The Unknown Monet of London

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The Unknown Monet of London

by Grant Zahorsky

Claude Monet
Claude Monet 1899 Nadar crop.jpg
Claude Monet, photo by Nadar, 1899.


This article will serve as an analyzation of impressionism and Oscar-Claude Monet's time spent in London creating the 'London Series', a collection of 94 surviving oil paintings. It will also provide a brief comparison of photography to impressionism and prove that photography and Impressionism influenced each other and by playing with the light, angles, and perspective, images can be painted or photographed that change the mood of a single subject dramatically. . Prior to this project, I have spent time researching Monet as he is one of my favorite artists. I have travelled all across the United States visiting different art museums and galleries to study his work. I have had experience with art at WPI, taking a course in animation, as well as experience as a freelance graphic designer, photographer, cinematographer, and visual effects producer and supervisor. After coming to London to research Monet, I learned much more about the life of Monet and his London Series.


The following article will serve as an analyzation of Oscar-Claude Monet's life and time in London as he created his remarkable London Series. The London Series is one of his most notable works, consisting of 94 surviving oil paintings of the Houses of Parliament, the Charing Cross Bridge, and the Waterloo Bridge. Monet fell in love with London as soon as he arrived. He was captivated by the energy of the city and how the London Fog seemed to take over the city and "dissolve" everything it covered. He used the fog's enchantment and the city's immense power in combination with the beams of sunlight that pierced through the fog to create a collection that will never be forgotten. I provide some of Monet's paintings in the London Series as examples and references to the project, as well as the photographs that I took of the Waterloo Bridge. The images I produced serve as proof that, as with Impressionism, by playing with light, angles, and perspective, it is possible and greatly effective to alter the mood of a single subject and image. I began with great experience in photography and art as I have studied both and been a freelance photographer for years. With this knowledge, I chose paintings and images that would effectively demonstrate the differences and similarities in Impressionism and photography and created the following article.

Section 1: Background

Monet's Life

Oscar-Claude Monet was born in Paris on November 14, 1840 to Claude Adolphe Monet and Louise Justine Aubrée Monet. At the age of 5, Money and his family moved to Le Havre in Normandy where his father wanted him to go into the family business of ship-chandling and grocery business, but Money had other ideas. [1] He was striving to be an artist rather than a shop owner and his mother, being a singer, supported his career in art. On the first of April, 1851, Monet entered the Le Havre secondary school of the arts and began to fulfill his dream. Locals at the time knew him well as he would sell his charcoal caricatures for ten to twenty francs. He took his first drawing lessons from Jacques-François Ochard and met Eugène Boudin on the beaches of Normandy in 1856. This is when Boudin taught him how to use oil paints and the techniques involved in “en plein air” paintings. [2] His mother died on January 28th, 1857 and at the age of sixteen, Monet left school to live with his widowed and childless aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre. It was then that Monet visited the Louvre and painted his first works of art. [3] After being drafted into the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry in Algeria in 1861, Monet contracted typhoid fever and went absent without leave. It was then that his aunt intervened to get him out of the army so long as Monet agreed to a complete one course in an art school. He was hesitant because of his disappointment in the traditional curriculum taught in art school and instead became a student of Charles Gleyre in 1862 in Paris. This was the moment the first true forms of Impressionism were created. Monet, along with Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frédéric Bazille and Alfred Sisley shared their different approaches to art and experimented with the effects of light outdoors through rapid and seemingly random brush strokes in conjunction with broken color schemes. He took these techniques with him across Europe painting different landscapes, buildings and environments and took his first trip to London in 1870-1. [4]

Monet in London

Savoy Pigeons
Milestone Image
Lithograph of James McNeil Whistler

The moment Monet arrived in London for the first time in 1870, he instantly fell in love with the atmospheric effects of the fog and the city itself. As soon as he left the city, he knew he wanted to return to paint the city in all of its glory. Unfortunately, due to financial troubles at the time, Monet was not able to come back until 1899 when he could afford to stay at the Savoy Hotel, one of the world’s most luxurious hotels at the time. [5] It was there, on the sixth and fifth floor, that Monet created the London Series, a collection of 94 surviving oil paintings and many more that were never finished from 1899-1905. The current existing works consist of 19 paintings of Parliament, 41 of the Waterloo Bridge, and 34 of the Charing Cross Bridge. Monet would typically begin his day by painting the Waterloo and Charing Cross bridges and then paint the Houses of Parliament in the afternoon and evening at the St. Thomas Hospital. [6]
During the 18 month period surrounding Monet’s stay in London, he spent approximately 6 of those months in London painting the bridges. Monet chose the Savoy Hotel because of its remarkable view of all three landmarks displayed in his London Series and during his first stay from mid-September to the end of Octobeblr/early November in 1899, Monet lived in and painted from the sixth floor. When he returned from 9 February to 5 April in 1900, he noticed that the entirety of the sixth floor was being used for injured soldiers from the Boer War, as per Princess Louise’s request. [7] Because of this, Monet worked from a suite on the fifth floor during his second and again on his third stay from 25 January until the end of March in 1901. In the days of Monet, a suite would have consisted of a bedroom and a sitting room, and at the Savoy, a balcony. This hotel and the specific rooms were recommended to him by fellow artist and friend James McNeill Whistler.

It can be established that during his first stay at the Savoy, Monet most likely worked from a corner suite on the sixth floor that Whistler had previously occupied and recommended because of the view from the balcony.[8][9] Whistler’s room and viewing position can be discovered by analyzing his lithographs 'Savoy Pigeons’ and ‘Evening - Little Waterloo Bridge’. These lithographs were produced in 1896 while he stayed at the Savoy for several weeks comforting his wife, Trixie, who was terminally ill with cancer. In the corner of ‘Savoy Pigeons’, the birds can be seen on the corner balcony to the left. Exploring this image more closely, one can also see that there are no pillars in the image. This is because the pillars of the Savoy Hotel are only present to and including the fifth floor. It can then be concluded that Whistler was painting from the corner suite on the sixth floor of the hotel.

After being captivated by London and the London Fog, Monet set out to create the 'London Series', one of his most remarkable collections. In these urban paintings, people and their carriages, trains, and boats all gave way to the fog and the light peaking through. The natural light and mist provided a new way of demonstrating different moods and effects of the environment on architectural giants. From the Savoy Hotel, he could see the Waterloo Bridge on his left and the Charing Cross Bridge on his right and from St. Thomas hospital, he painted the magnificent House of Parliament series. It was not the light or the architecture that enthralled Monet so much, but the London Fog, which "dematerialized" the look of the River Thames, the bridges, and Parliament. Monet demonstrated this look and feel in his paintings by showing even less concern for detail than in his previous series of the Poplars. In the 'Houses of Parliament' series, soft and subtle tones of blues and pinks were used to signify the changing of light on the fog and on the city. [10] In 'Charing Cross Bridge, London', Monet used the fog to show how sunlight can be dispersed over a large area by using blues and pinks that slowly transformed backdrops of vivid yellow tones. Contrastingly, Monet reversed lights and darks in his 'Waterloo Bridge' series. This was done to create a new perspective on the city and its energy. By making the bridge a bright band of light and the people and their carriages small bursts of light, the energy of the city is intensified greatly. [11] As with all of his paintings, Monet put his genius imagination and memory to use to create a collection of masterpieces that will never be forgotten.

Towards the End

'Weeping Willow', 1918-1919, Columbus Museum of Art
Milestone Image
Claude Monet

Monet began to develop cataracts after the death of his second wife, Alice, and his oldest son, Jean, in 1911 and 1914 respectively. [12] Before Jean's death, he had married Alice's daughter Blanche, Monet's favorite of the bunch. As Monet's sight began failing him and the cataracts worsened, Blanche moved to Giverny, France, where he lived, to take care of him. Monet's house in Giverny was the site of his famous garden and water lily pond. It was there that some of his most notable works were crafted into the masterpieces that we know today. It was also there that Monet paid homage to his younger son, Michel, his friend, Georges Clemenceau, and the other fallen French soldiers who had lost their lives in World War I through his paintings of the weeping willow trees. Due to Monet's cataracts, these paintings all had a reddish hue, a symptom common of many people who suffer from cataracts. It was not until 1923 that Monet had two operations done to remove his cataracts. After his operations, he began repainting older paintings with seemingly bluer water lilies than before. This may have been due to a possible lack in ability to see ultraviolet wavelengths of light that are normally excluded by the natural lens of the eye. [13] On the 5th of December, 1926, Monet fell victim to lung cancer and passed away at the age of 86. He is currently buried in a family grave in the Giverny church cemetery in France. [14] Only around fifty people came to the ceremony because Monet had always insisted that the occasion be small and simple. Today, tourists from all around the world can visit Monet's home and gardens which were given to French Academy of Fine Arts by his son, Michel, in 1966.

Section 2: Deliverable

Impressionism vs. Modern Photography

Painters and artists have been using photographical techniques for centuries. Dutch painters during the 16th and 17th centuries are believed to have used a camera obscura (a darkened box with a convex lens or aperture) to create their photorealistic paintings.[15][16] Tim Jenison, an inventor and filmmaker from Texas, released a documentary entitled "Tim's Vermeer" in which he explored the photographical techniques and use of a camera obscura in the work of Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch painter that lived from 1632-1675. By using a camera obscura, Jenison was able to create an exact replica of some of Vermeer's most notable paintings, even as someone who had no experience painting. Though these techniques were used by early painters, the first permanent photograph was not taken until 1826 by Joseph Niepce and then made more widespread in 1840 when British inventor Fox Talbot created the positive-negative techniques many people use today when photographing through the use of film. Fellow artist and founder of Impressionism, Edgar Degas, used photography to influence many of his paintings, specifically his paintings centered around dancing, and later even turned to photography as an artistic pursuit. [17]. As the art of photography and Impressionism advanced in years, it also advanced technologically. Oscar-Claude Monet, and may others like him, incorporated photography into their works so that they could travel across the world, begin new paintings, and finish them at a later date, without having to be at the site of the subject of the painting. This provided more flexibility in their art and changed the way they used their time while painting. It also allowed for more creativity, and techniques as the art of photography advanced. Today, photography is incorporated into the life of almost every single person on the planet through smartphones, digital cameras, mirrorless cameras, DSLR's, pinhole cameras, and more. People use it to document their lives by photographing their families, trips, accomplishments, and even meals. Because of this versatility, photography has grown immensely and become a major art form by playing with light and angles to create emotional images that impact the viewer, similarly to Monet and Impressionism. Monet's remarkable London Series focused on the Houses of Parliament, the Charing Cross Bridge, and the Waterloo Bridge. In my version of the London Series, I take photographs of the Waterloo Bridge using different forms of light and different angles to demonstrate how, as Monet did, playing with light, angles, and perspective can change the mood of a single subject dramatically.

Excerpts from London Series by Oscar-Claude Monet

London Series by Grant Zahorsky


When I began this milestone, I expected to find that Impressionism and photography could accomplish similar tasks and create similar moods, but effectively be more different than they are alike. Monet created works of art that shaped a style of painting forever. By using quick and rapid brush strokes and minimal colors, he was able to create an enchanting mood to his paintings that were easily altered by the time of day and light in the image. As he was painting the London Series, he used mostly shades blues and pinks to change the feel of the image by displaying how the light pierced through the intense London Fog onto the buildings and people of the city. After studying the influences of photography on Impressionism, I found that they are more alike than I had first realized. Painters, including Monet, used photography as a way of increasing the efficiency of how they used their time. These painters were able to travel across the world and begin paintings which they would also photograph so that they could finish at a later time if needed. By traveling to London and photographing the Waterloo Bridge, I was able to see exactly where Monet painted the incredible architectural giant, and I was able to recreate different moods by using light and perspective to my advantage. As the sun went down, it created a sort of enchanting, yet gloomy mood to the bridge in certain angles, while in others, it made the bridge shine and displayed its incredible energy that it has. This project only covers some of Monet's paintings in the London Series and does not cover his other remarkable works of art which could be a project of great merit for others wishing to learn more.


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