Monet's London

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London

War 1870-1871 Franco- Prussian 2 (1871)LIFE Photo Collection

Seeking refuge

Monet first came to London when he was a refugee fleeing the Franco-Prussian War, and Paris was under siege by Prussian troops. 

The Cradle - Camille with the Artist's Son Jean (1867) by Claude MonetNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Only recently married to his wife Camille, the couple escaped across the Channel with their little son, Jean. They settled in London and took up lodgings first near Leicester Square and then in Kensington.

Charing Cross Bridge, London (1890) by Camille PissarroNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Impressionists in London

The city had a lasting impact on Monet’s career. He met other artists also seeking refuge in London, including his friend, Camille Pissarro (whose later painting of London is pictured here), and mentor, Charles-François Daubigny. Daubigny introduced the two younger painters to the influential art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, who would go on to have a key role in establishing the success of Impressionism.

The Thames below Westminster (about 1871) by Claude MonetThe National Gallery, London

In London Monet sought out new buildings to paint, such as the recently completed Houses of Parliament and Victoria Embankment (right), which was still under construction.

London. Embankment. (1908) by Frederick H. EvansThe J. Paul Getty Museum

With peace now restored in France under the Third Republic, the Monets left London in May 1871, but Claude vowed to return to the city he had much enjoyed.

Monet. ClaudeLIFE Photo Collection

Thirty years later

Monet made good on his promise, returning to London almost thirty years later, by which point the Impressionists had become established artists. Now nearly 60, Monet had remarried to Alice Hoschedé, having lost his first wife Camille in 1879.

Top Euro (Bri) London Streets Fleet StLIFE Photo Collection

Monet came to London three times between 1899 and 1901, staying for weeks at a time.

Top Euro (Bri) London Hotels - VariousLIFE Photo Collection

He often stayed at the Savoy Hotel, where he could paint from his rooms on the 5th and 6th floors.

Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset (1904) by Claude MonetNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

'Without fog London would not be beautiful'

From his balcony at the Savoy, Monet could look eastwards to Waterloo Bridge and the industrialised South Bank, and westwards to Charing Cross Bridge. His letters to his wife Alice show how he was fascinated, and frustrated, not only by changing light throughout the day, but by London’s fog and pollution, which obscured the subject and coloured the atmosphere. 

Charing Cross Bridge: Fog on the Thames (1903) by Claude MonetHarvard Art Museums

Monet exhibited 37 views of the Thames at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris in 1904, including this atmospheric painting of Charing Cross Bridge in a fog of pink and blue tones.

The exhibition was an enormous success, with several critics drawing analogies with music, and some works selling for double what Durand-Ruel had paid Monet for them.

In total, Monet made over a hundred canvases of London, some of which were left as sketches while others he destroyed.

LIFE Photo Collection

Back in France

He reworked the pictures on returning to his studio in Giverny, France (pictured here), which has made precise dating of these works impossible. 

Monet returns

Now, over a century later, Monet has returned to London. You can see his paintings of the city in the National Gallery's 'Monet & Architecture' exhibition, steps away from where he painted and stayed. 

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