Claude Monet Houses of Parliament, London
Houses of Parliament, London, painted by Claude Monet in 1904 is a dizzying study of the twisting sunset through English fog, and a testament to the staggering vision of the preeminent painter of luminescence and the effects of light. Following a brief visit to the city in 1870 Monet returned to London in 1887 and again in 1899. Both times he found the city dramatically changed. It was said in the last decades of the nineteenth-century that journeying to London from Paris was like travelling fifty years into the future. The effects of the industrial revolution and urban modernity that wreaked their effects on the English capital long before medieval Paris felt their upheavals. Staying at the Savoy Hotel on the Strand, Monet enjoyed spectacular views of the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. Returning again in 1900 and 1901 the ageing artist painted the congested bridges of London, turning his keen eye to the conditions of urban living far more than he ever had in Paris.
This particular view of the Houses of Parliament, seen from St Thomas' Hospital in the late afternoon and sunset, was captured in the artist's idiosyncratic style of applying dabs of paint through the day, and thus documenting the changing effects of light. Although many of the paintings in his London series are painted from life, Monet also made use of the increasingly common medium of photography and documented a number of views that he would work from in his studio back in Giverny. Houses of Parliament, London belongs to a series of eleven paintings completed and exhibited after Monet's various stays in the British capital. The main theme of the series is the mesmerizing effects of light beneath fog and the atmospheric variations of the immense metropolitan city.
In this canvas Monet explores the dissolution of form and his characteristic lack of separation between the sky and the water is more evident than ever. Indeed, the Houses of Parliament themselves have no consistency, becoming instead a simple and blurred silhouette, barely distinct from its reflection in the water. This interplay between reality and its image is rendered eloquently on canvas by the homogeneity of the pictorial material – it is granular and fragmented, suggesting the density of the fog and promoting the diversity of the broad brush strokes through which the artist expresses his games of light and shade.
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