I went to see the Monet exhibition at the National Gallery at the weekend. It is absolutely fantastic. To see so many of his paintings in one place and see the progression of his work as you go from room to room is a real treat. The exhibition, which opened on 9th April and continues until 29th July, shows how Monet ‘consistently used architecture as a means to structure and enliven his art… his use of built structures providing anchorage, foils for the irregularity of nature and screens for the reflection of light.’
He visited London several times, first in 1871, fleeing from the Franco Prussian war and catching up with his mate Camille Pisarro, who lived in Chiswick. Later in 1899, 1900 and 1901 he painted the series of canvasses of the Houses of Parliament, Charing Cross Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, creating over 100 paintings in all. Monet’s letters from that time, when he was staying at the Savoy hotel show how he was ‘fascinated, and frustrated , not only by the changing illumination but by the added effets of London’s fog and pollution, which obscured the motifs and coloured the atmosphere’.
The exhibition includes seven of the 30 pictures he painted of Rouen cathedral. I’d never seen these before and was amazed at how thick the paint is. When you stand close, you can’t see the overall design. It’s only when you’re about five feet away the paintings make sense as structures. The bloke next to me in the gallery went through exactly the same thought process I did – how did he do it? We concluded Monet must have had very long arms.