Gare St Lazare Monet Descriptive Essay

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St-Lazare station was the Paris railway terminus which served what might now be called "Monet country". It was the station not only for Argenteuil but also for most of Monet's favourite locations in northern France, including Le Havre, Chatou, Bougival, Louveciennes, Ville d'Avray, Bouen and Vernon (for the branch line to Giverny).

The subject had an obvious fascination for a painter with his interests, and the fact that he made twelve paintings in such a short time is a testament to his enthusiasm. Another reason for his haste was that he wanted to include the paintings in the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition and the closing date was in April. In the event he exhibited only eight of the twelve. Once he had completed the group he seems to have been creatively exhausted, and only produced four other paintings that year.

See: Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris (1874-86) for more details about the early shows.

Although they are a sequence of paintings, they are not, in Monet's terms of reference, a series, since they show a number of different views of the station rather than exploring the changing effect of light on the same view. The treatments vary from the oil-sketch to the studio-finished work, this painting having been done on the spot. He set up his painting stand centrally under the canopy, and the symmetrically of the composition is broken by both the large carriage shape on the left and the placing of the engine a little to the right of the centre of the canopy of iron girders. The directional movement in the composition is provided by the movement of the foreground figure towards the right. Again, complementary colours have been used to enhance one another, this time the mauvish smoke and the pale yellow glowing sunlight, and the carefully constructed smoke pattern is both the whole colour key and the element that gives life and rhythm to the work. The brushwork is no longer directional; it is a dense impasto laid on with such delicacy that even the harsh shape of the engine is softened into a steam-bathed form. The almost ethereal light makes the figures appear more as points of movement than as actual people going about their business. (For an idea of Monet's colours, see: 19th Century colour palette.)

Overall it is a carefully constructed composition which avoids too much symmetricality by simple devices of balance and placing. Although the canopy is exactly central (reflecting Monet's painting position), the engine is a little to the left, and the bulky shape of the carriage and the direction of the smoke from the engine continue the emphasis on the left side of the painting. The framework of the side of the shed extends this further, while the right side is left open, filled with light sharpened by the small dabs of sharp colour suggesting figures and objects. The general warmth of colour is emphasized by the floating areas of steam and smoke in white and cobalt violet tints - at once exciting and surprising. As Monet's painting developed it became increasingly high in key until the time of the later water garden series, when the deep blues and greens returned, used with an even greater mastery.

Explanation of other Monet Paintings

• Women in the Garden (1866-7) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Monet's first real success.

• La Grenouillere (1869) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Exquisite plein-air painting.

• Impression, Sunrise (1873) Musee Marmottan-Monet, Paris.
The painting that christened the greatest art movement.

• The Beach at Trouville (1870) Wadsworth Atheneum, CT.
Rapid plein air painting of the artist's wife and Mrs Eugene Boudin.

• Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Masterly rendition of summer walk among poppies.

• Water Lilies series (1897-1926) various art museums.
Monet created over 250 landscapes of his ponds and gardens at Giverny.

• The Water Lily Pond: Green Harmony (1899) Musee d'Orsay.
One of 18 views of Monet's Japanese-style footbridge.

NOTE: For the story behind French Impressionism and the group of artists who created it, please see our 10-part series, beginning: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of material from MONET (2002) by Trewin Copplestone, an essential source for anyone interested in Claude Monet and the Impressionist movement.

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