In 1877, Monet returned to Paris after a period of painting rural landscapes. It is at this time that he created a dozen paintings of the historic Gare Saint-Lazare train station, which are not spread out in museums worldwide. Notably, it was the first time Monet created a series centered around a single theme. The Gare Saint-Lazare is a simple but eloquent Impressionist piece that captures the urban landscape and atmospheric conditions of industrial Paris.
The painting shows what seems to be a platform positioned between two tracks. The platform is crowded, but the people are almost all blurred together, with only indistinct shapes being seen. The trains are at a standstill, but well-recognized locomotives, with one releasing puffs of smoke. There are descriptive details such as lampposts on the platform, and signature arcs of the Gare Saint-Lazare visible as well as some sort of roof covering above the vantage point of the painting. In the distance, there are also other tracks that could be seen with trains and buildings located in the distant background, indicating an urban environment. In this painting, Monet capitalizes on artistic elements of perspective (vantage point), use of space in the objects, texture is utilized in some aspects (smoke), and a combination of color and value play some role as well.
Impressionist painting broke from traditions of still life subject matter to capture movement of life. The subject scene of the painting is already defining of Impressionism, showing a bustling train station with moving figures and a landscape that is full of moving pieces. Impressionism is also characterized by the use of short, thick strokes which seek to capture the essence rather than detail. As mentioned before, the painting has blurry figures, which present is essential characteristics – allowing the viewer to recognize the train, people, arcs, but there is very little detail in the majority of the scene, and the use of short strokes can be seen in the style of the painting. Light, which is a dominant element of impressionist painting is also a key factor in Gare Saint-Lazare as the light outside is dim, potentially early evening or twilight, juxtaposes with the darker shades of areas that are under the arcs and roofing near the train station. The use of steam is also brilliant by Monet as it rises and flows against the dim sky and represents a mixture of color values which have an effect on the whole scene, representing the urban industrial Paris which can be scene in the distance through this haze of locomotive steam.
Photography was a new technology that was gaining popularity at the end of the 19th century, allowing for a mechanical means to reproduce reality with the ultimate realism. When used by artists, it allowed painters to closer examine scenes and spaces, particularly that of light and asymmetry, as well as capture spontaneous and visually ambiguous scenes in a still medium. For Impressionists, who were focused on the transient nature of reality, the technology of photography helped to essentially pause time, a victory over temporality, which in turn resulted in transformations of their depictions. Impressionists were often interested in capturing the ordinary people in their daily activities. Photography provided a medium for ultrarealistic scenes that could be captured in a fixed image. Impressionists could use the photographs to closely examine the scenes, and no longer focus on memorization of what they saw and its depiction, but rather a focus on specific painting techniques of light, color, texture, and movement that were difficult to achieve beforehand, especially in complex landscape or urban scenes (“Reexamining Link Between Rise of Photography and Impressionism” 2009).
The painting examined in this paper The Gare Saint-Lazare is a strong-representation of the Impressionist era, combining the subject matter, techniques, and themes that were common for this period in art. Monet sought to portray urban Paris and its bustling atmosphere filled with industrial technologies and lifestyles. Although a relatively simple scene, the use of Impressionist artistic elements allows to portray the nature of the busy train station in a realistic manner.
Monet, Claude. The Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877. Oil-on-canvas, London, National Gallery. Web.
“Reexamining Link Between Rise of Photography and Impressionism.” University of Michigan Arts and Culture. 2009. Web.