Let's take a closer look at Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge series. A beautiful display of color and atmosphere, as you would expect from Monet.
The series includes over 40 paintings created from 1899 to 1904. Though many have since been sold to private collections, lost, or destroyed; only a handful remain visible to the public. Which is unfortunate, as Monet intended for the series to be judged as a whole. In 1903, he wrote to his dealer Durand-Ruel:
“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.” (Source - The Met Museum)
Few people would have ever witnessed the series in its entirety. I can only imagine it being a beautiful sight. This video provides a partial glimpse of what the series looks like.
Monet painted the series from his room in the Savoy Hotel, though he continued working on the series back in his Giverny studio. Whilst the paintings appear fresh and spontaneous, Monet didn't complete them in a single session. He likely had several paintings going at the same time as he tried to capture nature's fleeting effects.
The series is essentially a study of color and light. The consistent subject allows for clearer observations of the relationships between color, light, and weather. This wasn't Monet's first time doing this. He also painted a series on water lilies, the Rouen Cathedral, haystacks, the Houses of Parliament, and the Charing Cross Bridge just to name a few. He painted the Charing Cross Bridge series around the same time and from the same room as the Waterloo Bridge series. That cluttered room must have been a wonderful display of art.
Anyway, let's take a look at a few paintings from the series, starting with a simple sketch done in 1899. This must be one of his earliest depictions of the scene. Look at those wild, exploratory marks. It's not refined or pretty, but it's beautiful in its own right, especially when you know all the paintings that stem from this sketch.
The painting below is perhaps my favorite from the series. The more I look, the more it captures me. It's also a great example of broken color. Notice all the blue, green, purple, yellow, and orange tones woven together. Both distinct and part of a greater whole.
This one (below) is more subtle. The thick fog blocks out the light. Clarity is low and only vague details are visible. By itself, the painting is rather understated. That's perhaps why Monet wanted it to be judged as part of the whole series, where it plays the important role of complementing the other feature works.
Here's another subtle painting from the series, but this time with cooler tones. There's an eerie feel to it. Might have something to do with the idea that those boats will shortly disappear into the fog.
In this painting, light is bursting through the foggy canopy. There's a sense of drama, with bursts of light, color, and a few dark accents amongst the gray atmosphere. Notice how there's more contrast in this painting compared to the two prior. More contrast usually means more drama, activity, movement, etc.
Below is a moody depiction. It goes well this this quote:
“The fog in London assumes all sorts of colors; there are black, brown, yellow, green, purple fogs, and the interest in painting is to get the objects as seen through these fogs.” Claude Monet
This one reminds me of Impression, Sunrise. A pleasant contrast between ambient cool colors and intense warm colors. I'm curious to see what this painting looks like in person, as the colors seem very intense compared to his other work. Photos can sometimes be misleading and I question whether someone has bumped up the saturation on this photo.
There's more clarity in this painting. Must have been a relatively clear day in London. Monet painted in a high key, meaning all the colors are compressed towards the light end of the value scale. Notice how there's not much of a jump from the darkest dark to the lightest light. Compare this to the stygian blacks and brilliant highlights used by the Old Masters like Rembrandt.
Thanks for Reading!
Hope you enjoyed this post. Seeing these paintings in person is definitely on my to-do list. I get the feeling photos just don't do them justice.
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