Claude Monet’s work with color

Claude Monet, a French impressionist, is a well-known painter.  Monet has a level of detail that is very specific down to the color of the primer on his canvases.  His attention to detail and investigation of canvas techniques prove him to be a successful designer.  His color study also impacted the way we view light, shadow, hues, tints, and shades while on a limited color palette.  Monet’s ability to cope with trial and error sets him up to be a successful painter because of his can-do attitude and refusal of giving up.  Monet’s characteristics as a painter have greatly influenced the way I look and see any form of synthesized pigments.

An artist’s technique is incredibly unique to the individual; no two artists will have the precise technique as another.  Monet’s prepping and technique for painting a canvas was quite extensive.  He focused on the priming of the canvas and how the color of it could drastically alter how viewers see and interpret the colors.  Monet experimented with neutral colored primed canvases ranging from pure white to cool light greys to warmer creamy tones (House, 1986).  A pattern noticed throughout Monet’s work was the integration of the background color into the painting itself.  The effect it created was a range of tones from highlights to mid-tones.  He also investigated opaque layers of paint to play with the lighting in the painting (House, 1986).  Monet used several different techniques when laying down the paint on the canvas such as scumbling, various brushstrokes, and layering paint.  Scumbling, layering one color over another lightly so the bottom layer is still visible, can be done with pastels, oil paint, and acrylics.  Scumbling does not actually mix the two colors; rather it creates the allusion that they are mixed (Smith, 2012).  Another similar technique, layering paint, relates to scumbling.  The layered effect could enhance the lighting of a painting or darken it.  In Clear Morning with Willows, Monet used a light layer to give a natural effect such as the wind blowing and illuminate the work with light (Spate, 1992).  Another technique Monet uses is “visual mixing” which is playing with the placement of the brushstrokes to create the visual allusion that two colors side by side mix to create another color.  An example of this technique is the effect of putting a stroke of red next to a stroke of yellow.  From far away, it will start to appear orange thus “visual mixing” (Nelson, 2012).  The visual mixing began to affect the vividness and intensity of Monet’s color palette.

Color is another important tool Monet focused his work on.  His range of colors was very selective, especially after he narrowed it down to white lead, cadmium yellow, vermilion, madder, cobalt blue, chrome green (Nelson, 2012).  Prior to 1886, Monet included black ivory in his color palette but later abandoned it to use more vibrant colors to create the darker shades he desired (Nelson, 2012).  As an impressionist painter, dark colors were not necessarily in the general color palette which also influenced Monet’s decision to stick to bright colors.  Monet focused on representing nature through his paintings which influenced color choices.  One of his nature paintings, Women in the Garden, helped him to discover the divisions of color (Monet, 1867).  He experimented with shadow and light.  The rayon, ray, and reflet, reflection of light, were two major studies in the painting that helped Monet better understand color.  An interesting detail in Women in the Garden is that the grass is not made up of a single hue of green but rather several tints and shades, which was not common practice during the time (House, 1986).  Another painting by Monet, The Coastguard’s Cottage at Pourville, also works with color, but rather than focusing on light and shadow, it focuses on color combinations and contrasts (Monet, 1882).  Monet discovered that when painting nature, light and color are so important, but an object or the subject of the painting can only last so long before they are altered.

Trial and error and iterations are something that every designer faces, including Monet.  He painted the same scene multiple times to capture the different lighting and color of the object.  The importance of painting the same scene at different times of day was to understand how the light changed the object and how the shadow fell as well as the way the object absorbed and reflected the light.  One example of Monet’s iterations of a single scene is the Haystack Series.  He paints the scene until it drastically changes and then he starts the next canvas (Monet, 1890).  Monet also faces a period where he feels as if his paintings are a failure.  He paints a self-portrait that is rather dark and gloomy.  In a letter to Gustav Geffroy, he writes about how awful the weather is outside and his frustrations with paintings (Barnes, 1992).  Monet’s frustrations are related to the fact that he was diagnosed with rheumatism and began to lose his vision.  Monet overcomes these obstacles and continues to paint but describes a foggy haze.  This haze does not affect his successfulness because of this perseverance and desire to show the beauty through his paintings despite his illnesses (Barnes, 1992).

Monet has influenced me as a designer because of his attention to detail in his paintings.  The small details such as the canvas primer is so important to the overall work in Monet’s eyes and it has really taught me that the minor details can drastically affect the successfulness of a work.  He has also influenced me through his use of color and ability to create such a wide range of shades and tints from such a limited number of hues.  Monet’s perseverance and ability to continue his work despite his frustrations has really impacted my ability as a designer to investigate my frustrations and troubles to find a solution rather than give up.  Monet’s work as an artist is very influential to me and to other designers.


­­Barnes, R. (1992). Artists by themselves monet. (pp. 76-80). London: Bracken Books.

House, J. (1986). Monet: Nature into art. (pp. 63-70). New Haven and London: Yale
University Press.

Monet, C. (Artist). (1890). Haystack series. [Print Photo]. Retrieved from

Monet, C. (Artist). (1882). The coastguard’s cottage at ourville. [Print Photo]. Retrieved from Monet, The Coastguard’s Cottage at Pourville,

Monet, C. (Artist). (1867). Women in the garden. [Print Photo]. Retrieved from

Nelson, C. (2012). You can learn how to paint like monet: His techniques and color mixing approach. Retrieved from

Smith, B. (2012, 01 26). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Spate, V. (1992). The coulour of time, claude monet. (pp. 284-285). London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

11 thoughts on “Claude Monet’s work with color

  1. What a nice time to research a master of color. Consider revising this sentence to remove the importance on trial and error: “Trial and error and iterations are something that every designer faces, including Monet.”

  2. This was extremly well written and helpful for techniques that he used as apart of my Visual Study i am trying to connect Turner and Monets styles!

  3. I do agree with all the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for novices. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

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