Take the M-Train
Train stations and railways often feature in Claude Monet's work – something that is impressively demonstrated by "The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Monet & Architecture" at the National Gallery. All aboard!
There is something engaging and relaxing about Impressionist paintings. Wouldn't everyone like to have one hanging on their wall? In these paintings life still proceeds at an unhurried pace. But, although we today sometimes have the sense that time has come to a standstill in Impressionist paintings, it is easy to forget that, for the contemporary observer, they represented a break with tradition and the advent of a new, exciting, fast-moving era – from a stylistic viewpoint, but also, in terms of subject matter. Claude Monet, one of the founders of Impressionism, and his friends took great interest in representing symbols of progress and modernity. These artists enjoyed depicting the urban development which had started to take place in the middle of the 19th century; especially railway stations and bridges, with their solid iron structures, and locomotives billowing smoke and steam.
An Excited Passenger
The railway, the embodiment of the machine age, and its stations played a special role in Monet's art and life. The painter devoted a whole series of paintings to it. He often traveled to Normandy on the new railway, which reached Rouen from Paris in 1843 and then Le Havre four years later. Monet repeatedly returned to the busy port of Le Havre, where he had grown up. On a visit in 1872, he painted the now famous canvas 'Impression, sunrise', which gave its name to the Impressionist movement. Traveling to Rouen twenty years later, he depicted the cathedral thirty times in different light and weather conditions.
Portable Paint Tubes
Monet also used the railways to travel to the northwestern suburbs of Paris, to Argenteuil, Poissy, and Vétheuil, where he would paint on the banks of the Seine. On his travels, he used the new invention of portable paint tubes and easels to help him paint 'en plein air' (outdoors), to capture the fleeting light effects in the locations that he visited by train. From the 1880s, when Monet moved to Giverny, he often took the train to Paris, where his dealers and clients lived.
Saint Lazarus Alive and Kicking
Whether he traveled to Normandy or to the Parisian suburbs, Monet always departed from the same station: the Gare Saint-Lazare, the first and largest railway station in Paris at the time. In 1877, ten years after the last extension of the station, Monet moved to central Paris from the suburb of Argenteuil to paint it. He rented a small apartment and a studio near the Gare Saint-Lazare and went as far as asking for permission to paint inside the station.
Monet painted a total of twelve views of the interior or exterior of the Gare Saint-Lazare, over a decade before he began to actively paint in series of multiple canvases. In the third Impressionist exhibition, which opened in April 1877, the artist exhibited seven canvases of the railway station. Today, four of his paintings of the station's interior survive, one of which belongs to the National Gallery and features in this exhibition.