These paintings are executed in Monet's characteristic Impressionist style, which is extremely distinctive. Many layers of vivid oil paints, creating a blurred and dreamlike effect, are used to convey a strong emotional impression.
Monet's term Impressionism started being used in 1874 when he released a painting that was called 'Impression: Rising Sun' (Impression: Levant de Soleil) - the term 'Impression' stuck and became a technical term which was used to describe both Monet's strongly emotional and oneiric painting style and the school of art which was inspired by him, and within which he worked.
One of Monet's key techniques was to paint a series of paintings of the same building or object, whether that was a haystack, a cathedral, or a bridge.
Painting in a series such as this enabled Monet to come at the same object from different angles, and see how different lighting effects (such as dusk, sunrise, and the middle of the day) made it look entirely different. Whilst in London, Monet worked on several series of paintings, and one of the most salient ones was a series of paintings that depicted the Houses of Parliament.
Monet painted the Houses of Parliament partly from a suite that he had at the exclusive Savoy hotel. But, he also worked from a small terraced property on the South Bank of the River Thames. The effect of light on water was one of the key preoccupations of Monet's career as an artist, and his dreamy pictures of the River Thames indicate that he did not leave this obsession behind in France when he came to London.
Monet's method of painting whilst he was in London was one that involved a substantial amount of multi tasking. His contemporary and friend the painter John Singer Sargent (see Madame X and Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood), remarked that during his stay in London, Monet could often be found to be working on as many as 80 paintings at any one time.
London is just one of the locations that Monet was inspired by throughout his life. He also painted several depictions of rural life in Normandy - particularly around the estuaries and around the coastline, for example. Moreover, one of his earliest sketches was of a busy harbour at Dieppe. In short, Monet moved around and he took his easel and artist's materials with him practically wherever he went.
He was aided in this method of working by two relatively recent inventions. The first was a special type of easel known as the box easel. This easel was able to fold up to create a kind of briefcase that was made of wood. Thus folded, it was easy for the artist to carry it around, filled with her or his art materials.
Once the artist reached the location that they wished to paint in, they could simply unfold the easel to create a traditional style painting easel. The other invention was of paint in tubes, which could be carried around without spillages.
Tin paint tubes were invented in the early 19th century by an American artist and they quickly caught on in Europe - not least amongst Monet and his fellow Impressionist painters who relished the opportunity to be able to paint with ease in their preferred style 'en plein aire'.
This simply means 'in fresh air' or 'in the open air', like 'al fresco in Italian'. Painting in this way helped the Impressionists to conjure up a strong immediate emotional effect with their paintings. A lot of Monet's painting in London was conducted in this way, though, as mentioned above, he also worked from carefully positioned indoor locations in the heart of the city.
Classic paintings from the 20th century such as Weeping Woman, Twittering Machine and The Treachery of Images may well not have come about had impressionism not developed into the success that it did. From that came many of the modern art movements that we enjoy today.
By most accounts, Monet loved his time in London, and was pleased with the work that he got done whilst he was there. The letters that he wrote at this time to his second wife Alice were filled with a palpable sense of excitement and enjoyment as well as satisfaction with the quality of the work that he had produced.
Monet's letters from London in the first few years of the 20th century show that he was particularly intrigued by the fog that settled on the Thames. Looking at his many paintings of the Houses of Parliament shows the various ways in which this fog played on his mind whilst he was in London.
The fog appears thick and blue, often alleviated by glints of pinkish or orange light almost like fireworks in their deftness and brilliant. Sometimes the figures of boaters on the water can be seen silhouetted in dark paint within the fog, and in the background there rise the dark buildings of the Houses of Parliament themselves, made obscure and mysterious by the clammy air that surrounds them.
As anyone who has visited London knows, the sunshine can be rare in this city, and Monet's letters to Alice reveal that whenever he did see a patch of sun or clear sky he would rush for his artist's materials so that he could capture their unique effect on the water of the Thames and on the edifices around him.