Are you a fan of Claude Monet visiting Paris? If so, here’s my guide to the Monet Trail in Paris. This artsy Paris itinerary takes you to all the places where you can find and enjoy Monet’s paintings in the City of Light.
If you love Monet, Paris is the perfect destination. You can walk in the footsteps of Monet. Paris has hundreds of the artist’s misty and exquisitely modulated Impressionist masterpieces.
If you’re not acquainted with Monet’s work, Paris is the best place to fall in love with his art. Monet’s paintings in Paris stand out like national monuments, marking the birth and triumph of French Impressionism.
Monet was the fountainhead of the group, the very symbol of the Impressionist movement.
During his career, Monet transformed himself from outside to insider. In the process, he became one of the greatest and most influential artists in history. This Monet guide takes you on a tour of his art housed in Paris.
But first! A quick overview of Impressionism and the life of its messiah Claude Monet.
Impressionism, a Once Radical Art Movement
Impressionism was once controversial, a renegade late 19th century art movement. The Impressionists stopped exhibiting at the government-sanctioned Salon and began organizing their own independent exhibitions.
Unlike prior artists, the Impressionists rebelled against the rigid rules of the hierarchic and tyrannical art establishment. Those rules required that paintings have clear cut finished appearances and depict idealized themes from history, literature, or mythology.
In the face of intense criticism, the Impressionists forged their own path and redefined how to paint. Instead of painting what they knew, the artists painted what they saw and felt.
The Impressionists aimed to capture the ephemeral, sensory effect of a leisurely scene — the impression — objects made on the eye in a fleeting instant. The Impressionists used fast and loose brushwork, a lighter palette, and tried to capture the effects of light. They painted outside in “plein air” instead of inside.
Impressionism made its debut at what was derogatorily dubbed the “Exhibition of the Impressionists” in 1874. Monet’s painting, Impression, Sunrise, shocked the public.
One sneering critical ridiculed that painting as nothing but an “impression,” worse than wallpaper. But the insult was adopted and baptized the movement. Despite intense criticism, the Impressionists held eight exhibition from 1874 to 1886.
But the savaged eventually became the revered. Impressionist insults were consigned to the dust bin of history as the movement became a global force. Today, Impressionism is one of the world’s favorite genres, a crowd pleasing blockbuster — with long lines for museums and exhibitions.
A Short Biography of Claude Monet, Father of Impressionism
Monet is one of the most important and pivotal figures in Western art history. He’s the poster boy for Impressionism, and a symbol of French painting.
Born in Paris in 1840, Monet grew up in Le Havre in Normandy. By 16, he was a Le Havre celebrity, known for his irreverent caricatures of the town’s citizens.
There, Monet met Eugene Boudin, who heavily influenced Monet. Boudin encouraged, even nagged, Monet to paint landscapes outside, capturing the effects of light.
Afterwards, Monet often journeyed to Honfleur, seeking out dramatic coastlines on the Cote Fleurie. Monet later said, “If I am a painter, I owe it to Eugene Boudin.”
In 1865, Monet met Camille Doncieux, a model he would later marry. She was his inspiration and muse for 12 years.
But Monet had little success in Paris, and the pair lived in near poverty. Monet’s paintings were all rejected by the salon, with the exception of the Women With the Green Dress (shown above).
Monet decided that it was useless to seek recognition within the art establishment and participated in the Impressionist exhibitions.
In 1878, Monet moved to Vetheuil for three years. It was a formative time for him, presaging his prodigious Giverny output. Monet painted more than 150 works in Vetheuil between 1878-81. He produced ravishing landscapes of the Seine River, gardens, and poppy fields in iridescent shimmering hues.
In Vetheuil, Monet’s wife Camille became desperately ill and died at just age 32 in 1879. Even in tragedy Monet wouldn’t, or couldn’t, stop painting. His rendering of Camille Monet on her Deathbed hangs in Paris’ Musee d’Orsay. It was never exhibited during Monet’s lifetime.
In 1883, Monet left behind Paris forever and moved to rural Giverny with his next life partner Alice Hoschede. Before Paris, he had flitted about. Monet lived in Le Havre, Etretat, Argentueil, Bordighera, Vehteuil, and jaunted about to others places to paint. Often, he would move in the middle of the night to evade creditors.
When he arrived in Giverny, Monet was middle-aged and nearly penniless. But help came via art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.
In the 1880s, the dealer’s continual purchases helped Monet lead a decent life. Over the next decades, Monet attained international fame and amassed a considerable personal fortune.
During his Giverny years, Monet came to be regarded as one of the world’s greatest artists. He stopped painting people altogether. Only nature captivated him. Monet produced some of his most famous works — shimmering poplars, glowing haystacks, and iridescent sheets of water lilies in a blurry pastel palette.
During the 1890s, Monet also created his famous “series” — multiple renditions of Rouen Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, poplars, and haystacks.
In these groundbreaking series, Monet’s work became more abstract. He shifted to soft and flowing portrayals, with liquid-like unstable surfaces. In these paintings, there’s no real beginning or end.
In his last two decades, Monet created over 250 paintings of his beloved water lilies, from his prodigal Giverny gardens. They were his singular focus in the last decades of his career, especially after his Alice’s death.
Monet’s first Nympheas series, in 1909, was hugely successfully. Critics recognized the value and cumulative effect of having 48 paintings on the same subject.
Monet’s motif was not the water lilies, per se, but the mirror of water whose appearance changed at every moment. The intensely-colored lilies are a theater-like recreation of the experience of physically being at a pond.
Beginning in 1912, Monet began to go blind with cataracts. He used even larger canvases and painted fewer details.
In later water lily series, Monet abandoned any attempt at formal composition. There was no focal point. The fragmented paintings command the viewers’ attention, pulling them in Monet’s time-space continuum.
In 1914, eight monumental water lily paintings were commissioned for the Orangerie of the Tuileries. A custom gallery was built to showcase the pieces. It was effectively the first “art installation” in history. The gallery has been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Impressionism.
Half a lifetime away from the man who trailed into Giverny poor and with an uncertain future, a successful and prosperous Monet succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 86. Rejecting the pomp of a state funeral, Monet was buried in this local graveyard with only family and close friends in attendance.
At the end of the ceremony, in a moment that reads as if from a play, Monet’s old friend Georges Clemenceau (the former French prime minister) dramatically ripped off the black cloth draping Monet’s coffin. He declared: “No! No black for Monet! Black is not a color!” Today, the extended Monet family plot is usually covered in flowers.
Monet in Paris: Where To Find His Paintings
If you’re a dedicated Monet detective, here’s where you need to go in Paris to discover Monet’s must see masterpieces and art works.
The Musée d’Orsay is one of Paris’ true treasures and a must visit site on the Left Bank. In 2018, it was named the “best museum in the world” in the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards.
There’s good reason. The Musée d’Orsay is housed in a beautiful converted Beaux-Arts railway station. The museum has the world’s largest collection of French paintings from 1848 to 1914, a period when Paris was the undisputed artistic capital of the world.
The Musée d’Orsay is synonymous with Impressionism. Many visitors come to the Musée d’Orsay just to see the work of Claude Monet. The Orsay has one of the world’s largest Mont collection. I’ll focus on his most famous pieces.
1. Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877
In Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazare, the painting is engulfed in steam and smoke on a sunny day at one of Paris’ largest train station. The painting is part of a series of 12, multiple views of a single theme. Gare Saint-Lazare was first exhibited at the Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877.
At the time, train stations were relatively new. The Gare Saint-Lazare was the first railroad station to open in Paris in 1835. In choosing a public space as his subject, Monet chose a modern theme.
The surface of the canvas is luscious. Monet drenches it in light and a heavy prism of color. Neither the station or the trains are entirely visible.
In fact, the station seems to almost dissolve your eyes, even the architecture and the forms of the trains. The figures are quick brush strokes, incidental to the urban landscape. It’s a subjective experience, untethered to Salon realism.
2. London, Houses of Parliament, The Sun Shining through the Fog, 1904
The Houses of Parliament were another series of Monet oils from the 1890s. Monet depicted Westminster Palace and the Houses of Parliament over 5 years from 1899 to 1904 during his stays in London. The painting in the Orsay dates from 1904.
Monet painted it from a terrace of St. Thomas’ Hospital overlooking the Thames. As was his working method, Monet painted at different times of day to capture the changing colors and shadows. Monet said that “Without fog, London would not be beautiful.”
The painting is noticeable for its extreme lack of detail. The piece is almost abstract; the ghostly outline of the misty sky merges with the river. The daubs of mauve and orange paint subtract, rather than add, detail. The site is only a reference point for Monet’s experimentations with light and color.
Monet took the paintings back to his studio to complete, working on them for 3 years. In 1904, this painting (and others in the serires) were exhibited at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris. The public adored the dreamy works and they sold out.
3. The Rue Montorgueil in Paris, 1878
Painted in 1878, The Rue Montorgueil, depicts a festival for the third Universal Exhibition in Paris. The festival of “peace and work” was meant to mark France’s recovery from the Franco-Prussian War. Monet captures the spirit of celebration and nationalism in this vivid painting.
Monet gives us a striking vision of a busy urban landscape with tri-colored flags waving in the wind, observed from a window. You can barely see the street itself. The three colors vibrating in Monet’s painting — blue, red, and white — are those of modern France.
Monet’s small overlapping strokes of color convey the crowd’s animation and excitement. With this painting, Monet revealed his burgeoning modernity, while simultaneously achieving the work of a journalist.
4. Poppy Fields, 1873
Field of Poppies was painted when Monet lived in Argenteuil, where Monet lived from 1871-78. It was among the 12 works Monet exhibited at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874.
Now one of the world’s most famous modern paintings, Poppies conjures up the vibrant atmosphere of a stroll through the poppy fields on a summer’s day.
Monet’s brush work is loose and informal. Monet’s wife and son Jean appear small. They’re dematerialized and almost abstract parts of the painting.
The disproportionately large patches in the foreground indicate the primacy Monet put on visual impression. A step towards abstraction had been taken.
5. Rouen Cathedral, 1893
Monet loved to paint the lacy western facade of Rouen cathedral in Normandy. The facade is styled in a highly ornate Flamboyant Gothic fashion and is a sight to behold. Rouen cathedral was Monet’s third series, after the poplars and haystacks.
Monet painted 30 versions of Rouen Cathedral in Normandy in 1892-93. He visited in the months of February, March, and April when the light was best.
Monet focused on extreme close ups of one part of the pale filigreed stone facade, sometimes working on 14 paintings simultaneously. The heavily layered paintings almost look like stippled cement veiled in mist. There are four color-coded groups of cathedrals — grey, blue, white, and rainbow-hued.
In each canvas, the light is different depending on the time of day. The cathedral almost loses its objective identity as Monet translates it bulk into a heavily impastoed surface of misty color.
The cathedral series was a watershed moment in Monet’s career. The paintings were well-received by critics and found a ready commercial market.
Practical Information for Visiting the Musee d’Orsay
Address: 1 Rue de la Legion d’Honneur
Hours: 9:30 to 6:00 pm, except closed Mondays. Open until 9:45 pm on Thursdays
Entry fee: € 14, Online tickets
More Reading: Tips for Visiting the Musee d’Orsay
Musée Marmottan Monet
The Musée Marmottan Monet is a small jewel of a museum, tucked away in Paris’ sleepy posh 16th arrondissement. The museum was the recipient of generous bequests from Monet’s single heir, his son Michel.
Because of its rather far flung location, the Marmottan is delightfully devoid of tourist throngs. Which is rather shocking because the museum boasts the world’s largest collection of Monet works, ahead of the Musee d’Orsay.
READ: Hidden Gems in Paris
If you are at all jaded by the overexposure of Impressionism — the mugs, mouse pads, journals, umbrellas — come here. The Marmottan will give you a fresh look at Monet. When I was last there, I had a “jamais vu” experience, as if I were seeing Monet’s stunning work for the first time.
The Musée Marmottan Monet was once home to art critic and collector Paul Marmottan, who bequeathed his collection of Napoleonic art objects. It has a specially built basement gallery with an exceptional overview of all of Monet’s themes. You’ll find his early caricatures to his series to his late works at Giverny.
Monet’s water lilies are the star of the show. They’re massive, especially compared to the usual postage stamp size Impressionist painting.
And they sparkle with pure vivid color. Despite, or perhaps because of, their daring simplifications, the water lilies provoke powerful sensor experiences.
The museum also has Monet’s famous painting Impression, Sunrise. Set in the port of Le Havre, it’s the seminal painting that gave Impressionism its name.
In the painting, a stark orange-rust globe struggles to penetrate the foggy blue skies. In quick spaces of muted color, you can just make out sketchily rendered rowboats.
In 1985, this fabled painting and nine others were stolen by five masked gunman in a brazen theft. Two robbers held unarmed museum security guards and 40 visitors at gunpoint, while the other three removed paintings. Fortunately, the paintings were found in Corsica five years later in the possession of a Japanese gangster.
Practical Information for Visiting the Musée Marmottan Monet:
Address: 2 rue Louis Boilly | 16th Arrondissement, 75016 Paris, France
Hours: Daily: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thursday until 9:00 pm, closed Mondays
Entry: 12 €, 3 € for audioguide
Metro: Line 9 to La Muette Website
Musee de l’Orangerie
From the Marmottan, it’s an easy metro ride to the Place de la Concorde and Paris’ Musée de l’Orangerie, or the Orangerie Museum. It’s one of the best small museums in Paris. The marquee attraction of the jewel-like Orangerie is Monet’s massive water lily series, his career defining work.
Monet worked on the monumental water lily canvases from 1914-1927. In 1927, the water lily canvases were set in massive curved panels and installed in two adjoining oval shaped rooms lit from above.
The minimalist rooms, with crisp white walls, were built exactly to Monet’s specifications. Monet’s vision was to create a “haven of peaceful meditation,” a place perchance to dream.
Some art historians call the Orangerie Museum’s space the world’s “first art installation” because the rooms were created and designed specifically for Monet’s water lilies. The room has also been dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Impressionism.”
Monet’s water lily installation is conceived so that the four panels in one gallery represent sunrise and the four in the other evoke dusk. The water lilies are ravishing, capturing the beauty of the transitory optical world in intense colors.
The abstract surfaces are built up with layers and layers of paint, almost creating the volume of a sculptural surface. The colors are overlaid, not blurred. This technique would influence the Abstract Expressionists in the mid 20th century.
The rooms are a panorama of light and water. You’ll feel immersed in Monet’s garden at Giverney.
Monet’s fierce oversize brushstrokes show the lily pond surfaces, reflections, depth, and movement, all at once. It’s like a distillation of a summer idyll in an enchanted place.
Once you’re done admiring Monet’s works, head downstairs to inspect another fabulous collection of master works. Natural light floods a wide corridor where oils by Renoir and Cézanne are given pride of place. The museum’s collection of works by Soutine is arguably the best in Paris.
Practical Information for Visiting the Musée de L’Orangerie:
Address: Place de la Concorde 75001 Paris
Hours: Open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, last admission 5:15 pm, closed Tuesday
Entry fees: Full rate: € 12.50, reduced rate € 10
The Neo-Classical Petit Palais was built for Paris’ 1900 World Fair. It became a museum in 1902.
Designed in the Beaux-Arts style by famous architect Charles Girault, it’s a charming small museum that’s easy to cover in an hour or so. The building itself is a work of art –with stained glass, mosaics, and murals.
The Petit Palais has a winter oil painting by Monet, Sunset on the Seine at Lavancort, Winter Effect. Lavacourt is a village in the Paris area, located on the left bank of the Seine.
In the painting, Monet conveys the effect of cold mist with fine, fluid strokes in the upper third of the painting. The water and the banks are painted with wider strokes with impasto highlights. The orange of the sunset placed at the very center of the composition recalls Impression: Sunrise.
The Petit Palais also has Renoir’s Portrait of Madame Bonnieres and Paul Cezanne’s Three Bathers.
Practical Information for Visiting the Petit Palais:
Address: Avenue Winston Churchill, 8th arrondissement
Entry fee: permanent collection is free
Hours: Open Tues-Sun, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Mondays and bank holidays.
Metro: Champs-Elysées Clémenceau
If you’re an avid Monet tracker, you’ll want to pop into the Rodin Museum. This is one of my favorite museums in Paris.
It’s a shrine to the complex life and oeuvre of one of France’s most revered artists, Auguste Rodin. Rodin is considered the father of modern sculpture.
The Rodin Museum houses a painting that Monet gifted to Rodin, Belle-Ile. The painting is part of a series of 29 canvases Monet created in 1886.
The painting is a misty blue-toned vision of rocks projecting into the sea, emphasizing the immensity of the ocean. Monet loved the “wonderfully wild region” with “terrifying rocks and a sea of unbelievable colors.” There is another of this series in the Orsay.
Rodin and Monet were fast friends. Almost exact contemporaries, they bonded over their mutual love of nature and their desire to capture vitality and mutability in their art. Sometimes, they participated in joint exhibitions.
Of note, along with the Monet, the Rodin Museum also has a painting by the famous Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Rodin admired it so much that he hung it above his desk.
Practical Information and Tips for Visiting the Rodin Museum:
Address: 79, rue de Varenne, 7th arrondissement
Phone: +33(0)1 44 18 61 10
Metro: Varenne (line 13), Invalides (line 8 or 13); RER: Invalides (line C); Bus: 69, 82, 87, 92
Entry fee: 12 euros, the sculpture garden is 4 euros extra
Need More Monet?
If you need more Monet, take an easy day trip from Paris. Just 50 miles northwest of Paris lies Giverny, home to Monet’s stunning house and gardens.
Giverny is a one-of-a-kind pastoral paradise, born from the great artist’s obsession. It’s a must see site for art lovers and Monet addicts in France.
Monet lived half his life in Giverny. You won’t find any original Monet paintings. Instead, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into one of his utopian paintings.
In Giverny, Monet, a devoted horticulturist, created an ethereal and exquisitely staged garden in the French-Norman countryside. With the scent of roses wafting in the air, Monet’s garden is one of the world’s most beautiful and popular gardens.
To wander through Monet’s Garden is akin to living in one of his paintings. A world of flowers of every color fills your field of view, nodding slightly in the breeze. It looks like a paint factory explosion, or a few flicks of Monet’s paintbrush.
There are two parts to Monet’s labor-of-love gardens — the Clos Normand flower garden and the Water Garden. The Clos Norman is a boldly colored display and expressly Western. The Water garden is organic, Asian, and more exotic.
The two gardens are connected by a tunnel passing under the road. The gardens are immensely popular — a pilgrimage both for Monet fans, Francophiles, and avid gardeners.
Here’s my complete guide to visiting Giverny.
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