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Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Houses of Parliament, Sunset” by Claude Monet (National Gallery of Art, DC)

"The Houses of Parliament, Sunset" by Claude Monet

“The Houses of Parliament, Sunset” by Claude Monet

“The Houses of Parliament” by Claude Monet is one in a series of paintings of the Palace of Westminster, home of the British Parliament, created during the early 1900s while Monet stayed in London. All of the series of paintings with similar titles share the same viewpoint from Monet’s terrace at St Thomas’ Hospital overlooking the Thames. The set of pictures depict different times of the day, and different weather and light conditions, interestingly all on canvases are of approximately similar size.

This paintings viewpoint was close to that of J. M. W. Turner’s paintings of the fire that had destroyed much of the old Parliament complex in 1834. Artworks of the Thames by James McNeill Whistler also inspired Monet.

By the time of the Houses of Parliament series, Monet had ceased his earlier practice of completing a painting on the spot in front of the subject. Monet continued refining the images back at his home base in France and sometimes used photographs to help in his task. Some purist criticised this new approach, but Monet replied that his means of creating a work was his own business and it was up to the viewer to judge the final result.

Monet produced nearly a hundred views of the Thames River in London. He painted Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge from his room in the Savoy Hotel and the Houses of Parliament from Saint Thomas’s Hospital. The artist continued to refine the paintings and wrote to his art dealer:

“I cannot send you a single canvas of London … It is indispensable to have them all before me and to tell the truth not one is definitely finished. I develop them all together.” 

Oscar-Claude Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting, and the term “Impressionism” is derived from the title of his painting Impression, “soleil levant” or “Impression, Sunrise”, which was exhibited in 1874. Monet adopted a method of painting in which he painted the same scene many times to capture the changing of light and the passing of the seasons. Monet is known for having produced a series of paintings all versions of the same subject and perspective. Examples include his series of the “Valley of the Creuse” series and his famous series of “Haystacks” and “Water Lilies” paintings.

From 1883 Monet lived in Giverny, where at his home, he developed a garden landscape which included the lily ponds that would become the subjects of his best-known works. In 1899 he began painting the water lilies, firstly with a Japanese bridge as a central feature, and later in the series of large-scale paintings, with the water lilies as the main feature. This series occupied him for the last 20 years of his life.

Reflections

  • “I would like to paint the way a bird sings.” – Claude Monet
  • “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding. ” – Claude Monet
  • “The light constantly changes, and that alters the atmosphere and beauty of things every minute.” – Claude Monet
  • Which is your favourite painting of the Houses of Parliament?
  • Which is your favourite Monet series?
    • The Houses of Parliament
    • Water Lilies
    • Valley of the Creuse
    • Haystacks
    • Grand Canal, Venice
    • Rouen Cathedral

The Houses of Parliament, Sunset

  • Title:              The Houses of Parliament, Sunset
  • Français:        Le Parlement de Londres, soleil couchant
  • Artist:            Claude Monet
  • Year:              1903
  • Medium:       Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  81.3 × 92.5 cm (32 × 36.4 in)
  • Museum:      National Gallery of Art, DC

Claude Monet

Claude Monet – Interesting Facts

  • Monet was Paris-born but was raised on the Normandy Coast.
  • Monet began drawing as a young boy, sketching his teachers and neighbours.
  • Monet had an estranged relationship with his father. His father did not support his artistic passion and was unwilling to help him financially.
  • In 1858, Monet met Eugène Boudin. Boudin became his mentor, and encouraged him to paint “en plain air.”
  • In 1861, Monet was drafted into the army and join the First Regiment of African Light Cavalry, he served in Algeria, a territory that was then controlled by France.
  • Monet lived in Argenteuil from 1871 to 1878, where he was drawn to the natural beauty, and he painted 170 canvases during his time in Argenteuil.
  • For the year of the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, Monet painted the Argenteuil Bridge seven times.
  • Japanese art fascinated Monet, attending a Japanese exhibition in the 1890s. He amassed a collection of more than 200 Japanese prints over the years.
  • France’s traditional art institutions were not fans of the Monet’s style. The saw his style as “casual” and “incomplete.”
  • His style focused on perception, capturing outdoor scenes by using rapid brush strokes.
  • In his late 20s, Monet was depressed and struggling to support himself and his family financially, Monet jumped off a bridge in 1868. Fortunately, he survived his fall.
  • Monet destroyed hundreds of his works due to bouts of frustration and self-doubt.
  • Monet was baptised Catholic, but he went on to become an atheist.
  • Monet disliked traditional art schools. So he became a student of Swiss artist Charles Gleyre. It was here that Monet met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frederic Bazille and Alfred Sisley.
  • With the younger artists,  Monet explored new approaches to art like distinctive brush strokes and accurate depiction of light and unusual visual angles.
  • Outdoor painting was critical in developing his style. He created a series of pictures where he explored the effects of rain, mist, smoke, and steam on landscapes and objects.
  • The term “Impressionism” was used as a derogatory label in a critical review of artists who used the Impressionists style; it was borrowed from Monet’s painting title called “Impression: Sunrise.”
  • Monet claimed that he titled the painting Impression, Sunrise due to his hazy painting style in his depiction of the subject.
  • In his most famous series of twenty-six views of Rouen Cathedral, he broke tradition and cropped the Cathedral views, so that only a portion of the facade is seen on the canvas.
  • Monet’s favourite model was his first wife, Camille Doncieux. She appeared in around 32 paintings.
  • Monet’s second wife, Alice Hoschedé, was irrationally jealous of his first wife who had died.
  • Monet suffered from cataracts in his later years.
  • In 1883, Monet moved to the small village in Giverny and spent ten years building the water garden where he painted perhaps his most famous works.
  • As Monet’s garden expanded, he hired six gardeners to tend to it.
  • One gardener’s job was to paddle a boat onto the pond each morning, washing and dusting each lily pad.
  • Monet’s series of Water Lilies consists of about 250 oil paintings which were painted during the last thirty years of his life.
  • Monet’s famous Japanese bridge over his Giverny pond remains to this day at his home in Giverny.
  • For the last 25 years of his life, Monet painted the water lilies in a series of paintings that water lilies in different light and textures.
  • In 1926, Monet died of lung cancer, at the age of 86.
  • Monet is buried in the Giverny church cemetery.
  • In 1980, his former home in Giverny was opened to tourists to see his gardens, woodcut prints, and souvenirs.
  • Monet’s Giverny garden, bedroom, studio, and blue sitting-room are open for tours.

Explore the National Gallery of Art

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“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand,
as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.”

– Claude Monet

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Photo Credit: 1) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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