Vincent Van Gogh did a series of paintings of the Seine — they make a fascinating comparison to Monet’s series, both in style and content
Claude Monet, the famous French Impressionist artist, painted a series of oil paintings of the Houses of Parliament in London over the course of several stays between 1899 and 1901. All the paintings in the series share the same viewpoint overlooking the Thames, but are painted at different times of day and with different weather. The contrasts between them are wonderful.
Although the main residence in his life was in Giverny, Monet and his family had actually lived in England briefly when they sought refuge during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871). Monet returned again in the late eighties and stayed with his two artist friends James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Both were famous artists in their right and, although they were expatriate Americans, they acted as his guide to the city. Whistler’s fixation on the Thames clearly had an effect on his friend Monet.
Monet always tried to go to London during the winter, when the city sky would be thick with fog and the smoke of coal fires. "Without fog," Monet said, "London would not be a beautiful city. It is the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth.” In this series the ghostly outline of the Parliament buildings emerges from the fog, and its great stone bulk seems strangely weightless. Thousands of coloured patches knit together to give an impression of the density of the air, as sky and river blend seamlessly.
Paintings from this series by Monet are scattered all over the world, but you can see one here in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay. Whether or not you have seen the scene in the flesh, this depiction is triumphant.
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