Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect (Effet de Soleil)

1903

Object

Artist

Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926
Born: Paris, France

Object Info

Object: painting
Not currently on view
Object ID: 8A93E4F4-D217-4B14-8940-24DFE65D87F6

Medium/Technique

Oil paint on canvas

Credit

Funds from Helen Dill bequest

About

About the Artist

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.

Modern London
Modern London

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.

Pollution
Pollution

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.

Colors in the Haze
Colors in the Haze

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.”

Layers of Paint
Layers of Paint

Monet’s first layers of paint were very thin, with thicker areas developing as he continued to add many layers and rework the surface.

Movement
Movement

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.

No Black
No Black

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
Repeated Shapes

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.

Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge

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.

Teaching Resources

Quick Classroom Ideas

  • Monet was famous for his series paintings; he would work on several paintings simultaneously, capturing the same scene under varying conditions. Ask the students to create 4 depictions of the same subject. Similarly, a still life could be set up and the lighting changed 4 times. This will show how different the same scene can look depending on the surrounding environment.
  • The London fog was Monet’s real inspiration for the paintings of the Waterloo Bridge. Is there a type of weather that has a particular effect on you? Find an artwork, by any artist, inspired by that form of weather, which evokes a similar feeling in you. Examine the work and pin point what about that piece of art establishes that feeling.

This documentary segment shows how Claude Monet's art received the descriptor "impressionist."

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.