The Thames and Other Landmarks : Exhibit Highlights Monet’s Impressions of London
Art lovers familiar with Claude Monet’s beautiful Impressionist paintings of the French countryside now have the opportunity to see his view of London in a new exhibit at the High Museum of Art.
“Monet in London,” which opened Sunday and runs through Jan. 8, features 22 of the 37 paintings Monet completed of the Thames River and other landmarks between 1899 and 1904, when they were shown in Paris by his dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel.
It is the first time since 1904 that such a series has been assembled for exhibition, with many of the works loaned from private collections and major museums and galleries, mostly in North America.
Donald Rosenthal, the museum’s European art curator, said the exhibition is the first to focus on one of Monet’s series as an entity.
Rosenthal said the idea for the Monet exhibit was proposed five years ago by Grace Seiberling, an art history professor at the University of Rochester, N.Y. Rosenthal worked at the school’s Memorial Art Gallery.
A lack of money kept them from putting a show together, but Rosenthal brought the idea with him to Atlanta. Seiberling organized the current show and wrote the notes for the accompanying catalogue.
Rosenthal said Monet’s London series was selected because it was the most important after his great, late series of “Water Lilies” paintings.
The fact that the High Museum owns “a very fine ‘Houses of Parliament,’ ” which could be shown in this context, also was a deciding factor, Rosenthal said.
The series depicts a continuum from “objective observation to something that becomes so subjective that it is difficult to make out the subject,” Rosenthal said.
“Houses of Parliament in the Fog,” which the High Museum acquired in 1960, is a view of the famous buildings suffused with color and light. The work demonstrates Monet’s function as a link between 19th-Century Impressionism and 20th-Century abstraction.
Monet was nearly 59 and already a successful artist when he took up residence in the Savoy Hotel to begin work on his London paintings. He chose three motifs--the Charing Cross and Waterloo bridges, which spanned the Thames, and the Houses of Parliament alongside the river.
Monet always painted the familiar landmarks from the same places--the bridges from the window of his room in the Savoy, and the Houses of Parliament from the windows of St. Thomas Hospital.
Fog, that inescapable fact of London life, fascinated Monet, said Seiberling.
“I so love London! but I love it only in winter . . . with the fog, for without the fog, London wouldn’t be a beautiful city,” Monet wrote his wife, Alice, in 1899. “It is the fog that gives (London) its magnificent breadth. Those massive, regular blocks become grandiose within that mysterious cloak.”
The catalogue notes say: “The paintings show the foggy river and city surrounding it under gray skies or when the sun penetrated the fog or illuminated smoke.
“To paint so many views of these three aspects of a single subject may seem a natural consequence of the Impressionist wish to record light and atmosphere and to capture evanescent effect.
“The paintings are an expression both of Monet’s long-term interests and of his particular concerns and circumstances at the turn of the century.”
Monet kept many paintings going at once, like a juggler, so that he could turn to the one that most closely approximated the weather conditions he encountered at a particular moment.
His work method minimized the difficulties of capturing ever-changing atmospheric conditions, but it couldn’t eliminate them.
Although Monet produced 100 paintings during the three months he spent in London, he took them home unfinished. He then spent two years working on individual canvases, later winnowing the number to 37 paintings that he felt made up a cohesive series.
The London series also represents an important shift in Monet’s approach in the 1890s, from recording single images to working on multiple canvases of the same motif.
Such series paintings--among them the haystacks and the facade of Rouen Cathedral--marked his intensified effort to capture “evanescent effects,” allowing him to chart precisely the effects of atmospheric changes.