During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro both travelled to England to escape the conflict, living for the majority of their stays in London. However, although Pissarro later wrote in a letter, “Monet and I were very enthusiastic over the London landscapes”, it seems evident that the two artists enthusiasms concerned very different landscapes in the city. Pissarro focused on suburban areas like Norwood which he described as “charming’, while Monet focused almost exclusively on Westminster, the Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. This was to be a subject that he would return to some 30 years later, when his impressionism was fully developed and better formed.

The Houses Of Parliament Series is comprised of about nine oil paintings that Monet completed during his visits to London between 1900 and 1904. All of the canvases are exactly the same size, and they are painted using exactly the same perspective having all been executed from Monet’s window at St Thomas’ Hospital overlooking the River Thames. All of the works are typically Impressionist in their realisation, with Monet obsessed with capturing variations in lighting and atmospheric conditions, in particular fog. But Monet’s series was much more than just an example of great Impressionist painting – it was referential to great painters that had come before him, especially British Romanticist J.M.W. Turner, and American artist James Abbott McNeil Whistler.

Both artists had completed celebrated atmospheric scenes of the Thames, and as Turner had influenced Whistler, so they both influenced Monet and as a result, the Impressionist movement. While Monet’s first works of the Thames and of the Houses of Parliament from the 1870s demonstrated the clear and apparent influence of Whistler and his penchant for silhouettes, by the time of the creation of the Houses Of Parliament Series in 1900, it seemed clear that Turner had become the primary inspiration for the Frenchman’s work. The paintings of the series are vividly chromatic and heavily laden with atmospheric effects. The fact that Monet was able to work from a set vantage point meant that he was able to treat Westminster as a static subject and was able to demonstrate how changes in light and weather can completely change what we perceive.

There was a certain amount of controversy at the time with regards to Monet’s method, as he had admitted that he continued to work on the paintings after returning to France, even sending to London for photographs to help with his work. This departure from the Monet of old who insisted on completing his work in the field resulted in a certain amount of adverse reaction from the public, but Monet’s response was that he would do what he wanted and they could judge the work as they would. The Houses Of Parliament Series is now regarded as one of the finest periods of work in his oeuvre, although the fact that the series is broken up between institutions around the globe means that it can’t be appreciated in the way that Monet may have intended.