This room looks at the early careers of Whistler and Monet, which in some ways ran along parallel lines. Both first made their mark as ‘realist’ painters of contemporary life, but by the 1870s both became preoccupied with the effects of light and atmosphere.
Whistler came under the influence of the Realists when he studied art in Paris. They responded to a call from the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire to reject academic subjects, such as history and mythology, and instead paint the life of the city streets around them. Whistler brought this approach with him to London in 1859, where he painted the heavily-polluted Thames in earthy blacks and browns. He also studied Turner’s paintings, using increasingly fluid paint in order to capture the unique atmospheric conditions of the smog-filled city.
Monet arrived in London in 1870, a refugee from the Franco-Prussian war. Here he met Whistler, and saw the work of Turner for the first time. Under Whistler’s influence he painted three views of the city, fascinated by the light effects produced by its fogs and overcast skies. This interest in atmospheric effect contributed to his transition from a realist to an impressionist approach to landscape.