The Thames as it appeared in painting between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came to represent the "modern" in art. Yet it stood for the modern in two very different senses. In the mid-nineteenth century, the river was thought to express the essence of the life of London—its commercial power, but also the physical and moral squalor that had so often accompanied the development of the first industrial metropolis. Through the rest of the century, however, another way of seeing the Thames emerged—pioneered in painting by Whistler—focusing on aesthetic effect rather than on the city as a social or moral exemplar. Monet's London series is the most comprehensive expression of this aesthetic viewpoint.
Derain's London paintings marked a fascinating coda to these issues and redefined them for a new century. In their renewed engagement with the busy everyday activities of Londoners, his paintings embraced a social theme that Whistler and Monet had shunned. Yet at the same time, Derain's radically antinaturalistic technique insisted, unlike Monet's series, that a truly modern work of art was an autonomous creation, largely independent of the appearances of the external world.