How London's smog inspired the French impressionists

Detail of Monet's painting 'The Houses of Parliament, Sunset' (1904)
Detail of Monet's painting 'The Houses of Parliament, Sunset' (1904) Credit: Musée d'Orsay

Let’s take a rickety old train into the heartland of impressionism. Not to Monet’s garden at Giverny or the Seine at Argenteuil. I’m talking about Penge, Upper Norwood, Dulwich, Sydenham, those cosy pockets of suburban south-east London. Even today, if you look out from the height of the railway line there, you’ll find yourself transported to a landscape of blackened chimney pots, Pooteresque Victorian terraces and wooded embankments that has barely changed since 1870.

It was in that year that Camille Pissarro arrived in London, along with thousands of other French refugees from the Franco-Prussian War, which reduced Paris to rubble. Pissarro found in Upper Norwood a congenial haven from which...

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