Toward the middle of the 1880s, a number of artists became disaffected with impressionism. Monet began to explore painting in a series, or creating groups of works of almost identical subjects. The series paintings were a break from impressionism in two critical respects: the works, based on campaigns in front of the motif, were usually extensively reworked in the studio and lacked the spontaneity integral to impressionism; and, the motif itself was secondary to effects of light and weather.
The new qualities of Monet's series paintings were given concentrated expression in the Rouen Cathedral paintings, in which the stone facade fills the canvases. Monet showed 20 of the 30 extant Cathedral works, among them this one, as a group in an 1895 exhibition. Individual paintings, named according to the view and weather conditions depicted, are chiefly distinguished by color, which assumes the principal role in the series. The cumulative impression reported by visitors extended beyond the impact of individual works. The rich surfaces of the paintings seem to imitate the textural fabric of the cathedral's carved stone. Individually the paintings depict a religious edifice, but collectively the series becomes a denial of the solidity of Rouen Cathedral as an entity, and gives precedence to artistic concerns of light, color, and mood.
In late January or early February 1892, Monet rented rooms across from Rouen cathedral. He remained until spring, painting its looming façade many times, most often as we see it here, close up and cropped to the sides. The next winter he returned to paint the cathedral again, making in all more than 30 views of it. But it was less the carved Gothic façade that was Monet's subject than the atmosphere—the enveloppe—that surrounded the building. "To me the motif itself is an insignificant factor," Monet said. "What I want to reproduce is what exists between the motif and me."