Oscar-Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) was a well-known French painter and founder of impressionist painting and also a forerunner to modernism. He was born a Catholic in Catholic France and was baptized in the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Catholic church.
His parents tried to raise him in the Catholic tradition with strict religious rules and customs. But he never believed in God in the Catholic way.
Monet commented on the Church over the years and declared that he didn’t have faith in Christianity. It is, however, still disputed by some art lovers and scholars whether or not Monet can be described as not religious. It all depends on how inclusive or exclusive you define “religious.”
Monet and Catholic Faith
In short, Monet did not show any faith in God, and he declared his opinions on the Church publicly and renounced the Church officially. Later he became an atheist openly. When you check out Claude Monet’s artworks, you’ll see that the Claude Monet paintings don’t depict Biblical themes.
Although he was not a believer, his second wife was a devout Catholic. Interestingly, his best friend later in his life was a priest at a local parish. Mainly because of his friendship with a priest, some art scholars argue that as Monet has become older, he has become more of a believer.
Monet Artworks Depicting Church Buildings
Although Monet perhaps didn’t see the inside of a church or cathedral, some of Claude Monet artworks often depicted church buildings. Therefore you’ll find several churches and cathedrals depicted in Claude Monet’s famous paintings. The buildings formed part of his landscapes.
His 31-painting series of the Catholic cathedral in Rouen, France, are excellent examples of this. These paintings by Monet were well-received at the time, but not because of their Christian content or any Christian symbolism, but these artworks by Monet were appreciated for his unique way of using light and perspective.
In his later years, crucifix imagery has been included in some of the artworks by Monet – but again, not as a symbol of Christianity.
Monet and Pantheism
When you learn more about Monet as an artist, you discover the philosophies he has adopted. Monet is famous for his landscapes, and this love for Nature indicates a fixation. Many art critics see this fixation and Monet’s pantheistic agnostic view of Nature as an expression of his religious beliefs.
Monet shared the philosophy of pantheism that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent God. In other words, it is the doctrine or religion where the universe as a whole is God and that there is no singular God other than the combined substance, forces, and laws that are manifested in the universe. All forms of reality are considered either as different modes of that Being or identical with it.
Monet Captured the Essence of the Natural World
If you check Claude Monet’s famous paintings, you’ll discover that Monet has captured the essence of the natural world in his paintings. He used strong colors and bold, short brushstrokes to achieve that.
He walked away from classical art’s blended colors and evenness. This can also be seen as a symbolic break with all traditions – including the Catholic tradition.
Monet associated himself with other artists who were also against institutionalized religion. He agreed with Van Gogh, who was one of the artists who loved Nature and believed in the religion of Nature.
Monet and “Nature Religion”
A nature religion is, per definition, a religious movement that believes Nature and the natural world is an embodiment of divinity, sacredness, and spiritual power.
Monet, like Van Gogh, turned to Nature for protection, guidance, and care. They found all these “religious characteristics” in the freedom to explore within themselves and create artworks that helped shape and define some crucial conflicts of their time.
With the two Monet paintings “Creuse Valley,” which is a hymn to the prehistoric heart of France, and “Mornings on the Seine,” which is a tone poem to the country’s preeminent river, Nature had become Monet’s religion. He anointed himself its high priest.
Monet Replaced Conventional Religion with Nature
When Nature became a god, art changed. Many painters painted Nature, but Monet did not want to paint Nature – he wanted to merge with Nature and be part of Nature as God is Nature. For the first time, artists wanted to be Nature – to create masterpieces that would enable them to belong to it as much as the trees depicted in the paintings.
Monet did not simply reproduce Nature but presented it to the viewers in a new way to help the viewers to see more deeply into what could be taken for granted. Monet combined this ability to see and perceive the inner Nature of things with an objectively pleasing presentation.
Monet’s depiction of the truth of Nature even used artistic portrayal to convey reality. He used unexpected colors and brush strokes that, at first glance, did not seem to match Nature, but when combined, it helped art lovers to see things in a fresh and more profound way.
It has been said that looking at nature-related artworks by Monet helps you to recognize and appreciate beauty again.
Monet Believed Human Life must be in Harmony with Nature.
Monet believed that human life must be in harmony with, and not against, Nature. He made a shift from an Impressionist to a post-Impressionist point of view in his famous artworks. In his earlier landscapes of the 1860s and 1870s, there are multiple signs of development and industry, with many human beings touched by the radiant glow of Nature’s light.
But in the almost 100 Monet paintings created after the 1890s, there are no more people, and there are also no references or interest in expanding suburbs and resorts. In almost none of the Monet paintings of that later period he included industry or any sign of human conflict and greed. This shift in the themes of his work can be seen as Monet’s reaction against his earlier realistic outlook. The more Monet became involved with the nature religion. The more humans disappeared from his scenes.
Monet Made Cathedrals part of Nature.
Monet’s determination to replace religion with Nature can clearly be observed in his Cathedral series. Monet took months to paint the facade of “Rouen Cathedral” before going inside the building. This is interpreted by art scholars that he has not been drawn to this religious monument because of a belief in God or the institutional function of the cathedral.
In all the paintings in this period, light and stone hit against each other. The pressure of the natural light is irresistible. Light literally folds around the cathedral, and the hard stone seems to ripple like water. The result is that the Gothic cathedral either becomes Nature or is stripped of its conventional façade to expose the image of Nature as it should be all along.
The Bottom Line
As Claude Monet distanced himself from the Catholic religion and declared himself an atheist, it can be said that Monet did not have faith, but it can’t be said that he was not “religious.” If “religion” includes “to believe in something,” Monet was religious because he believed in Nature, and he conveyed that philosophy with his artwork.