence of Monet on Hockney's work is unmistakable. His keen appreciation for the personal interpretation of landscapes and portraiture all bear the mark of Impressionist principles. Hockney does not merely mimic the past, but rather integrates these influences into his distinctive style, creating a body of work that pays homage to the Impressionists while maintaining its own modern and timeless appeal.

This image shows a painting within a golden frame. The painting shows Monet's garden at Giverny, with the Japanese bridge overlooking a pond with water lilies. Banksy, however, has added a traffic cone and two discarded supermarket trolleys to the scene.Image © Sotheby's / Show Me The Monet © Banksy 2005

Banksy: Show Me The Monet

Monet’s work is so iconic that it has become referential even in contemporary street art. This is vividly illustrated by Banksy's piece Show Me The Monet, which sold for a staggering £7,551,600 at Sotheby’s Post Contemporary Evening Auction on October 21, 2020, becoming the second most expensive Banksy painting ever auctioned at the time. The work is a poignant critique of consumer culture's impact on nature, highlighting society’s neglect of environmental concerns in pursuit of consumer excess. He juxtaposes the traditional admiration for landscape art with the irony of environmental damage caused by the very societies that celebrate such art. Dating back to Banksy's 2005 exhibition Crude Oils, where he reimagined classic works with a contemporary dark twist, disrupted by symbols of modern consumer waste.

Show Me The Monet is illustrative of Banksy's masterful fusion of classic art with urgent contemporary issues, offering a stark visual commentary on the clash between consumerism and environmental stewardship. By recontextualising Monet’s idyllic landscape with modern detritus, Banksy pays homage to the enduring influence of Monet and challenges viewers to reflect on the environmental costs of modern life. This piece and its successful auction underscores the continuing relevance of Monet’s work, and Banksy’s ability to reflect thought and debate on societal issues at large.

Monet's Enduring Legacy

Monet's profound impact on contemporary art transcends mere stylistic influence, forging a legacy centred on the nuanced exploration of perception, light and nature. This enduring legacy is evident in the works of contemporary artists like Olafur Eliasson and James Turrell, who, through their immersive installations, echo Monet's fascination with light and environmental dynamics. Similarly, Andy Goldsworthy's site-specific interventions in natural landscapes channel Monet's commitment to capturing the transient beauty of the natural world.

Beyond specific techniques or motifs, Monet's most significant contribution lies in his approach to art as a means of engaging with and interpreting reality, encouraging artists across generations to maintain a vibrant dialogue with the natural world. This philosophical and methodological influence ensures Monet's place in the continuum of art history, inspiring continuous innovation in how artists see and represent the world around them.

Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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