Claude Monet: Houses of Parliament

This week, I decided to write about one of my favorite artists of all time, the impressionist Claude Monet. He is mostly known for his impressionist, quick brushstroke techniques and series of water lily paintings, which includes water lily close-ups, landscape scenery, and romantic bridges gracefully hovering over laughing brooks. I often find the series of paintings to be extremely calming, a beautiful depiction and appreciation of untouched nature. Whenever I am upset or anxious, I can expect the paintings to soothe me, as I imagine being in a forest, surrounded by full trees and small water lilies.

However, the idea of landscape doesn’t really strike me as bold or fresh. Most artists have painted some sort of scenery, and it often ends up looking very similar with identical colors, arrangements, and focal points (usually plop in the middle). As much as I hate to admit it, Monet’s landscape paintings can become mundane and repeated after a while. In contrast, his London Houses of Parliament series achieves that goal of attracting the viewer and keeping his/her attention much more effectively. It consists of several depictions of the Houses of Parliament, all painted on the same size canvas from the same angle and viewpoint over the course of five years, but in different lighting and weather: sunset, sunlight, fog, storm, clouds, etc. The paintings are extremely underrated: they aren’t as famous as some of Monet’s other works. But to me, they display a sense of dedication and curiosity. Why would he paint the same thing over and over and over again? Because each time, he saw something different that caught his attention.

What I love about the series is, oddly, the extreme lack of detail. Many artists, including me, are guilty of poring over their paintings, attempting to capture each and every detail accurately. Realistic looking artwork is not necessarily better, though. Monet, for example, focused on small aspects of his paintings to affect the viewer. Instead of worrying about the waves of the Thames River or perspective in the buildings, he just got the general shapes correct and then targeted the source of light as the main attraction. Therefore, what set each painting apart from the previous one, was a decreasing attention to detail and an increasing use of vibrant colors to depict changes in light, shadow, and reflections. As a result, the paintings appear more dramatic and powerful.

He still incorporates his impressionist background into most of the paintings through his use of blending, bright colors, visible brushstrokes, and light. But instead of using the colors and brushstrokes to add detail, he uses them to hide it.

In every painting, Westminster stands tall and proud over the moving waters of the Thames, but it’s only a dark shadow of monotonous color. Although it is the focal point, the movement of light across the canvas is what really draws interest. Each time, the sky blends into the river, making it difficult to find the horizon; the only clue is the reflection of the buildings.

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House of Parliament, Sunlight Effect

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Comments

  1. Lauren Harrington says:

    Your appreciation for art is really cool. I like how you acknowledge his dedication and that subtle things can change without having to pore over every detail. It’s kind of how we over think every detail possible, but if we would just take a step back and look at the big picture, we may see things differently altogether. It does present a sense of calming. I love how sometimes the work is scary, and other times gloomy, and other times vibrant and beautiful. It shows how much things can change depending on when or how you look at them.

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