An artist looks at the railway station

In 1876, Claude Monet moved into a studio apartment in the Rue Moncey, close to the Gare St-Lazare.  At the time he also had an apartment in the Rue d’Edinbourg which was even closer to the station.  (Including his house at Argenteuil Monet actually had three residences; it seems he was far from being the stereotype of the “starving artist”!)

Monet, the son of a grocer, was born in Paris and grew up in Le Havre.  In 1856 he met Eugene Boudin, who introduced him to painting from nature.  When Monet worked in the studio of Charles Gleyre he met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and others who, like Monet, would become highly influential Impressionists.  He enjoyed going on outdoor painting expeditions with Edouard Manet, and it is enjoyable to compare paintings done by Monet and Manet of the same scenes.  You can see that each artist worked from a slightly different viewpoint, and with different styles.

“The Gare St-Lazare”, oil painting, 1877, by Claude Monet.

Monet did many series of paintings showing the different effects of light and weather on the same subject.  Between January and March of 1877, he painted twelve pictures of the station.  In the fourth Impressionist exhibit, which opened in April of that year, he exhibited seven of these railway station paintings.

The railway station, at that time, was probably the single most powerful symbol of the importance of industrialization to modern man.  Because of this, many artists were using railroads, stations, and trains as subject matter, each presenting these things in an entirely different way.  The artist Turner, for example, saw the train as a powerful force, a dark and menacing creature roaring unfeelingly thru nature.  Edouard Manet, in his painting “The Railway,” chose to hide the train in a cloud of steam so he could depict a more human scene.

“Portrait of Monet” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

But Monet’s view of the railway station is very different from either of these interpretations.  In this particular painting — one of four surviving canvases representing the interior of the station — he painted the train as a delicate black shape contained in the airy web of the station’s ironwork.  Monet is oncerned with light and atmosphere, just as he would have been in painting a landscape of water and trees.  But here the light is given a special character by the presence of smoke and steam filtering the sunlight.

In fact, his views of the Gare St-Lazare are very much landscapes, but they are interior landscapes.  The smoke from the engines creates the same effect as clouds in the sky.  Monet’s quick, sure brushstrokes indicate the gleaming engines and the crowd of passengers on the platform.

As a group, the twelve Gare St-Lazare canvases were the last of Monet’s “modern-life” subjects.  After completing these, he turned completely to painting the natural landscape.

Published by on January 2017. Filed under Paint Box Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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