Impressionists in London

Tate Britain, London, until May 7

My morning commute takes me across the Thames via Charing Cross Bridge and through Trafalgar Square towards St James’s. Going around Impressionists in London at Tate Britain, I might have been retracing my footsteps, only Monet and Pissarro found beauty and stillness where too often I find myself surrounded by scaffolding and chaos.

Pissarro’s Charing Cross Bridge of 1890 has all the serenity of the Pont Neuf. It had opened as a railway bridge a quarter of a century earlier, but here trains pass as if in silence over the Thames towards Cleopatra’s Needle and Victoria Embankment.

A magnificent barge heaving with pleasure seekers glides over the river with such grace that it sends little more than a ripple over the water. You see in this painting Pissarro’s interest in pointillism, a technique that lent itself perfectly to urban as well as rural landscapes. The vibrant colours of the boat’s crew pop against the powdery sky. The hubbub of the Houses of Parliament in the distance is thoroughly blanketed in mist.

Despite the difficulty it caused him when he sat down in the murkiness to write letters home, Monet found this mist “exquisite”. Like Pissarro, he came to London in 1870 to avoid conscription during the Franco-Prussian War and used his exile to study our “extraordinary country” in paint.

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