A Claude Monet masterpiece takes pride of place at the Museum of Fine Art St. Petersburg. Houses of Parliament: Effect of Fog (1904). It is one of the most important pieces of Modern art on view anywhere in Florida.
“Our Monet is part of a series in which the artist painted the same subjects repeatedly, under different light and weather conditions, and is usually seen without other works in the series nearby,” Kristen A. Shepherd, executive director of The Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, told me back in 2019 when I wrote about the painting for Forbes.
Claude Monet Houses of Parliament
Monet completed over a dozen Houses of Parliament pictures during and after visits to London between 1899 and 1901. Along with the MFA, St. Petersburg, other versions from the series can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
Monet is well-known for his series paintings from the Houses of Parliament to his Water Lilies, Haystacks, Rouen Cathedral and Poplars to name a few. He seemed never to tire of a motif once finding one to his liking. The most likely reason for this is because he was primarily interested in capturing effects of light on the object at different times of day and during different weather conditions, more so than simply painting the object itself.
“Light and atmosphere,” Shepherd said when asked what makes the MFA’s example exceptional. “Monet beautifully captures this luminous, ethereal, wonderfully nebulous fog which both defines and dissolves the walls of the Houses of Parliament, melding those monumental structures with sky and river. Every time I see the painting I am struck with how the artist created forms out of shifting elements of light and air and water. Monet brought the architecture to life, and that is highlighted by the series. We most often recognize Monet’s use of light and shadow in nature, and in Houses of Parliament, he applied these same transcendental qualities to architecture. It’s incredibly elemental.”
Claude Monet’s enduring appeal
Claude Monet died in 1926 yet remains a mainstay of major museum exhibitions and a dependable heavyweight on the high-end, fine art auction circuit. Why?
“I think the work of Monet and the Impressionists remains popular because of its very accessible beauty,” Shepherd said. “You don’t have to know history or mythology to understand their works, and their treatment of light and color is so luscious, so sensual that it has an immediate appeal.
“Our Monet is a great way to engage yourself with the Museum of Fine Arts’ remarkable collection, and offers a chance to not only revel in that master’s talents, but to spend a little time looking at the works hanging nearby. Examining the galleries as a whole allows you to make your own connections on how Monet’s work not only influences us today, but also affected the work of his contemporaries.”