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Monet’s London

June 27, 2024
A Monet painting of the Parliament in London sit by sunlight through fog

Londres, le Parlement, trouée de soleil dans le brouillard by Claude Monet

Though a French cultural icon, Claude Monet has a long and interesting relationship with London. His trips to the British capital greatly impacted his artistic development. He and other French artists like Camille Pissarro escaped Paris in 1870 to avoid conscription during the Franco-Prussian War. Monet traveled to London and visited the city’s museums and galleries. There, he experienced British art like that of J.M.W. Turner, introducing him to forms of abstraction that would later influence the trajectory of Impressionism. Monet would later return to London, renting a flat close to the Thames. During his three stays between the autumn of 1899 and early 1901, Monet created around a hundred paintings showing famous London landmarks by the Thames including Waterloo Bridge, Charing Cross Bridge, and the Houses of Parliament. Like his other series of haystacks and Rouen Cathedral, these paintings were studies, depicting the same subject in different lighting and weather conditions. In a way, he was emulating Turner, who made several paintings of the Houses of Parliament when it caught fire in 1834. Now, some of Monet’s London paintings will return to Britain after being over a century away.

The Courtauld Gallery is one of London’s top cultural institutions, known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Prominent works include Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear. Starting on September 27th, the Courtauld will exhibit twenty-one of Monet’s London paintings. Monet successfully exhibited some of them in Paris in 1904, intending to bring the exhibition to London the following year, hoping to organize it through the Dowdeswell Gallery on New Bond Street. However, these plans faltered in the end after he felt unsatisfied with many of the final works, despite the critical acclaim from the Paris show. Of the paintings featured in the Courtauld exhibition, eighteen appeared in the 1904 Paris exhibition. The gallery’s curators are trying to accurately reconstruct Monet’s vision for the London show he had hoped for over a century ago.

Nearly all the paintings in the exhibition will be on loan from a wide array of public and private collections based in France, Germany, and the United States. Courtauld senior curator Karen Serres called the London paintingsby far the largest and most ambitious series Monet had produced up until this point in his career”. She continued that even though the paintings were never shown together in Britain, they remainamong the most significant representations of [the] city ever made”. Monet enjoyed Britain, London in particular, as a place to paint because of the country’s more temperate climate and increasing industrialization. The clouds and fog, both natural and from factory smokestacks, illuminated the city with a wider range of colors than Monet experienced in France.

The Courtauld’s mission is torealise Monet’s unfulfilled ambitionof exhibiting these paintings in the country of their creation. The Courtauld Gallery is just a short walk down the Strand from the Savoy Hotel, on the balconies of which Monet created many of these paintings. This fact will not be lost on the many visitors when they exit the gallery and walk along the river’s Victoria Embankment. Monet and London: Views of the Thames will be on display at the Courtauld Gallery from September 27, 2024 to January 19, 2025.