Air Pollution Inspired Monet’s the Dreamlike Haze Work

Air Pollution Was Monet’s Inspiration in Creating the Dreamlike Haze Work, New Study by the PNAS Shows This New Data.

Mar 24, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Claude Monet. Air Pollution
Claude Monet


Air pollution had a huge influence on Claude Monet’s creative work. Overall, the contamination of air helped him create the dreamy, misty paintings. His paintings shaped the Impressionist movement. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) presented this evidence in their new study. Also, besides Monet, their focus was on Joseph Mallord William Turner.


Air Pollution Changed Monet’s Course From Figurative to More Impressionistic

Monet painting in Germany, Air Pollution
Les Meules painting


The reason why pollution had an effect on Monet and Turner is because they lived and created during the Industrial Revolution. Then there was a new production process, where factories released a large amount of smoke into the air. All of these factors caused air pollution and bigger health problems. The creators of the research analyzed more than 100 of their works to confirm that the painters wanted to interpret pollution.

The works of art refer to the interpretation of the places where they lived and created, i.e. Paris and London.  “I work on air pollution and while seeing Turner, Whistler and Monet paintings at Tate in London and Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I noticed stylistic transformations in their works”, Anna Lea Albright, a postdoctoral researcher for Le Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique at Sorbonne University in Paris and coauthor of the study said.


Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute, via Sotheby’s


Their works became hazier, and there was also a change in style from figurative to impressionistic. Also, those changes took place with the changes brought about by air pollution. According to Albright, air pollution “makes objects appear hazier”, blurs their edges, and because pollution “reflects visible light of all wavelengths”, makes a scene appear whiter.

Works Relate to Reality, Not Just Artistry

jmw turner scarlet sunset watercolor painting romantic
The Scarlet Sunset (watercolor) by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c. 1830-40, via Tate Britain, London


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The researchers looked at how white the paintings were and how sharp the margins were. They then compared those characteristics to the amount of pollution in the air at the time the works were created. The years range from 1796 to 1901. “We found that there was a surprisingly good match”, Albright said. Research shows that the works relate to reality, and not just to artistry.

Another proof is the fact that at the beginning of the 20th century, Monet wrote to his wife about the increased inspiration due to the lack of pollution in the air. “Turner and Monet are both artists who had to go to places to see certain conditions”, Jonathan Ribner, a professor of European art at Boston University said. Fog tourism, as described by Ribner, is a phenomenon that lured French artists like Monet to London.


jmw turner thames waterloo bridge romantic painting
The Thames above Waterloo Bridge by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c. 1830-35, via Tate Britain, London


Despite the facts, some people don’t think the emergence of Impressionism can be linked to the skies being filled with ash and soot. Sebastian Smee, an art critic, criticized the study’s premise that the “stylistic growth” of the two painters was the result of pollution rather than creativity.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.