Monet, Claude: Houses of Parliament, London
Of Monet's and
experience of England during the Franco-German war, Pissarro was
later to write, `Monet and I were very enthusiastic over the London
landscapes'. However, they chose different aspects of it: Pissarro,
what he described as `at that time a charming suburb'
(Lower Norwood) and Monet, Hyde Park and Westminster.
Monet's paintings of Hyde Park in 1871, though nothing more than
stretches of grass and pathways with an indication of strolling figures
are remarkably true to character though the principal product of his
stay in London was the beautiful view of Westminster Bridge and the
Houses of Parliament, dated 1871.
The suggestion of color in the fog-laden sky is certainly
but the silhouette of the Parliament buildings does not suggest any debt to
whose works the two French artists now saw. Monet observed and made use
of the same flattening result of the heavy atmosphere as
whose Nocturnes belong to the same decade.
The resemblance, fortuitous as it may be, is increased rather than
otherwise by the evidently well-considered relation of the foreground
timber pier and the buildings and bridge behind, a reminder that Monet
like Whistler was an admirer of the Japanese prints in which these
decorative relationships had a studied importance. Monet was to come
nearer to Turner in the later more vividly chromatic paintings of
the Thames at Westminster made on his later visits in the first
decade of the twentieth century.
The Thames at Westminster (Westminster Bridge)
1871 (130 Kb); Oil on canvas, 47 x 72.5 cm (18 1/2 x 28 1/2");
Collection Lord Astor of Hever; National Gallery, London
Monet used color with an increasing freedom in these later years.
London as he saw it again at the beginning of the present century
suggested chromatic richnesses far beyond any
he had contemplated in 1871.
This view of the Houses of Parliament in 1904 with the sun
coming through fog departed from the
Whistlerian silhouette of
thirty-three years before to picture densities of purple and blue
with a contrast of gold that already forecast
paintings of the city.
Houses of Parliament, London, Sun Breaking Through the Fog
1904 (190 Kb); Oil on canvas, 81 x 92 cm (31 7/8 x 36 1/4 in);
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Le Parlement, Effet de Brouillard
1904 (120 Kb); 82.6 x 92.7 cm;
Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
All of these paintings were done on identical sizes of canvas, from
the same viewpoint overlooking the Thames from Monet's window. This series
is the supreme expression of his conception of an "envelope" of interactive
colored light. By providing a static subject under different light
conditions, the series paintings illustrate how the changing "envelope"
transforms what we perceive. This final painting of the series, however,
differs from the first seven. It is titled without the additional clause
used in the others to describe the momentary condition of the envelope,
such as "...Sun Breaking Through the Fog" or "...Effect of Sunlight". In
the earlier works, the buildings and river are inert, passively affected by
the envelope of light. Here they take center stage with fantastically
dynamic form. The spiraling brushstrokes of the tower sweep it upward
majestically, seeming to draw contrails of the envelope into its vortex.
The river, too, takes on a more aggressive aspect, the highlighted
wavecrests creating a groundswell at the base of the tower that contributes
to the rising effect. As the tower stretches toward the bright sky at the
very pinnacle of the canvas, Monet succeeds masterfully in expressing a
dazzling sense of supreme aspiration.
Houses of Parliament, London
1905 (50 Kb); Oil on canvas, 81 x 92 cm (31 7/8 x 36 1/4 in);
Musee Marmottan, Paris
© 20 May 1996,
Nicolas Pioch -
Thanks to the
BMW Foundation, the WebMuseum
and contributors for their support.