Before Claude Monet, the founder of Impressionism, retreated to the idyllic paradise of Giverny, before he created his luminous and timeless contemplations of water lilies and gardens, the artist was chronicling the changes to post-war France in ways that would transform art.

Monet: A Bridge to Modernity, which opens on Thursday at the National Gallery of Canada, is an exhibition of 12 oils painted in the 1870s that reveal Monet's familiar preoccupation with water and light, but also his fascination with bridges.

'It's a change of time we're looking at'

Following the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) Monet returned to France from a self-imposed exile in London, England to find a world both destroyed by war, but also eager to rebuild. 

Anabelle Kienle Ponka

Anabelle Kienle Ponka is the associate curator of European and American Art at the National Gallery of Canada.

Monet settled in the Paris suburb of Angenteuil where he could paint from the riverbank of the Seine and observe the reconstructed bridge, the chugging steamboats, the far-off factories and other signs of modernity along the waterfront.

"It's a change of time we're looking at in Monet's work and he's capturing that in a variety of ways," said curator Anabelle Kienle Ponka.

Monet even purchased a small boat, that he turned into a studio, so that he could float along and paint the bridge from different perspectives.

The father of Impressionism painted the Argenteuil highway bridge numerous times, as the bridge was rebuilt after the war, and he experimented with new techniques and colours each time.

Here is curator Anabelle Kienle Ponka describing Monet's creative process.

Monet exhibition at National Gallery0:35

Monet: A Bridge to Modernity opens at the National Gallery of Canada on Thursday and runs until Feb. 15, 2016.