Hazy Impressionist landscapes actually showed smog-shrouded skies, says a new study

Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet and Joseph Mallord William (JMW) Turner are famous for their blurred, dreamlike paintings. However, a new study finds that what these European painters really represented in their works was not a figment of their imaginations, but an environmental disaster: air pollution.

Scientists examined around 100 artworks by the two Impressionist painters who dominated the art scene during the Industrial Revolution between the mid-18th and early 20th centuries. The team discovered that what some art enthusiasts had long thought was Monet and Turner’s painting style was that they “captured changes in the visual environment” that accompanied deteriorating air quality as coal-burning plants began to encroach on European cities coat and spew pollutants into the air, according to the study, published Jan. 31 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (opens in new tab).

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