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b. 1849, Sint-Eloois-Vijve, Belgium; d. 1924, Astene, Belgium
De ondergaande zon op de Theems, 1918 Oil on canvas, 71 x 60 cm Collection: SD Worx.
The pioneer of the illuminist movement, Emile Claus is Belgium’s most important impressionist painter. Claus founded the Vie et Lumière (Life and light) group in 1904 under the aegis of Claude Monet, following the French master in his detailed exploration of the effects of light and colour in London, where Claus took refuge during the years of the First World War. When regarding his views of the Thames, we ought to consider how Claus took refuge from the destruction in Europe in the passage from the “silvery vapors” around Waterloo Bridge and in the way towards Tower Bridge, “a gray coppery tone insidiously in the far distance, gradually blotting out every object from view, until within a few minutes London is enveloped in a dense fog, so dark and so thick that nothing is visible—its black night in the middle of the day” (Claus 1917: 169). Claus may even have surpassed Monet in his awareness of the connection between the “seduction” of those atmospheric changes of the city and the burning of coal. As Claus himself wrote in a text commissioned for the International Studio in 1917: “[...] London, with its mists and fogs, is something truly phenomenal, without parallel in the world. Whatever the cause —whether it be the damper atmosphere of a country set in the seas, or the mingling of the smoke from thousands of chimneys with these misty vapors— the effect of this great city is one of indescribable mystery” (ibid). CM