Room 3: Fire and Water Fire and Water

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Although painters and poets traditionally favoured sunrise and sunset as times of the day to create a mood, Monet was more interested in capturing a particular kind of light and energy. In London, Houses of Parliament. Burst of Sunlight in the Fog 1904, the motif of the building almost becomes secondary to the intense sunlight piercing the fog and reflecting off the water. Turner’s interest in sunsets made an impact upon Monet, who would have seen Turner’s handling of the subject on his visits toLondon.

For Turner, the sun is both a life-giving and life-taking force. The dying of the light symbolised the draining of human and political energy. Turner’s sunsets were painted in the studio, whereas the sketchiness of Monet’s View of Rouen 1892 suggests he painted it entirely en plein air (in the open air). Compared with Parliament and San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight 1908, it is light in touch and palette. These last two works, completed in the studio, seem consciously to rival Turner, who painted both motifs himself.

Cy Twombly also allegorised the sun in a number of works. The Untitled (Sunset) works of 1986 celebrate its power. They recall a late-summer sunset, with its deep reds and fervent yellows mingling with greens and purples suggestive of landscape and flowers. His two versions of Petals of Fire 1989 depict boat-shaped ‘black-edged petals’ falling from fading blooms. Scattered across the sheet, they are reminiscent of Monet’s studies of water lilies, his principal subject in later years. In these late works, Monet abandoned defined pictorial space in favour of a floating and strangely otherworldly space, unmoored from sky or shore and bereft of horizon lines.