3 Feb 2023, PNAS: Paintings by Turner and Monet depict trends in 19th century air pollution

3.2.2023, PNAS: Paintings by Turner and Monet depict trends in 19th century air pollution

Albright A-L, Huybers P (2023_01_31): Paintings by Turner and Monet depict trends in 19th century air pollution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2219118120

  • From the section „significance“: Individual paintings are known to depict snapshots of particular atmospheric phenomena, raising the possibility that paintings could also document longer-term environmental change … Here, we show that stylistic changes from more figurative to impressionistic paintings by Turner and Monet over the 19th century strongly covary with increasing levels of air pollution … results indicate that Turner and Monet’s paintings capture elements of the atmospheric environmental transformation during the Industrial Revolution.“
  • From the abstract: .. we show that trends from more figurative to impressionistic representations in J.M.W. Turner and Claude Monet’s paintings in London and Paris over the 19th century accurately render physical changes in their local optical environment … Industrialization altered the environmental context in which Turner and Monet painted, and our results indicate that their paintings capture changes in the optical environment associated with increasingly polluted atmospheres during the Industrial Revolution.

Washington Post, S.Smee (2023_02_01): Art history, not air pollution, explains changes in Monet’s paintings. Art isn’t science. A new study clouds the facts. www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2023/02/01/monet-paintings-pollution-study/: … to suggest that the increasing radicalism of Turner and Monet — their willingness to jettison clear outlines and old ways of painting — was the result of increased levels of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere is to confuse internal creative choices with external stimuli … Monet’s painting was becoming increasingly poetic, closer and closer to abstraction … The pertinent change is not the air pollution but the artist’s aesthetic choice …

Selected critical comment (joeinil2, 2022_02_02, Washington Post): … Nowhere does the original paper say that increasing levels of air pollution “caused” Monet to portray the lighting and image effects that he captured in his London studies as he did. Rather, it suggests that the effects of atmospheric aerosols on light and images provides an environment where such results are possible. The paper provides a clever marrying of science and art to gain a greater appreciation of Monet’s works …


  • 11.-14.9.2019, Venedig / Venezia / Venice: Impressions [incl. Turner]
  • 13.9.2019, Venezia: Santa Maria della Salute
  • 8.10.2016, From JMW Turner’s sketchbook
  • 9.1.2016, Hamburg: Colors of France [incl. Monet]
  • 16.4.2015, Frankfurt: Monet und die Geburt des Impressionismus
  • 7.8.2011, Bucerius Kunst Forum: William Turner – Maler der Elemente