Monet had first visited London under duress. In 1870-71 the Franco-Prussian War roared through France (see fig. 1). Monet was among several other artists who fled to England during the conflict. He and his wife Camille and young son Jean had been staying in the beach town of Trouville when France declared war on Prussia in mid-July of 1870. Over the coming months the war crept ever-closer and in the late summer or early fall, Monet boarded a ship to England. Not yet a financially successful artist, he and Camille and Jean (who followed from France a short time later) lived in London penuriously. This residency would beget an important introduction to Paul Durand-Ruel through fellow artist Charles Daubigny. Durand-Ruel would become Monet’s principal dealer, providing funds when the latter needed and overseeing the artist’s unfolding success and the popularity which was to increase momentously in the later years of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Monet’s fellow Impressionist Camille Pissarro also fled to the British capital at this time. He and Monet would paint together and spent time exploring the sites and museums of London. It was at the British Museum that they saw Turner’s Rain, Steam, Speed–The Great Western Railway which depicted a locomotive hurtling across the Thames on the Maidenhead railway bridge. Gifted to the museum by the artist’s estate in 1856, this was one of the few paintings by other artists that Monet directly referred to in his correspondence (see fig. 2).
Having returned to France after the war, Monet next visited London in 1898 to see his son Michel, who was there studying English. He returned the following year and took up his painting campaign—first of Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge, and then in 1899, a discreet series focused on the House of Parliament. "His canvases of this [Charing Cross] bridge," according to Richard Thompson, "which from his balcony crossed the river at less of an angle than Waterloo Bridge, so giving a steadier, more stable composition, can play with the dying light of a winter afternoon.... In only 10 of the depictions of Charing Cross Bridge did Monet include a hint of the Embankment beneath his balcony, and these were typically among the less finished canvases. The unanchored scene he favored offered a view with less gravity, lighter..." (Monet & Architecture (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2018, pp. 176 & 183).
The present canvas exudes these lighter, ephemeral qualities, the paint strokes and reflections grounded only in the architecture of the horizontal bar of the bridge and its massive vertical pilings supporting it from underneath. Two trains move rapidly across, billowing great clouds of steam from their engines, tinged with reflections from the river and the sky, while boats at lower left and center faintly hint at the bustling traffic of the waterway.
The 1890s have come to be known as the decade in which Monet focused intently on serialized works. Starting in 1890-91 with the grainstacks (colloquially called “Haystacks”; see fig. 3) and their lavishly worked surfaces, Monet found a vehicle to express his views on the meaning of landscape: “For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but its surroundings bring it to life—the air and the light, which vary continually… For me it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives objects their real value” (quoted in J. House, Nature into Art, New Haven & London, 1986, pp. 28-29). From the grainstacks Monet would move to curvaceous poplars lining the river Epte, to the luminous facade of Rouen Cathedral (see fig. 4), to diaphanous sheets of ice forming and melting on the Seine, to Norway and Normandy and, of course, his meticulously cultivated gardens at Giverny (see fig. 5). Monet's commitment to series painting and accomplishments therein amounted to a watershed moment in both the artist's oeuvre and Modern Art writ large, the myriad impacts of which are evident across the twentieth century and beyond. Writing about the groundbreaking quality and importance of these series paintings, Paul Hayes Tucker states: “…his enthusiasm for his work surely rested on the fact that he was developing something entirely new. For no other painter up until then had ever conceived of painting a large number of pictures that concentrated on the same subject and that would be differentiated only by formal factors—color, touch, and composition—as well as by different lighting and weather conditions” (P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet, Life and Art, New Haven & London, 1995, p. 139).
Monet found the famous London fog to be a particularly apt vehicle for filtering changes in light and atmosphere. In fact, once underway with his London canvases, the artist would complain about how swiftly effects would vary—though it was this very caprice that allowed him to create such a variety of masterpieces. “What I like most of all in London is the fog," he told René Gimpel later in life. "Without the fog, London would not be a beautiful city. It’s the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth…." In this case, Monet was returning to a motif that had preoccupied him in 1870-71, when he had been in exile in England; three of the paintings that he had done during that first stay depict the Thames cloaked in a winter haze…. As Tucker notes, "The London pictures can be understood as the result of Monet’s evident interest in reworking older motifs and in endowing them with the grandeur that he was now able to see in them… the London views are far more monumental than his earlier Thames pictures. In their muffled qualities, brilliantly diffused light and subject matter they also appear to be tinged with nostalgia, a feeling reinforced by the purple and yellows, blues and roses with which they were painted” (ibid., pp. 244-45; see figs. 6 & 7).
Monet continued to work on the rest of his London canvases back in his studio in Giverny until 1904, when he finally exhibited a selection of them at Galerie Durand-Ruel. Critics heaped praise on the pictures, alleging that Monet's accomplishments rivaled those of J.M.W. Turner, the then-undisputed champion of English landscape painting. According to Georges Lecomte, Monet had never "attained such vaporous subtlety, such powers of abstraction and synthesis." But it was Gustav Kahn who wrote perhaps the most lyrical synopsis in his description of Monet's Charing Cross Bridges: "The Charing Cross Bridge series numbers the fewest paintings. The motif for it is given in an airy vision of the river, where one seems to see light passing, mobile and brief, the fragile shades of dawn. The water is like a mirror on which the vaporous shadows chase and succeed one another—fragile, slow, harmonies, like those of Schumann, if you will, or of Faure... Like another strain in the symphony, the fog blurs a part of the bridge, consumes it, bites the green reflection that cuts the water like a rigid bar. Here the bridges of the bar cast diffuse shadows, like great, moving, trembling leaves on the green water" (G. Kahn, "L'Exposition de Claude Monet" in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, July 1, 1904, n.p.).
Monet’s importance to artists whose work would become entirely abstract was apparent in the decades after his death. Paloma Alarcó explores the reactions of the Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky and the Suprematist artist Kasimir Malevich (see figs. 8 & 9): “Monet developed a type of painting dominated by repetitive subject matter and a loose, fluid technique that filled the entire surface of the canvas, turning it into a world unto itself, one that was almost abstract. It was a very short path that led from capturing that personal perception of the world in a painted image to the self-sufficiency of forms and colors. Monet would inevitably come to be viewed as an abstract artist. Kandinsky was one of the first artists to interpret Monet as an abstract painter and remarked that seeing one painting from Monet’s haystack series… had opened his eyes to abstraction: ‘Suddenly, for the first time, I saw a picture. That is was a haystack, the catalogue informed me, I didn’t recognize it. I found this non-recognition painful, and thought that the painter had no right to paint so indistinctly. I had a dull feeling that the object was lacking in this picture. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably upon my memory, always hovering quite unexpectedly before my eyes, down to the last detail.’ Another Russian avant-garde artist, Kazimir Malevich, recalled an experience very similar to Kandinsky’s, in his case the epiphany occurred before one of Monet’s images of Rouen Cathedral, which Malevich had discovered in the Shchukin collection: ‘In fact, all of Monet’s efforts had gone into the walls of the cathedral. His main task was not the shadows and the light but the painting that lay in the shadow and the light’” (Monet et l’abstraction (exhibition catalogue), Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, 2010, p. 15). In the 1950s, Clement Greenberg, the noted art critic and primary supporter of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists, credited Monet with advancing painting to its furthest point, regardless of the Cubism of Pablo Picasso and George Braque.
Several of the Abstract Expressionists looked toward Monet’s work for its use and application not only of medium but also of color—both in some of his last works' excesses and in the meditative quality of his serial compositions. “The manner in which Monet transformed the rhythms of nature into an expression of his own inner feelings anticipates the chromatic abstractions of later artists like Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb…. Both Rothko and Gottlieb created works of expansive luminosity that express universal emotions. Rothko’s large-format color field canvases with their open, vibrant rectangular forms which, bearing no relationship to geometry, appear to float in an indeterminate space, can be linked to certain aspects of the Impressionists’ treatment of light, especially Monet’s [see fig. 10]. Like Monet, Rothko concentrated on achieving visual contrasts by means of the application of color in successive thin glazes as if it were watercolor, not oil, diminishing the texture of the painting to its minimum expression, to make it evident that the light source emerges from the paint itself” (ibid., pp. 31 & 33). Advising Lila Cabot Perry, an American who spent her summers painting in Giverny and who visited frequently with Monet, the artist stated: “When you go out to paint try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives your naive impression of the scene before you” (quoted in J. Rewald & F. Weitzenhoffer, eds., Aspects of Monet, A symposium on the artist’s life and times, New York, 1984, p. 109).
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale