Monet, the French Impressionist painter, visited London between 1899 and 1901 to work on his famous series of paintings depicting London's Houses of Parliament.

Scientists Jacob Baker and John Thornes from the UK's University of Birmingham have analysed the position of the sun in nine paintings to establish whether Monet's works are accurate representations of the city's weather conditions at the time, or more fanciful interpretations.

They compared the results with data from the US Naval Observatory to work out the date and time the paintings were created, and where Monet was standing in London.

As the measurements show Monet was largely accurate in his placing of the sun in his paintings, the scientists believe they can study the colours the artist used to discover how bad pollution was at the time the painting was created, Baker told the UK's Guardian newspaper.

'Aesthetic decision'

The colours used to depict the sunsets could tell scientists the size, density and composition of fog particles, with oily specks producing a yellowish green haze and soot particles giving a bluish tone, Baker added.

"Now we can potentially get real air quality information from a time when scientific instruments weren't around"

Jacob Baker, University of Birmingham, UK

"Although we know that smog was a problem at that time, we don't know much about it," Baker said.

"Now we can potentially get real air quality information from a time when scientific instruments weren't around."

However, Christopher Riopelle, a curator at the National Gallery in London, told the newspaper he doubted that Monet could be relied for total accuracy.

"Scientific people ... often overestimate the specificity of painted images," he told the Guardian.

"He is an artist who, in addition to observing nature, is making all kinds of aesthetic decisions."

Monet, born in Paris in 1840, is perhaps best known for his paintings of water lilies and his "series" works, depicting the same scene at different times of the day to capture different light and viewpoints.