France 1840 – 1926
London, Parliament: sun through the fog
[Londres, le Parlement: trouée de soleil dans le brouillard] 1904
oil on canvas
canvas 81.0 (h) x 92.0 (w) cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris , Bequest of Count Isaac de Camondo 1911
© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
The evening mist clothes the riverside world with poetry, as with a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky, and the tall chimneys become campanili, and the warehouses are palaces in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens …—James Abbott McNeill Whistler1
Early in 1871 Monet, with his friend Pissarro, went to London, taking in not only the city itself, but its major museums, seeing the works of J.M.W. Turner and John Constable for the first time. In 1872–73, Monet painted his famous Impression, sunrise2 depicting Le Havre, a work which named (if it didn’t actually declare) the revolution in art that we now know as Impressionism, featuring in the first ‘Impressionist’ exhibition of 1874. The work reproduced here—London, Parliament: sun through the fog—painted thirty years later, recalls this early, prototypical Impressionist painting, and extends Monet’s ongoing meditation on the effect of light on a landscape.
Monet returned to London in the autumn of 1899. By this time he had completed many of his famous series of works: the Rouen Cathedral and haystacks series; and he had begun working on his great waterlily paintings. Seriality represented for him not only a continuing meditation on the effect of light on a particular subject, but a continuing meditation on the materiality of paint itself. His series of paintings, and particularly those devoted to London’s Houses of Parliament, many of which represent the acme of his oeuvre, highlight his lifelong obsession with the effect on the human eye of the physical substance we call paint. While this painting and the series of paintings to which it belongs are based on his 1899 stay in London, it was only in 1903 that he recommenced working on them—painting this time not from nature, as was his wont, but, significantly, from memory. In 1904, thirty-seven of these ‘Views of London’ were shown at Durand-Ruel’s now famous May exhibition in Paris. The Symbolist poet and art historian Gustave Kahn observed:
In one of these sunsets, the star is a visible, heavy disk from which emanates the most subtle variations of colour; elsewhere, it spreads like brimstone, like the sulfurated smoke over Gomorrah, in clouds of violet, crimson, purple, and orange, and its reflections lap on a heavy water of rose, blue, green, with mica glints of rose everywhere bloodied with points of red. The sun breaches the fog, illuminating melded flakes of air and water…3
London, Parliament: sun through the fog is without doubt one of Monet’s greatest hymns to the capacity which paint has to represent our world, and is one of the truly great paintings of the twentieth century.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
From Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and beyond Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay exhibition book, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2009
- James Abbott McNeill Whistler, ‘The ten o’clock lecture’, 1885, quoted in Charles F. Stuckey, Monet: a retrospective, Sydney: Bay Books 1985, p. 229.
- Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris.
- Quoted in Stuckey, p. 227.