I, Claude Monet


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

I, Claude Monet
"A must-see film for art lovers."

Not many men can tell their own stories 92 years after their deaths. Claude Monet, however, spent his whole life writing letters - very personal letters about every aspect of his life, sent to friends and family members. Brought together here and read by Henry Goodman, they provide the narrative for a documentary that follows the artist from early adulthood right through to the last months of his life. For fans of his paintings who want to understand more about the man behind them, this is fascinating stuff. More generally, it's a rare insight into the minutiae of Nineteenth Century life.

Monet's life was not an easy one. There are particular troubles that he faced, mostly relating to the health of his loved ones; there were also issues that most people working in the arts today (and a good number of others besides) will find easy to relate to. Lack of money, the strain of long hours, the fickleness of the market, difficulties in keeping a roof over his head - all these things contributed to ongoing worry and borderline depression, as if conspiring to suffocate the artistic ambition and passion that would ultimately lead to his recognition as one of France's greatest painters. As a result, the film becomes depressing to watch in places, but because it is also charting the history of his creative process, this isn't something that editing could have been expected to solve. It's an honest approach, and one hopes that viewers will bear with it, as there is plenty here to reward them for doing so.

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Monet's lifetime was an unprecedented period of creativity in French painting and the artist's correspondences place him right at the heart of it, providing numerous insights into the work and lives of other big names. The effect is almost like listening to the latest gossip about the celebrities of over a century ago, and today's artists will note that they all faced struggles to realise their ambitions. Some popular myths about Impressionism are dispelled, with Monet reflecting on the experience of having something one has been doing for years finally come into fashion. We also learn a great deal about his creative process - especially his lifelong fascination with light - and the huge number of drafts he would work through before finally capturing an image in a way that satisfied him.

Grabsky takes us to many of the locations where Monet worked and lets us see them side by side with his paintings, enabling a new level of appreciation for the painter's achievements. We also, briefly, visit the garden he created in his later years and see his famous bridge and water lilies. Dozens of paintings are used over the course of the film to illustrate his life story and his work. The result is an intimacy with his vision that puts the words in context - a context that most of those to whom they were originally addressed would not have had available - bringing us close to the artist in a way that adds immensely to our ability to connect with the art.

Even if Monet isn't really your cup of tea, this is a must-see film for art lovers and a compelling one for students of history. It offers what the artist valued most: illumination.

Reviewed on: 22 May 2018
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This is the story of Monet as expressed through his personal letters as he painted.
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Director: Phil Grabsky

Starring: Henry Goodman

Year: 2017

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: UK


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