Claude and Camille Monet

A brief look at Claude Monet's paintings of his wife.

Claude Monet was one of the founding members of Impressionism which was developed in the second half of the 19th century. When he moved in with his aunt after his mother’s death, he met Eugene Boudin, one of the first French painters that painted outdoors.

Portrait of Claude Monet in 1899; Nadar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

At a young age, Monet learned the techniques of landscape painting from Boudin and was introduced to plein air painting or outdoor painting. In 1874, Claude Monet and a group of French painters launched the movement of Impressionism. The group organized an exhibition where Monet contributed some of his paintings in Paris. Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (1873; Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris) gave the group their movement’s name after it was criticized for being an “impression” and for its unfinished appearance.

Impression, Sunrise (1872) by Claude Monet; Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Impressionism is a method in which the impressions aroused in a painter are produced as they are perceived. Impressionist painters mostly intend to render objects regarding their personal impressions, irrespective of the rules. Along with short brushstrokes, bright colors, and an emphasis on light, Impressionist canvases contain transient sunlight and fleeting pattern of the natural scene instead of the stable quality of studio paintings.

Portrait of Camille Monet in 1871; Greiner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In his paintings, Monet frequently used his wife, Camille Doncieux, as a model. Camille began her career as a model at a young age. She modeled for the paintings of Manet and Renoir. Camille met Claude in 1865 and became the subject of a number of his paintings. Even, Claude was rendering Camille as different character in his paintings when he didn’t have money to pay for new models at the beginning of his career.  

The Woman in the Green Dress, Camille (1866) by Claude Monet; Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Camille or Woman in the Green Dress is among the most famous paintings of Monet. In the full-length portrait of Camille, she wears a green and black striped dress with a fur-trimmed jacket and an Empire bonnet. Monet created this painting for ‘The Saloon’ in 1866. It appeared in the exhibition and was well received by critics with its successful portrayal of the embodiment of an avant-garde woman. Even though Monet was mostly an Impressionist painter, he was unconventional by creating Woman in the Green Dress with the style of Realism. The painting contains dark colors and deep background and pays great attention to the details in Camille’s dress.

Woman With a Parasol (1875) by Claude Monet; Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As one of the key points of Impressionism, we can see the usage of en plein air, outdoor painting, in Monet’s Woman with a Parasol. The painting depicts Camille and their son Jean Monet in Argenteuil. It intends to convey the feeling of an interrupted stroll of a casual family. The painting gives the viewer the feeling of a camera shot as Camille seems to turn her back to pose with the details of flowing cloth at the back of her dress. Monet generally did not care about facial features. Rather, he cared about emotion and body language.

Camille on Her Deathbed (1875) by Claude Monet; Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Towards the end of her life, Camille suffered from medical complications related to the birth of her children. She died at the age of 32. Camille on Her Deathbed is one of Monet’s most powerful portraits of his wife. It depicts Camille with closed eyes, a shrouded face, and a bouquet of flowers laying on her fully clothed body.

40 years later, Monet described those moments in a letter to his friend:

I found myself staring at the tragic countenance, automatically trying to identify the sequence, the proportion of light and shade in the colors that death had imposed on the immobile face. Shades of blue, yellow, gray . . . Even before the thought occurred to memorize the face that meant so much to me, my first involuntary reflex was to tremble at the shock of the colors. In spite of myself, my reflexes drew me into the unconscious operation that is the daily order of my life. Pity me, my friend.


Camille on Her Deathbed. (2003). JAMA Network.