Students explore the ideas of light, shadow, and color, as well as what is considered beautiful, through their examination of Monet’s Waterloo Bridge. They will put these ideas together in a written postcard designed to help travelers see the beauty of London. They will then compare their thoughts with those of Monet.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 45 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- list at least five visual details in the painting Waterloo Bridge;
- identify different colors used in Waterloo Bridge;
- feel comfortable taking creative risks to write a travel advertisement inspired by the painting; and
- work with a partner to peer edit and make revisions based on feedback.
- Preparation: Read the About the Art section on Waterloo Bridge, in particular the “Details” information.
- Warm-up: Have the students come up with at least ten words to describe the light and shadows in the room (hopefully you have some natural light as well as artificial light). Do any of the words describe color? How many? Write down those words. Ask them to come up with five new words related to how the lighting affects the colors they see in the room.
- Show students Monet’s Waterloo Bridge. Ask them to share the first color they remember seeing as they look at the painting. Use the exercise from the warm-up to help them see all of the subtle colors and details in the painting.
- After the students have tried to describe the lighting and colors in the painting, read the About the Art section to see what colors they might have missed in their descriptions. Don’t read Monet’s description of London at this time.
- Tell the students they are now going to write a postcard based on the painting that will make people want to visit London. Have them work with partners to peer edit their first drafts. Call on volunteers to share.
- Read Monet’s description of London in the winter to the students. How do their postcards compare? What did he do differently? Would they edit their postcards based on what he wrote? How?
- Pencils and paper
- About the Art section on Waterloo Bridge
- Color copies of Waterloo Bridge for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Research and Reasoning
- Writing and Composition
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
About the Art
Who Made It?
The most widely known French Impressionist and leader of that movement, Claude Monet [moe-NAY] was born in Paris and grew up on the Normandy coast. His father was a wholesale grocer, and after his mother died when he was 17, an aunt encouraged him in his efforts to become an artist. With a local reputation as a caricaturist, he attracted the interest of landscape painter Eugene Boudin [boh-DAN], who introduced the young artist to plein-air painting. Plein-air is French for “open air” and refers to paintings created outdoors.
In the 1860s, Monet joined a group of young artists who began to challenge the rules for making good paintings. They had so much trouble getting their work exhibited that they created their own independent exhibition, which yielded only ridicule and a sarcastic label for the group of artists. That label—derived from Monet’s painting, Impression, Sunrise of 1874—stuck, and produced the moniker of “Impressionists” for the group. Impressionists were initially criticized for their unworthy subjects, unrealistic colors, garish color combinations, and loose, seemingly unfinished brushwork.
Like many other Impressionists, Monet had little success in his early years. He most often chose to paint landscapes and leisure activities—everyday activities of modern Paris that were considered to be unworthy subjects for art, compared to the highly respected religious and mythological subjects. With his paintings, Monet strove to capture a fleeting moment by rendering the nuances of light and color. He wanted to depict the feeling or sensation of a scene, rather than the objects within the composition. As public opinion of Impressionism began to turn in the mid-1880s, Monet’s paintings began to sell well, and by the turn of the century, he was one of the world’s wealthiest artists.
What Inspired It?
"I so love London! But I love it only in winter. It’s nice in summer with its parks, but nothing like it is in winter with the fog, for without the fog London wouldn’t be a beautiful city. It’s the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth. Those massive, regular blocks become grandiose within that mysterious cloak." -Monet
The constantly changing light and atmospheric effects of the fog in London inspired Monet to proclaim, “No country could be more extraordinary for a painter.” Painting from the balcony of his suite at the Savoy Hotel on the Thames [tehms] River, Monet could hardly keep up with the shifting conditions. As he worked, he kept all the paintings he’d begun (sometimes dozens) close at hand. As the light changed, he’d switch out the canvas he was working on for another, frantically trying to find the one that best matched what he was currently seeing. He wrote his Paris dealer, “I can’t send you a single canvas, because, for the work I am doing, it is indispensable to have all of them before my eyes.” Monet brought the unfinished canvases back home and spent years reworking them in his studio. He made a total of 41 paintings of Waterloo Bridge.
Like many Impressionists, Monet was drawn to scenes and elements of everyday life, so it’s not surprising that he was interested in the modern parts of London. On the river we see commercial shipping boats. Across the bridge we see the smokestacks of smog-producing factories.
In winter, industrial smokestacks, commercial boats, and chimneys everywhere made great clouds of coal smoke that mixed with mist from the river. The resulting smog was like a veil over the city that changed colors with the light. Most people thought it quite dirty, smelly, and disgusting, but Monet found it wonderful.
While other painters would depict London as a drab, gray, urban space, Monet observed how the fog changed colors depending on the light. Notice the lilac, pink, and pale olive colors in the mists. As Monet explained, “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.”
Monet’s first layers of paint were very thin, with thicker areas developing as he continued to add many layers and rework the surface.
Although the scene may initially appear very still, notice all the elements suggesting movement: smoke pouring from the smokestacks, clouds, boats, traffic on the bridge, the river.
Monet felt that black had a dulling effect, so instead of black, he used a color’s complement to darken an area. For example, to darken something blue, he would add some orange or red.
Repeated shapes—the circular puffs of smoke from the factories and boats, and the round arches of the Waterloo Bridge—are evidence that Monet was selective in what he included and where he placed it.
When Waterloo Bridge opened in 1817 it acted as a social division. The elegant north side of the Thames River, where the Savoy Hotel was located, was populated with large buildings and public gardens. The south side, in contrast, was the home of industry. The bridge that Monet painted was torn down in 1934 because of unstable foundations and traffic bottlenecks. The new bridge opened in 1945 and remains in use today.