Crossing Over: Quick Bite

Today on Museum Quick Bites we’re finally leaving 2020 behind and crossing over into a hopefully happier, sunnier new year. To celebrate, we’re taking a closer look at Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect (1903).

Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect (1903) by Claude Monet (1840-1926), Art Institute of Chicago

Awash in brilliant purples, blues and pinks, Monet’s Waterloo Bridge emerges from the fog. Below, the River Thames ripples in the glow of sunrise, while early morning commuters traverse the bridge. In the background, a hazy silhouette of London’s skyline plays hide and seek with the haze. Can you hear the bustle of the big city coming to life?

Close up views of Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect (1903) by Claude Monet (1840-1926), Art Institute of Chicago

London wouldn’t be a beautiful city. It’s the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth.

~ Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Claude Monet (1840-1926) made several trips to London at the turn of the last century. His fascination with the city’s fog and play of light on the Thames kept drawing him back. From his fifth floor hotel room at the Savoy, Monet had a front row view of his beloved Thames. Each morning he stood before his window and painted the Waterloo Bridge. In the afternoons he turned upstream and painted the Charing Cross Bridge. He also packed up his art gear, crossed the Thames, and made the short walk down to St. Thomas’ Hospital where he painted several versions of London’s Parliament Building. The final touches of each these masterpieces were completed at his studio in Giverny, France.

Left: Charing Cross Bridge, London (1901) by Claude Monet, Art Institute of Chicago

Top Right: The Houses of Parliament, Sunset (1903) by Claude Monet, National Gallery of Art

Bottom Right: Waterloo Bridge, Gray Weather (1900) by Claude Monet, Art Institute of Chicago

Bridge Background: Construction on the Waterloo Bridge began in 1806, under the direction of George Dodd (c1783-1827). Woefully inexperienced, Dodd was forced to declare bankruptcy within three years. In 1811, the Strand Bridge Company was awarded the contract and John Rennie (1761-1821), a Scottish engineer with a proven track record, was hired to lead this massive building project. Tricked out in Cornish and Aberdeen granite, the nine-span masonry causeway was initially referred to as the Strand Bridge. However, Britain’s recent victory over Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821) inspired the structure’s final name. Amid much fanfare, the Waterloo Bridge opened on June 18, 1817, the two-year anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Waterloo Bridge (c1845) photo by William Henry Fox Talbot, Wikimedia Commons

Waterloo Bridge Opening Ceremonies (1817), artist unknown, Wikimedia Commons

Fun Bridge Fact #1:  The Prince Regent (later crowned King George IV, 1762-1830), presided over the Waterloo Bridge’s opening ceremonies. Other notable guests included Lord Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) and military leader of the British forces who defeated Napoléon at Waterloo.

Lord Arthur Wellesley the Duke of Wellington (1814) by Thomas Lawrence, Wikimedia Commons

In 1924, the Waterloo was closed to traffic because wooden sections of several piers were rotting and thus causing them to sink. A temporary, iron bridge was constructed alongside the Waterloo and concrete was used to shore up the sinking bridge. Unfortunately, the effort failed and the old Waterloo Bridge was demolished in 1934. Reconstruction of the new bridge was delayed because of World War II. The new Waterloo opened in 1942, and was nicknamed the Ladies Bridge because it was built primarily by women during the war.

Waterloo Bridge & Temporary Iron Bridge (c1925), Wikimedia Commons

Fun Bridge Fact #2:  Originally a toll bridge, the Waterloo had trouble turning a profit since Londoners had other, non-toll options for crossing the Thames. It took authorities 60 years to acquiesce and abolish the toll.

Left: New Waterloo Bridge (aka Ladies Bridge; 2011) Photo by Mark Ahsmann, Wikimedia Commons

Right: New Waterloo Bridge (aka Ladies Bridge; 2013) photo by Edgar El, Wikimedia Commons

If you’d like to learn more about the new Waterloo Bridge, click on this Ladies Bridge link, courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine. Click on this Battle of Waterloo link, courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica, if you’d like to learn more about this historic battle. And finally, if you’d like to see more Claude Monet bridges, click on this Museum Bites: Winter Magic link.

That wraps up our look at the Waterloo Bridge. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. Until then, be safe, be kind and take care 🙂

Cover photo by TanteTati, courtesy of Pixabay.


Art Institute of Chicago: Charing Cross Bridge (1901)

Art Institute of Chicago: Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect (1903)

Art Institute of Chicago: Waterloo Bridge, Gray Weather (1900)

Britannica: Battle of Waterloo

Britannica: John Rennie

Engineering Timelines: Waterloo Bridge Claude Monet

Museum Bites: Winter Magic


Smithsonian Magazine: Ladies Bridge (2013)

The Art Story: Claude Monet

Wikimedia Commons: Waterloo Bridge

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