Artistic flow: masters inspired by the Thames

It was usually shrouded in smog and often stank like a sewer. But to some of the greatest artists of the 19th century, the river Thames exerted a magical pull.

Now visitors to a blockbuster exhibition in London will be able to compare the varied reactions of the artists J M W Turner, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Claude Monet to London's waterfront. The show, comprising 100 works, opens in Paris this month, and will come to Tate Britain in London in the spring. It will show how the artists captured transient effects of light and weather along the river in ways that made a vital contribution to the development of Impressionism.

It will show their experimentation and innovative techniques also applied to views of the river Seine in Paris and the lagoon in Venice.

Details of the exhibition were introduced by Estelle Morris, the Arts minister, yesterday at the Houses of Parliament which were depicted in works by all three of the artists. "I'm enormously excited about this exhibition," she said.

Turner, who was born in 1775, was the first of the artists to be inspired by the river in paintings such as Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October 1834 , when the old Houses of Parliament burnt down. That painting, which is owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will be seen in Britain for the first time in nearly 30 years.

When Whistler, an American, and Monet, a Frenchman, came to London and became friends, both were inspired by the British artist whose works were on display in galleries across the city - though his late, very impressionistic workswere not widely known.

One room in the exhibition will be dedicated to the Turner oils and watercolours the younger artists viewed and from which they went on to develop their own distinctive effects, moving from a realistic to an impressionistic approach to landscape.

Subsequent rooms will show some of their responses. These include Whistler's Nocturnes , dreamlike paintings of London by night, as well as his more realistic views of districts such as Wapping, and four of the series of 20 works Monet produced of the Thames near Parliament. One of the other works in Monet's series is to be sold at auction for an estimated £10m in November.

Alison Smith, the curator, said one point of the exhibition was to "explore the whole nature of influence - how artists not only respond to their contemporaries but to artists in the past".

Turner Whistler Monet, sponsored by Ernst and Young, will be at Tate Britain from 10 February next year to 15 May.

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