The work of Impressionist painter Claude Monet is among the most beloved of his era. His work evokes an entirely different feeling than that of his contemporaries based on his interpretation of light and how it affected his subjects. There are a variety of ways you can teach students about Monet and his contributions to the art world.
Create a Timeline of Monet's Life
You can begin your lesson or unit by having students create a timeline of Monet’s life. The timeline should be sure to include when he met influential artists and other important individuals who may have affected his work. Next, you can have students compare and contrast the work of different Impressionist painters. Students will find the work of Monet very different from that of Georges Seurat, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas. Not only should students analyze the styles of the Impressionist artists, but also their subject matter. You can have students analyze one of Monet’s paintings in terms of its style, use of color, and subject matter. It is important for students to understand the significance of Monet’s subject matter because it offers an interesting commentary on nineteenth century French society. Give students time in class or at home to research Monet’s choice of subjects and how they reflect his political ideals and beliefs.
Monet's Use of Light
Perhaps the most important aspect of Monet’s work is his fascination with light. You can introduce students to Monet’s studies of the Rouen Cathedral, the poplars, the haystacks and the water lilies. Students can create their own series for which they can study a building or scene in nature. They should begin by taking photographs of the subject at different times of day and in different weather conditions. Once students have enough images to work with, have them paint a series, either in watercolor or oil, depending on your time and resources.
An Interview With Monet
Working in pairs, you can have students conduct a mock interview with Monet himself. One student can portray Monet (in costume, if they choose) while the other partner can be the reporter. You can videotape the interviews since they can reveal a great deal about Monet, his inspiration, his motivations and his style.
Making a Language Arts Connection
Teachers seeking to collaborate with their colleagues in the language arts department may choose to have students write short stories, skits or a play about one of Monet’s paintings. Students may choose to write a character study of one of the individuals in the painting or to write a story explaining what is depicted in the painting. If you are able to collaborate with colleagues in the theater department, consider staging these skits or plays for a larger audience, complete with costumes and props to make the painting come to life.
Compare and Contrast Artists From Different Eras
Finally, if you have the time to study more than one artistic era, you may choose to compare and contrast the different eras, artists, styles and subject matters. Be sure to address the larger issues inherent in the work of Monet and the other Impressionists, especially vis-à-vis the social, economic and political climate in France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Students are sure to develop a better understanding of French history and the history of art after a close examination of Monet and his contemporaries.
Claude Monet Lessons and Activities:
In addition to observing and analyzing the work of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Eugène Boudin, and Frederick Carl Frieseke, students also learn about Normandy. The lesson also provides a web quest and a format in which students can demonstrate their research and knowledge about the artists and the site.
Students are challenged to make connections between art, history and culture in this lesson. They examine the work of Monet and Boudin and then analyze the subject matter, setting and era in which the works were done. Students also have an opportunity to learn about the social classes in nineteenth century France and industrialization. Extension activities include reading literature from the era and doing primary document analysis.
For those seeking a connection with technology, this lesson outlines a plan for how to generate student-created web sites for Monet and his contemporaries. This is an excellent opportunity to collaborate with the school’s technology coordinator and to disseminate student work.