One of the most important London views by Monet to be offered in a generation
The sublime Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard, among the first of the artist's celebrated series to find a home in America, will highlight the 20th Century Evening Sale in New York
The monumental London Series ranks among Claude Monet’s greatest achievements. Begun in London in 1899, at the peak of his career, the series exemplifies the Impressionist artist’s uncanny ability to capture ephemeral effects — by transforming the city’s notoriously fog-filled skies into near abstractions of colour and light.
Of the three motifs of Monet’s ambitious three-year painting campaign, the Waterloo Bridge series is the largest. With their expansive skies and wide stretches of rippling water and light reflections, the works are also among the series’ most visionary and expressive.
In May 2021, Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard (1889-1903) will be offered in the newly introduced 20th Century Evening Sale in New York. Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s Global President, describes the work as ‘a sublime painting from the series and one of the most important London paintings to appear on the market for a generation.’
‘Monet’s London Series marks the artist’s coming of age in the early 1900s and the move towards what we now call the great avant-garde movements of the 20th century,’ says Pylkkänen. ‘They define him as a master of harmonies of colour and a man who could transfer his visionary ambitions onto canvas.’
Among the finest Waterloo Bridge works left in private hands, the work was among the earliest London paintings to enter an American collection when it was acquired in early 1905 by pioneering Pulitzer Prize winning poet Amy Lowell.
With its nine undulating arches and formidable columns, Waterloo Bridge provided Monet with a dynamic compositional structure that cast a plethora of shadows and reflections onto the waters of the Thames.
Connecting the city centre to the factories of the South Bank, the bridge had been a celebrated subject matter for artists since its opening in 1817. Described by the sculptor Antonio Canova as ‘the noblest bridge in the world,’ Waterloo Bridge had previously been the subject of paintings by John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, as well as a series of drawings by James McNeill Whistler.
Monet would paint the bridge from his room at the fashionable Savoy Hotel in the early morning — ultimately painting 41 Waterloo Bridge works in all. As the day drew on, he would follow the sun across the Thames to St Thomas’ Hospital, where he would focus his attention on the neighbouring Houses of Parliament.
‘Only one other work from the series carries the same title Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard and this sister piece is now housed in the Hermitage Museum,’ Pylkkänen points out. ‘It was purchased by the legendary collector Ivan Morozov, one of the great European avant-garde collectors of the last century.’
The artist worked on multiple canvases simultaneously, moving back and forth between the works as the city’s ever-changing weather bathed his subjects in different light.
Writing to his wife Alice in February 1901, Monet mused about London’s extraordinary susceptibility to changes of light caused by fog, city smoke and weather, ‘I can’t tell you about this fantastic day. What marvelous things, but only lasting five minutes, it’s enough to drive you crazy. No, there’s no land more extraordinary for a painter.’
The work renders the city’s diaphanous fog and mist in a glistening expanse of iridescent blue that seems to shimmer. Having noted that ‘the fog in London assumes all sorts of colours,’ Monet layered violets, pinks, and soft oranges amid prismatic blues over the waters of the Thames, the stone bridge, and the factory-lined bank. The result is a magical symphony of colour and light.
‘This superb painting attempts the impossible, the depiction of fog and mist drifting across the Thames in soft morning light. Monet never painted better’ — Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s Global President
After three successful trips to London, Monet retreated to his home in Giverny, France, to complete his paintings. He no longer viewed them as individual works, but rather as a unified whole, a series of nearly 100 canvases.
Monet would feature 37 works from the series — including this Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard — in a critically acclaimed exhibition of the London Series at Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris in May 1904. The exhibit largely cemented Monet’s status as one of the world’s greatest living artists.
As Monet’s renown spread across Europe and abroad, American collectors in particular took note — Amy Lowell, an avant-garde Boston poet, among them.
Born of a wealthy New England family, Lowell was among a group of prominent American women emerging as leading patrons of the arts at the turn of the century, many of whom became captivated by the invigorating new artistic movements prospering in Europe. She would acquire the work the year following the 1904 exhibition at Galerie Durand-Ruel.
While dealers like Durand-Ruel often found American audiences to be far more receptive to European movements than their French counterparts, Lowell was truly in a class of her own. A disciple of Ezra Pounds’ radical literary movement Imagism, Lowell — not dissimilar from Monet — often sought to push the prevailing literary conventions of her time. She would go on to be awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1926.
‘Amy Lowell’s Imagist Pulitzer Prize winning poetry is rich, delicate and very avant-garde in its style. There is no doubt that her tonal sensitivity must have attracted her to this particularly harmonious, complex and symphonic depiction of London,’ says Pylkkänen. ‘The city inspired her throughout her life and some of her best poems use the city and the Thames as their subject. Also an owner of a Whistler, Lowell perfectly understood the poetry of the city.’
Lowell’s visionary acquisition marks one of the earliest London Series paintings to make a permanent home in America during Monet’s lifetime. By 1920, almost half of the artist’s Waterloo Bridge canvases had made their way across the Atlantic, signalling a historic shift in American collecting patterns. Today, most of those paintings are housed in major museums, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to the Denver Art Museum.
Monet’s enduring American legacy is currently the subject of two prominent American museum exhibitions. Each show focuses on the French Impressionist’s influence in their respective cities, with emphasis on works acquired by American patrons during the artist’s life.
At the Art Institute of Chicago, which holds the largest collection of Monet works outside of Paris, Monet and Chicago, on view through 14 June 2021, traces the city’s passion for the artist back to the 1880s — and includes the Institute’s two Waterloo Bridge paintings.
In Lowell’s native Boston, Monet and Boston: Lasting Impression, at the Museum of Fine Arts through 28 March 2021, marks the first time in 25 years that all 35 of the artist’s works in the museum’s collection have been put on public view. Lowell’s Waterloo Bridge has previously appeared on special loan at the museum’s 1927 Monet retrospective and subsequent exhibits in 1936 and 1962.
With its rich history, Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard presents a seamless bridge between the French artist, a British landmark, and an American patron. Perhaps no one could have more aptly predicted the outcome of Monet’s London Series than Camille Pissarro when he proclaimed, ‘everyone is awaiting with impatience his series of London impressions.’