In 1906, Derain met Picasso and his dealer, who purchased Derain’s entire studio, creating newfound financial success. During this time, he was hired for the illustrations for works by Guillaume Apollinaire and Andre Breton. After World War I, his friend’s Cubism movement affected his art, along with influence from Classicism and African Art.
Derain stayed in Paris during most of the Occupation, where he was esteemed by the Nazis because of his artistic integrity. Hitler’s Foreign Minister commissioned him to paint a family portrait, but he politely refused. His popularity began to decline after the war because of disagreement over new artistic movements. He later lost most of his eyesight due to illness, which may have been the reason he was hit by a truck in 1954, dying from shock at the age of 74.
Derain’s Fauve paintings are typically bright with intense color. Influenced by the work of Cézanne as well as the early Cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque’s, Derain’s style changed and by 1912, the paintings became more traditional and structured. For the remainder of his career, he continued to investigate different compositional methods including the perspective of Cézanne and the pointillism of Seurat. He also designed ballet sets and made a number of sculptures.
At the turn of the century, Andre Derain exhibited at the radical Fauve Salon d’Automne (1905) and was one of the founding members of the Fauvist movement together with his life-long friends Matisse and Vlaminck. The works he produced in this period, often under the guidance of Matisse, have been counted among the masterpieces of Fauvism.
From around 1918, Derain turned his back on the avant-garde and had begun to explore some of the more traditional genres of Western art, including landscapes. His main source of inspiration once the Fauves group had dispersed was found in the Louvre, where he admired the early Renaissance works in particular. Talking of his frequent visits there, he once said, ‘That seemed to me then, the true, pure absolute painting.’ His work evolved through many styles and, most significantly, turned back to the past, particularly after 1922 when Lenin had publicly pronounced his disdain for abstract art.
Derain built up an immense and fascinating collection of paintings, sculpture and objets d’art throughout his life which aided his experimentation and was reflected in his work between 1930 and 1945. During these years, his painting technique displayed the most avenues of invention, using a repertoire of primitivist motifs. His eclectic collection was constantly changing. In 1930 he sold his African collection in exchange for bronzes of antiquity and the Renaissance which indicated a real change of interest in the objects, as did his later pursuit of Greek ceramic painting and his enthusiasm for grand cycles of literary and antique themes as the 1930s passed.
Between 1947 and 1953 Derain focussed on landscape as subject matter. ‘Paysage au bord de la mer’, c.1948-50, is a beautifully bold piece that combines both traditional and modern influences. As a later landscape, it is structured with the premeditation and order that harks back to Cezanne and the idea that the painter has the privilege of imposing order upon nature. Derain especially liked to frame his views according to the light, when it seemed to soften the subject, evoking landscapes painted by Corot in the nineteenth century. The effect of this imposed framing is stunning in ‘Paysage au bord de la mer’, wherein the stark shadows and earthy tones of the foreground landscape are set against the bright light of the seascape behind.
Claude Monet was born on November 14, 1840, in Paris, France. He enrolled in the Academie Suisse. After an art exhibition in 1874, a critic insultingly dubbed Monet’s painting style “Impression,” since it was more concerned with form and light than realism, and the term stuck. Monet struggled with depression, poverty and illness throughout his life. He died in 1926.
Early Life and Career
One of the most famous painters in the history of art and a leading figure in the Impressionist movement, whose works can be seen in museums around the world, Oscar Claude Monet (some sources say Claude Oscar) was born on November 14, 1840, in Paris, France. Monet’s father, Adolphe, worked in his family’s shipping business, while his mother, Louise, took care of the family. A trained singer, Louise liked poetry and was a popular hostess.
In 1845, at the age of 5, Monet moved with his family to Le Havre, a port town in the Normandy region. He grew up there with his older brother, Leon. While he was reportedly a decent student, Monet did not like being confined to a classroom. He was more interested in being outside. At an early age, Monet developed a love of drawing. He filled his schoolbooks with sketches of people, including caricatures of his teachers. While his mother supported his artistic efforts, Monet’s father wanted him to go into business. Monet suffered greatly after the death of his mother in 1857.
In the community, Monet became well-known for his caricatures and for drawing many of the town’s residents. After meeting Eugene Boudin, a local landscape artist, Monet started to explore the natural world in his work. Boudin introduced him to painting outdoors, or plein air painting, which would later become the cornerstone of Monet’s work.
In 1859, Monet decided to move to Paris to pursue his art. There, he was strongly influenced by the paintings of the Barbizon school and enrolled as a student at the Academie Suisse. During this time, Monet met fellow artist Camille Pissarro, who would become a close friend for many years.
From 1861 to 1862, Monet served in the military and was stationed in Algiers, Algeria, but he was discharged for health reasons. Returning to Paris, Monet studied with Charles Gleyre. Through Gleyre, Monet met several other artists, including Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Frederic Bazille; the four of them became friends. He also received advice and support from Johann Barthold Jongkind, a landscape painter who proved to be an important influence to the young artist.
Monet liked to work outdoors and was sometimes accompanied by Renoir, Sisley and Bazille on these painting sojourns. Monet won acceptance to the Salon of 1865, an annual juried art show in Paris; the show chose two of his paintings, which were marine landscapes. Though Monet’s works received some critical praise, he still struggled financially.
The following year, Monet was selected again to participate in the Salon. This time, the show officials chose a landscape and a portrait Camille (or also called Woman in Green), which featured his lover and future wife, Camille Doncieux. Doncieux came from a humble background and was substantially younger than Monet. She served as a muse for him, sitting for numerous paintings during her lifetime. The couple experienced great hardship around the birth of their first son, Jean, in 1867. Monet was in dire financial straits, and his father was unwilling to help them. Monet became so despondent over the situation that, in 1868, he attempted suicide by trying to drown himself in the Seine River.
Fortunately, Monet and Camille soon caught a break: Louis-Joachim Guadibert became a patron of Monet’s work, which enabled the artist to continue his work and care for his family. Monet and Camille married in June 1870, and following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, the couple fled with their son to London, England. There, Monet met Paul Durand-Ruel, who became his first art dealer.
Returning to France after the war, in 1872, Monet eventually settled in Argenteuil, an industrial town west of Paris, and began to develop his own technique. During his time in Argenteuil, Monet visited with many of his artist friends, including Renoir, Pissarro and Edouard Manet—who, according to Monet in a later interview, at first hated him because people confused their names. Banding together with several other artists, Monet helped form the Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, as an alternative to the Salon and exhibited their works together.
Monet sometimes got frustrated with his work. According to some reports, he destroyed a number of paintings—estimates range as high as 500 works. Monet would simply burn, cut or kick the offending piece. In addition to these outbursts, he was known to suffer from bouts of depression and self-doubt.
The Master of Light and Color
The society’s April 1874 exhibition proved to be revolutionary. One of Monet’s most noted works in the show, “Impression, Sunrise” (1873), depicted Le Havre’s harbor in a morning fog. Critics used the title to name the distinct group of artists “Impressionists,” saying that their work seemed more like sketches than finished paintings.
While it was meant to be derogatory, the term seemed fitting. Monet sought to capture the essence of the natural world using strong colors and bold, short brushstrokes; he and his contemporaries were turning away from the blended colors and evenness of classical art. Monet also brought elements of industry into his landscapes, moving the form forward and making it more contemporary. Monet began to exhibit with the Impressionists after their first show in 1874, and continued into the 1880s.
Monet’s personal life was marked by hardship around this time. His wife became ill during her second pregnancy (their second son, Michel, was born in 1878), and she continued to deteriorate. Monet painted a portrait of her on her death bed. Before her passing, the Monets went to live with Ernest and Alice Hoschede and their six children.
After Camille’s death, Monet painted a grim set of paintings known as the Ice Drift series. He grew closer to Alice, and the two eventually became romantically involved. Ernest spent much of his time in Paris, and he and Alice never divorced. Monet and Alice moved with their respective children in
1883 to Giverny, a place that would serve as a source of great inspiration for the artist and prove to be his final home. After Ernest’s death, Monet and Alice married in 1892.
Monet gained financial and critical success during the late 1880s and 1890s, and started the serial paintings for which he would become well-known. In Giverny, he loved to paint outdoors in the gardens that he helped create there. The water lilies found in the pond had a particular appeal for him, and he painted several series of them throughout the rest of his life; the Japanese-style bridge over the pond became the subject of several works, as well. (In 1918, Monet would donate 12 of his waterlily paintings to the nation of France to celebrate the Armistice.)
Sometimes Monet traveled to find other sources of inspiration. In the early 1890s, he rented a room across from the Rouen Cathedral, in northwestern France, and painted a series of works focused on the structure. Different paintings showed the building in morning light, midday, gray weather and more; this repetition was a result of Monet’s deep fascination with the effects of light.
Besides the cathedral, Monet painted several things repeatedly, trying to convey the sensation of a certain time of day on a landscape or a place. He also focused the changes that light made on the forms of haystacks and poplar trees in two different painting series around this time. In 1900, Monet traveled to London, where the Thames River captured his artistic attention.
In 1911, Monet became depressed after the death of his beloved Alice. In 1912, he developed cataracts in his right eye. In the art world, Monet was out of step with the avant-garde. The Impressionists were in some ways being supplanted by the Cubist movement, led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
But there was still a great deal of interest in Monet’s work. During this period, Monet began a final series of 12 waterlily paintings commissioned by the Orangerie des Tuileries, a museum in Paris. He chose to make them on a very large scale, designed to fill the walls of a special space for the canvases in the museum; he wanted the works to serve as a “haven of peaceful meditation,” believing that the images would soothe the “overworked nerves” of visitors.
His Orangerie des Tuileries project consumed much of Monet’s later years. In writing to a friend, Monet stated, “These landscapes of water and reflection have become an obsession for me. It is beyond my strength as an old man, and yet I want to render what I feel.” Monet’s health proved to be an obstacle, as well. Nearly blind, with both of his eyes now seriously affected by cataracts, Monet finally consented to undergo surgery for the ailment in 1923.
As he experienced in other points in his life, Monet struggled with depression in his later years. He wrote to one friend that “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” Despite his feelings of despair, he continued working on his paintings until his final days.
Monet died on December 5, 1926, at his home in Giverny. Monet once wrote, “My only merit lies in having painted directly in front of nature, seeking to render my impressions of the most fleeting effects.” Most art historians believe that Monet accomplished much more than this: He helped change the world of painting by shaking off the conventions of the past. By dissolving forms in his works, Monet opened the door for further abstraction in art, and he is credited with influencing such later artists as Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.
Since 1980, Monet’s Giverny home has housed the Claude Monet Foundation.
Born on July 19, 1834, in Paris, France, Edgar Degas went on to study at the École des Beaux-Arts (formerly the Académie des Beaux-Arts) in Paris and became renowned as a stellar portraitist, fusing Impressionistic sensibilities with traditional approaches. Both a painter and sculptor, Degas enjoyed capturing female dancers and played with unusual angles and ideas around centering. His work influenced several major modern artists, including Pablo Picasso. Degas died in Paris in 1917.
Edgar Degas was born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar de Gas on July 19, 1834, in Paris, France. His father, Auguste, was a banker, and his mother, Celestine, was an American from New Orleans. Their family were members of the middle class with nobler pretensions. For many years, the Degas family spelled their name “de Gas”; the preposition “de” suggesting a land-owning aristocratic background which they did not actually have.
As an adult, Edgar Degas reverted back to the original spelling. Degas came from a very musical household; his mother was an amateur opera singer and his father occasionally arranged for musicians to give recitals in their home. Degas attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, a prestigious and rigorous boys’ secondary school, where he received a classical education.
Degas also displayed a remarkable skill for drawing and painting as a child, a talent encouraged by his father, who was a knowledgeable art lover. In 1853, at the age of 18, he received permission to “copy” at the Louvre in Paris. (During the 19th century, aspiring artists developed their technique by attempting to replicate the works of the masters.) He produced several impressive copies of Raphael as well, studying the work of more contemporary painters such as Ingres and Delacroix.
In 1855, Degas gained admission into the École des Beaux-Arts (formerly the Académie des Beaux-Arts) in Paris. However, after only one year of study, Degas left school to spend three years traveling, painting and studying in Italy. He painted painstaking copies of the works of the great Italian renaissance painters Michelangelo and da Vinci, developing a reverence for classical linearity that remained a distinguishing feature of even his most modern paintings.
Upon returning to Paris in 1859, Degas set out to make a name for himself as a painter. Taking a traditional approach, he painted large portraits of family members and grand historical scenes such as “The Daughter of Jephtha,” “Semiramis Building Babylon” and “Scene of War in the Middle Ages.” Degas submitted these works to the all-powerful Salon, a group of French artists and teachers who presided over public exhibitions. It had very rigid and conventional ideas of beauty and proper artistic form, and received Degas’s paintings with measured indifference.
In 1862, Degas met fellow painter Edouard Manet at the Louvre, and the pair quickly developed a friendly rivalry. Degas grew to share Manet’s disdain for the presiding art establishment as well as his belief that artists needed to turn to more modern techniques and subject matter.
By 1868, Degas had become a prominent member of a group of avant-garde artists including Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley, who gathered frequently at the Café Guerbois to discuss ways in which artists could engage the modern world. Their meetings coincided with tumultuous times in the history of France. In July 1870, the Franco-Prussian War broke out and the highly nationalistic Degas volunteered for the French National Guard. At the war’s conclusion in 1871, the infamous Paris Commune seized control of the capital for two terrifying months before Adolphe Thiers reestablished the Third Republic in a bloody civil war. Degas largely avoided the tumult of the Paris Commune by taking an extended trip to visit relatives in New Orleans.
Emergence of Impressionists
Returning to Paris near the end of 1873, Degas, along with Monet, Sisley and several other painters, formed the Société Anonyme des Artistes (Society of Independent Artists), a group committed to putting on exhibitions free of the Salon’s control. The group of painters would come to be known as the Impressionists (though Degas preferred the term “realist” to describe his own work), and on April 15, 1874, they held the first Impressionist exhibition. The paintings Degas exhibited were modern portraits of modern women—milliners, laundresses and ballet dancers—painted from radical perspectives.
Over the course of the next 12 years, the group staged eight such Impressionist exhibitions, and Degas exhibited at all of them. His most famous paintings during these years were “The Dancing Class” (1871), “The Dance Class” (1874), “Woman Ironing” (1873) and “Dancers Practicing at the Bar” (1877). In 1880, he also sculpted “The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer,” a sculpture so hauntingly evocative that while some critics called it brilliant, others condemned him as cruel for having made it. While Degas’s paintings are not overtly political, they do reflect France’s changing social and economic environment. His paintings portray the growth of the bourgeoisie, the emergence of a service economy and the widespread entrance of women into the workplace.
In 1886, at the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition in Paris, Degas exhibited 10 paintings of nude women in various stages of bathing. These nude paintings were the talk of the exhibition and also the source of controversy; some called the women “ugly” while others praised the honesty of his depictions. Degas went on to paint hundreds of studies of nude women. He also continued to paint dancers, contrasting the awkward humility of the dancer backstage with her majestic grace in the midst of performance.
In the mid-1890s, an episode known as the “Dreyfus Affair” sharply divided French society. In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish captain in the French military, was convicted of treason on spying charges. Although evidence that proved Dreyfus’s innocence surfaced in 1896, rampant anti-Semitism kept him from being exonerated for another 10 years. With the country deeply divided between those in support of Dreyfus and those against him, Degas sided with those whose anti-Semitism blinded them to Dreyfus’s innocence. His stance against Dreyfus cost him many friends and much respect within the typically more tolerant avant-garde art circles.
Later Years and Legacy
Degas lived well into the 20th century, and though he painted less during these years, he promoted his work tirelessly and became an avid art collector. He never married, though he did count several women, including American painter Mary Cassatt, among his intimate friends. Edgar Degas died in Paris on September 27, 1917, at the age of 83.
While Degas has always been recognized as one of the greatest Impressionist painters, his legacy has been mixed in the decades since his death. The misogynist overtones present in his sexualized portraits of women, as well as his intense anti-Semitism, have served to alienate Degas from some modern critics. Still, the sheer beauty of his early works and the distinctly modern self-conscious elusiveness of his later portraits ensure Degas a lasting legacy. One thing remains indisputable about Degas: His were among the most painstakingly polished and refined paintings in history. An obsessive and careful planner, Degas liked to joke that he was the least spontaneous artist alive. “If painting weren’t difficult,” he once remarked, “it wouldn’t be so fun.”