Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Charing Cross Bridge, La Tamise

signed and dated lower left Claude Monet, 1903, oil on canvas
28¾ x 39 3/8in. (73 x 100cm.)

Painted in 1900-1903
Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired from the artist in October 1905 Durand-Ruel, New York (3504)
Arthur B. Emmons, Newport, Rhode Island, by whom acquired from the above in December 1911
A. B. Emmons sale, Plaza Hotel, New York, 14-15 January 1920, lot 35
E. R. Campbell, New York
Anon. sale, Parke Bernet, New York, 7 November 1946, lot 69
Acquired by the present owner in 1969
The Artist's Letters, nos. 1723, 1724, 1784 and 1787
P. Fortuny 'Des Prix Considérables', Bulletin de la Vie Artistique, Paris, 15 Feb. 1920, p. 179
'Revue des Ventes', Le Journal des Arts, 21 Feb. 1920, p. 3
'Collections Emmons, Flanagan, Sayles et autres à New York', Chronique des Arts et de la curiosité, Paris, 29 Feb. 1920, p. 32
L. Venturi, Les Archives de l'impressionisme, vol. I, Paris, 1939, pp. 393, 394, 404, 405
G. Seiberling, Monet's Series, New York-London, 1981, p. 371,
no. 10
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Vol. IV, Paris-Lausanne, 1985, p. 162, no. 1536 (illustrated)
Paris, Durand-Ruel, Claude Monet, Vues de la Tamise à Londres (1902-04), May-June 1904, no. 5 (as La Tamise, 1903)
Barcelona, 5eme Exposition internationale d'Art, 1907, no. 12
Montreal, Grand Palais, Art Français, 1909, no. 240
Munich, Moderne Galerie, Impressionisten, 1909, no. 23
Leipzig, Kunstverein, Ausstellung Franzoïscher Kunst des 18, 19 und 20 Jahrhunderts, Oct.-Nov. 1910, no. 111
Chicago, Auditorium Hotel, Tableaux Durand-Ruel, 1911

Lot Essay

Monet's sequence of London views, painted at the turn of the century, are among the most popular of the series paintings to which he devoted almost all his artistic drive in the years after 1890. Monet had already successfully developed series of works on the theme of haystacks, poplars on the Epte and Rouen Cathedral before he turned his attention to the subject of the River Thames. By this stage in his life he knew that he could now successfully sell many versions of the same theme.

Ever since his first visit to London as an exile from the Franco Prussian war in 1870-71, Monet had expressed an intention to return but in spite of some short visits he did not succeed in creating a great body of work. Nevertheless the desire to base an important series of paintings in London grew through the 1890s and was probably strongly influenced by Whistler. Whistler himself had made something of a tradition of painting atmospheric views on the Thames and Monet had admired his work. Monet felt that London's peculiar atmospheric effects, its fogs and mists, as well as its dramatic riverside buildings such as the Houses of Parliament would lend themselves well to his painterly ambitions. He was, however, much more interested in the overall effect of what he would see and paint than in any strictly topographical representation. Later, while talking to René Gimpel, he complained "How could the English painters of the nineteenth century paint houses brick by brick. These people painted bricks that they did not see, that they could not see". (R. Gimpel, Diary of an Art Dealer, New York, 1966, p. 73.)

The weather of London was a great attraction to Monet but so too was the city itself. At the turn of the century it was the leading industrial city of Europe and as a great urban complex seemed to symbolise all that was modern and progressive. Monet, however, was not concerned to present industrial urban society as depicted by Gustav Doré and other nineteenth century artists. He had no interest in the mass of humanity struggling beneath the factory chimneys in the heat of the workshop but wanted instead the overall smoky atmosphere of the city, dehumanised and impersonal. Whilst working in London he complained that on Sundays he was unable to paint as the factories belched forth no smoke and the steam trains on Charing Cross bridge ran too infrequently.

Fog and smoke as well as dehumanising the city also helped to naturalise the urban environment making it more beautiful, even magical and mysterious in the eyes of the painter. It is the fog, or smog as it was known to Londoners, with its mixture of the natural and urban pollution, which gives the unity to the whole of the Thames series. The changes between paintings of the same subject are brought about largely through the variety and density of the fog. Unfortunately the fog could change very quickly which gave Monet a frustrating time as he tried to capture on canvas the atmospheric conditions in front of him. The rapid notations that he made in London on over a hundred different canvases were all re-worked in Giverny at a later date.

In his Thames series Monet concentrates on three different subjects. Two were taken from his rooms in the Savoy Hotel, Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge. The third, the Houses of Parliament, were painted from St Thomas's Hospital on the South Bank of the Thames. In the morning Monet would look east to paint Waterloo Bridge and in the afternoon west for Charing Cross so that he could capture the sunlight shining from behind the fog. Later in the series there are some examples of Waterloo Bridge painted in the afternoon. Although Monet worked on the pictures on three separate occasions in London from October to November 1899, February to April 1900 and January to April 1901, none of the paintings was fully completed until he returned to his studio in Giverny. Whilst stimulated by direct confrontation with the natural motif, none of the paintings can be seen as genuinely a pure response to nature as Monet perceived it. There is a definite lack of spontaneity as Monet sought to wrestle with a balance between painting what he had previously imagined he was going to see, what indeed he did see and what, on returning to Giverny, he remembered that he had seen. It was three years after his return before Monet eventually exhibited the works at Durand-Ruel in the spring of 1904 and during this period he worked extensively on the whole series by lining up many pictures and painting on them in the same working session. The work in the studio was therefore based not only on memory but also on the effect of seeing the semi-finished impressions arrayed as a unity around the studio. As this method developed so Monet grew further and further away from the original motif and became more interested in the atmospheric conditions and less interested in topographical exactitude and tactile qualities of iron, stone and water. This disregard for topographical exactitude can be clearly seen by the deliberate omission of Cleopatra's Needle, a large obelisk, which was in Monet's direct line of vision between the Savoy Hotel and the Charing Cross Bridge (see fig. ). The overall interests of the series came to predominate in his consciousness over the interests of the individual works. "They are really more of a studio series than any other works of the master. The original studies were, of course, all made from nature, but the final result had been achieved in the studio, so the works will be known as a studio series." (D. Fitzgerald, "Claude Monet, Master of Impressionism" in Brush and Pencil, vol. 15, London, 1905.)

In the course of painting the Thames, Monet had made a gradual but important change. He moved from his previously held belief that the important aesthetic approach was to paint directly from the motif to a more modern aesthetic cannon whereby what the artist wanted to paint was more important than what he had before his eyes. It is this change that marks the great modernity of what Monet was doing at this time and shows that even at the age of sixty he was continually seeking to push forward the boundaries of painting and progressing with the avant garde in a way that the other impressionist painters had failed to do. Although the subsequent exhibition at Durand-Ruel was well received by the critics, they were in the main looking at the paintings in the terms established by Monet himself over the last thirty years and in spite of their appreciation Monet was once more showing himself to be ahead of his time.

After many hesitations on the part of the artist who found it difficult to consider the paintings finished, the exhibition opened at Durand-
Ruel on 9th May 1904. Thirty seven works were shown including eighteen views of Waterloo Bridge, eleven of the Houses of Parliament and eight of the Charing Cross Bridge, of which the present work was number five in the catalogue. Although there is no extant photograph of the installation the nature of the critical response would seem to indicate that the works were hung in groups by subject matter. The exhibition was both a critical and financial success which showed how much Monet had moved into the mainstream of French painting. After the years of rejection and misunderstanding, impressionism had become respectable and was being accepted as a naturalistic style just as Monet himself was moving away from traditional impressionism towards even greater modernity. Because Monet had so tenaciously argued for the merit of painting directly from the motif the critics accepted him at his word and were unable to see the paintings in the terms in which they had actually been painted. Gustav Kahn wrote "One could believe that these are harmonies on a theme furnished at the instant of the sketch through the graces of the hour and its alliances of colours, harmonies executed not by a virtuoso, but by a master composer of symphonies, gifted with a profound sensibility and an infinitely fresh, lively and inventive imagination. None of this is the case. These paintings are elaborated after exact notations". (G. Kahn, 'L'Exposition Claude Monet', Gazette des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1 July 1914.)

Kahn then proceeds to give a more or less traditional exposition of the specific subject and topography of the Charing Cross paintings themselves, "The Charing Cross Bridge series numbers the fewest paintings. The motif for it is given in an airy vision of the river, where one seems to see, lightly passing, mobile and brief, the fragile shades of dawn. The water is like a mirror on which vaporous shadows chase and succeed one another, fragile slow harmonies, like those of Schumann if you will, or of Fauré. Trains arrive, their grey columns of smoke turning to violet as they rise toward the sky and billow into heavy, then powdery sashes. Like another strain in a symphony, the fog blurs a part of the bridge, consumes it, bites the green reflection that cuts the water like a rigid bar. Here, the pillars of the bridge cast diffuse shadows, like great moving trembling leaves on the green water". (G. Kahn, loc. cit.)

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