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A Refuge for Genius
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In Monet’s Footsteps
An American in London
Lesser-known, Home-grown
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SISLEY by the Thames
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Claude Monet (1840–1926)
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Although Monet’s first visit to London had not been an entirely happy one and he left England having had his work rejected by the Royal Academy, a seed had been sowed which was to grow into an enduring fascination with the city he would revisit many times. As early as 1880 he expressed a wish to paint a series of views of the Thames and on a brief visit in 1887 he was persuaded by James Whistler, with whom he stayed for twelve days, to exhibit four paintings with the Society of British Artists. Monet returned the following year when he spent time with both Whistler and John Singer Sargent, obviously now more at ease with the international community of artists. He was back again in 1891 and exhibited at the New English Art Club and did so again in 1893. There was another visit in 1898 when he exhibited with the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, the president of which was none other than his friend Whistler.

On all these visits he was, no doubt, formulating ideas about his proposed series of Thames paintings. Throughout the 1890’s he had been experimenting with series of paintings of the same subject at different times of day and in various weather conditions. Often he would work on several canvases at once and the subjects included haystacks, poplar trees and Rouen Cathedral. In 1899 he took up residence at the Savoy Hotel with commanding views of the river from rooms, previously occupied by Whistler. From this vantage point he commenced work on a series of paintings of Charing Cross Railway Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, vividly capturing the fugitive effects of light on water and the almost ethereal atmosphere of the misty riverscape. Although the pollution of the river had been vastly reduced by improvements to the sewerage system the same cannot be said for the air quality. The south bank of the river was dominated by industrial activity of all kinds, belching out smoke and fumes, combining with natural effects of weather and season to create an insubstantial landscape which Monet’s captured perfectly in his many depictions of the Thames.

The following year Monet was back at the Savoy, this time for two months and then again for three months in 1901. While waiting for his canvases and paints to arrive Monet, eager not to waste time, experimented with pastels and produced yet more memorable images. The Thames series would eventually comprise almost 100 canvases with multiple views of the Houses of Parliament added to those of the bridges at Waterloo and Charing Cross. There was also a series of three views of Leicester Square at night commenced in 1901 and painted from a first floor window at Green’s Club where his friend John Singer Sargent was a member. Monet made another visit to London in 1904 to try and find a gallery to exhibit his Thames series, but to no avail.




Camille Pissarro (1830–1903)
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It was almost twenty years before Pissarro returned to England in 1890 and on this occasion he came with his son Lucien who would soon become a permanent resident. During his stay he completed several canvases with subjects in central London including Charing Cross Bridge. As can be seen in the Alfred Sisley entry, elsewhere on this site, he also made watercolour sketches at Hampton Court Green. With Lucien established in West London, Camille returned in 1892, this time to smooth the way for his son’s marriage and during his stay he painted a series of pictures around Kew Gardens and Kew Green. Ever the concerned father he was back again in 1897 to support Lucien through a serious illness, and this time he concentrated on the area around their home in the garden suburb of Bedford Park, producing about seven canvases.
Pictures
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