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London was a city Monet had much enjoyed. In total Monet made over a hundred canvases of London during his visits from 1870 to 1901, some of which were left in a quite sketchy state and others he destroyed.
In February 1900 Monet obtained permission to paint the Houses of Parliament from the newly built St. Thomas’s Hospital. Looking westwards, he painted there at the end of the day, with the river frontage and towers of Sir Charles Barry’s mid-19th century neo-Gothic architecture silhouetted against the evening light. Monet varied the 'effets' enormously, sometimes painting the building veiled in fog, as seen here, at other times showing it dramatically illuminated by the sunset behind and its reflection on the Thames in the foreground.

Detail from Claude Monet, 'The Houses of Parliament, Fog Effect', 1904 ©️ Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL.

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Artists had made 'plein-air' or open-air studies of the sky since the 17th century. It was recommended practice that artists should sketch the changing patterns in the sky at several times of day and in various weather conditions, in order to capture it in all its moods. Here Jean-Michel Cels has painted billowing clouds against a blue sky, with two birds wheeling in the breeze.

The inscription on the reverse indicates that the pigment was thinned with a kind of turpentine.

Detail from Jean-Michel Cels, 'Sky Study with Birds', 1842. The Gere Collection, on long-term loan to the National Gallery, ©️ Private collection 2000. Used by permission.
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In 18th-century Europe, making small sketches outdoors became a common practice for painters. Capturing fleeting natural effects was an artistic challenge that honed the skill of hand and eye. It soon became an essential part of a painter’s education.
The painting by Eugène Boudin shows the mouth of the river Toques with the two jetties either side forming the entrance to the harbour at Trouville. There are several other versions of this subject, including Boudin's three paintings of the same title: 'Beach Scene, Trouville' of about 1860-70, 'Beach Scene, Trouville' of about 1870-4, 'Beach Scene, Trouville' of 1873, and his 'Beach at Trouville'. Boudin worked directly from nature. He had a deep affection for the sea and almost all his paintings take their subject from the harbours and coastline of the Channel Coast.

Detail from Eugène Boudin, 'The Entrance to Trouville Harbour', 1888 ©️ The National Gallery, London.
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In 18th-century Europe, making small sketches outdoors became a common practice for painters. Capturing fleeting natural effects was an artistic challenge that honed the skill of hand and eye. It soon became an essential part of a painter’s education.
The site of this fresh and immediate sketch by Richard Parkes Bonnington has been cautiously identified as that of La Ferté in the estuary of La Somme, on the Picardy coast. The north coast of France was frequently travelled by Bonington, and provided him with a wealth of subjects for his coast scenes. La Ferté and nearby St.Valèry-sur-Somme were among his favourite haunts and those of his painting companions, Paul Huet and Thomas Shotter Boys.

This work is a study made on the spot. The whole is quickly and fluidly painted, with the stretches of sand, sea and sky painted with broad horizontal sweeps of the brush. On the horizon vertical sweeps indicate rain showers. Certain details, such as the boat on the left and the small boat to the right in the distance are painted wet-in-wet, but others, such as the boat on the right and the figure of the woman were likely to have been added in the studio.

Detail from Richard Parkes Bonington, 'La Ferté', about 1825 ©️ The National Gallery, London.
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'The Scale of Love' was one of those, engraved by Le Bas, included in the publication of Watteau's work which the artist's friend and patron Jean de Julienne published in 1736. It appeared there with the title 'La Gamme d'Amour'. Drawings for the figure of the girl survive and are in the British Museum.

The main focus of the composition lies in the relationship of the guitar player in his brightly coloured theatrical costume and the girl seated at his feet.
The design enhances this relationship, with the diagonal separating the figures crossed by another extending from the feet of the girl to the top of the guitar, guitar and music book overlapping in the centre.

A marble bust of a bearded philosopher appears above the musician, turned to the right where secondary figures, engaged in their own pursuits, pay no attention to the two main actors.

Detail from Jean-Antoine Watteau, 'The Scale of Love', 1715-18 ©️ The National Gallery, London.
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'The Morning Walk' by Thomas Gainsborough shows an elegant young couple strolling through a woodland landscape, an attentive dog at the lady's heel. William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen were both aged 21 and due to be married in the summer of 1785, shortly after the painting was completed.

Portraits of wealthy sitters posed in a natural setting and dressed in their finest (but not necessarily most practical) clothes were a popular status symbol.
William is in a black, silk velvet frock-suit. His apparent carelessness is actually a studied pose. The undone jacket and with one hand tucked into it is a stance seen in many fashionable 18th-century informal portraits (known as conversation pieces). 'John Plampin', also by Gainsborough does the same.

Elizabeth is in a dress of ivory silk - perhaps her wedding dress - caught at the waist with a black silk band. A frilled muslin kerchief covers her breast, with a knot of grape-green ribbon under it.

The light, feathery brushstrokes used to describe the landscape are typical of Gainsborough's late style. William's hair and Elizabeth's gauzy shawl almost blend into the landscape they walk through.

Detail from Thomas Gainsborough, 'Mr and Mrs William Hallett ('The Morning Walk')', 1785 ©️ The National Gallery, London.

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In this painting by Joseph Wright 'of Derby', Thomas Coltman of Hagnaby Priory, Lincolnshire, is shown with his first wife, Mary Barlow, whom he married in 1769. The house in the background is Gate Burton House, Lincolnshire.

Thomas Coltman was a friend of the painter. This portrait is recorded in Wright's account book as 'Mr & Mrs Coltman, a Conversation (£63)'. Conversation pieces, in which portraits were placed in an attractive landscape setting, or sometimes indoors, were popular in 18th-century England.

Detail from Joseph Wright 'of Derby', 'Mr and Mrs Thomas Coltman', about 1770-2 ©️ The National Gallery, London.
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Georges Seurat is considered one of the most important Post-Impressionist painters. He moved away from the apparent spontaneity and rapidity of Impressionism and developed a structured, more monumental art to depict modern urban life.

Seurat regularly spent his summers on the Channel coast and, in his last years, produced more than twenty major canvases of its harbours and seascapes.

He spent the summer of 1890 in the port of Gravelines, near Calais. This is one of four landscapes dating from this visit.

Detail from Georges Seurat, 'The Channel of Gravelines, Grand Fort-Philippe', 1890 ©️ The National Gallery, London.

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'Les Terrasses de Monte Cassino' is thought to have been painted during a stay in Cassino, south of Rome, by John Russell and his wife in 1889, but also recalls the landscape near Antibes, south-east France, visited by the artist in 1890–1. He portrays the sun-bleached landscape with a bold use of such colours as pink, yellow, and turquoise.

Detail from John Russell, 'Les Terrasses de Monte Cassino' about 1889, On loan from a private collection, ©️ Private collection.
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Théo Van Rysselberghe adopted the pointillist style, creating a composition using countless tiny dots of complementary colours, after seeing the work of Georges Seurat. He formed a close friendship with Seurat's follower, Paul Signac, and in the early 1890s produced a series of deceptively simple, light-filled and densely worked seascapes as van Rysselberghe and Signac travelled and painted together.

A distinctive feature of his work is the clusters of white dots sprinkled across the picture surface, as here, which give his paintings an animated, almost dancing quality. The dots also often form swirling decorative patterns, as in this work, 'Coastal Scene'. Detail from Théo van Rysselberghe, 'Coastal Scene', about 1892 ©️ The National Gallery, London.
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Thomas Gainsborough was born #OnThisDay in Sudbury, Suffolk in 1727. He trained in London, and set up in practice in Ipswich about 1752. In 1759 he moved to Bath, a fashionable spa town, attracting many clients for his portraits. He settled in London in 1774. His private inclination was for landscape and rustic scenes, and his amusing letters record his impatience with his clients' demands for portraits.

This is the only known portrait in which Gainsborough included himself with his family. With him are his wife, Margaret Burr, whom he married in July 1746, and their daughter.

Gainsborough holds in his hand a paper, perhaps once showing a sketch, but now transparent with age, as is the figure of the child. It has been presumed that she must be the Gainsboroughs' eldest surviving daughter Mary, born shortly before February 1750.

Detail from Thomas Gainsborough, 'Portrait of the Artist with his Wife and Daughter', about 1748 ©️ The National Gallery, London.

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'Mr and Mrs Andrews' is the masterpiece of Gainsborough's early years. It was painted after his return home from London to Suffolk in 1748, soon after the marriage of Robert Andrews of the Auberies and Frances Carter of Ballingdon House, near Sudbury, in November of that year.
The landscape evokes Robert Andrews's estate, to which his marriage added property. He has a gun under his arm, while his wife sits on an elaborate Rococo-style wooden bench. The painting of Mrs Andrews's lap is unfinished. The space may have been reserved for a child for Mrs Andrews to hold.

The painting follows the fashionable convention of the conversation piece, a (usually) small-scale portrait showing two or more people, often out of doors. The emphasis on the landscape here allows Gainsborough to display his skills as a painter of convincingly changing weather and naturalistic scenery, still a novelty at this time.

Detail from Thomas Gainsborough, 'Mr and Mrs Andrews', about 1750 ©️ The National Gallery, London.

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