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  • Claude Monet
    Nov 14, 1840 - Dec 5, 1926
  • Waves Breaking - Claude Monet was a French painter, initiator, leader, and unswerving advocate of the Impressionist style. He is regarded as the archetypal Impressionist in that his devotion to the ideals of the movement was unwavering throughout his long career, and it is fitting that one of his pictures - Impression: Sunrise (Musée Marmottan, Paris; 1872) - gave the group his name.
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Waves Breaking
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  • Waves Breaking

  • Claude Monet
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  • 1881
    Oil on canvas
    23 1/2 x 32 in (59.7 x 81.3 cm)
    Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, United States.

    The dramatic compositions of Monet's paintings of the coast - with fragments of cliffs on one edge of the painting silhouetted against the huge expanse of sea, a spike of rock seen through a rock arch, twisted needle rocks thrusting from the sea - are very close to motifs in his favorite Japanese prints Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai. They suggest that, rather than transform these motifs into his own compositions as he had done, he wanted his increasingly elite audiences to recognise them as direct variations on Japanese themes.

    Romantic and Realist painters had long painted the Norman coast. Manet and Monet's seascapes of the 1860s had been influenced by Japanese prints, as had Millet's paintings of cliffs above the sea of the early 1870s, and perhaps some of Courbet's paintings of motifs on the Channel coast in the late 1860s. In the 1880s Monet chose more abstract modes of embodying the thrust of cliffs and the surge of the sea around weathered rocks. In his Waves breaking 1881 he followed the example of Courbet's marines in which the artist had faced the sea directly and simply divided his painting horizontally into sea and sky - but Monet's painting is radically different. Gustave Courbet emphasised the substance of the sea - its luminosity, its vast recession - while in his paintings of breaking waves, he depicted, the glassy depths of a rearing wave and its break into foam. Monet's painting is rather disconcerting, consisting of row upon row of loose, curved strokes, painted with thick, pastey paint, with only a strip of flatter brushstrokes to give a sense of the horizontal stretch of the sea. Yet, as one looks, one begins to see that these abstract brushstrokes create a sense of the ceaseless movement of the waves and of the way those in the foreground catch a late gleam of cold late afternoon light. The painting is almost perverse in its assertion of the sheer materiality of the medium, yet this is a materiality that can momentarily convince that solidified paint is mobile and fluid.

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Other paintings by Claude Monet:

Poplars on the Banks of the River Epte
Poplars on the Banks of the River Epte
Houses of Parliament, Westminster
Houses of Parliament, Westminster
Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil
Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil
Women in the Garden
Women in the Garden
Claude MonetIn 1890 Monet had bought a strip of marshland across the road from his house and flower garden, through which flowed a tributary of the Epte. By diverting this stream, he began to construct a water-lily garden. Soon weeping willows, iris, and bamboo grew around a free-form pool, clusters of lily pads and blossoms floated on the quiet water, and a Japanese bridge closed the composition at one end. By 1900 this unique product of Monet's imagination (for his Impressionism had become more subjective) was in itself a major work of environmental art--an exotic lotus land within which he was to meditate and paint for more than 20 years. The first canvases of lilies, water, and the Japanese bridge were only about one yard square, but their unprecedented open composition, with the large blossoms and pads suspended as if in space, and the azure water in which clouds were reflected, implied an encompassing environment beyond the frame. This concept of embracing spatiality, new to the history of painting and only implicit in the first water-lily paintings, was expanded by 1925 into a cycle of huge murals to be installed in Paris in two 80-foot oval rooms in the Orangerie of the Tuileries. These were described in 1952 by the painter André Masson as "the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism." This crowning achievement of Monet's long, probing study of nature--his striving to render his impressions, as he said, "in the face of the most fugitive effects"--was not dedicated until after his death. The many large studies for the Orangerie murals, as well as other unprecedented and unique works painted in the water garden between 1916 and 1925, were almost unknown until the 1950s but are now distributed throughout the major private collections and museums of the world. Despite failing eyesight, Monet continued to paint almost until his death in 1926.