Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Claude Monet and Saint Lazare Train Station

Claude Monet, The Gare St-Lazare, detail, 1877, The National Gallery, London.
Claude Monet, The Gare St-Lazare, detail, 1877, The National Gallery, London.


Claude Monet and Saint Lazare Train Station

Between 1853 and 1870 Paris has been renovated and modernized by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, commonly known as Baron Haussmann. This prefect of the Seine Department of France was chosen by Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal program of new boulevards, parks, roads and railway stations. One of them was Saint Lazare train station.

claude monet saint lazare train station
Claude Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train, 1877, Harvard Art Museums.

Via this train station Claude Monet, then yet unknown painter commuted into Paris from Argenteuil, a rural province outside Paris where he lived with his family. Monet, a few years before showing his famous Impression, Sunset at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874 was amazed by this symbol of modernity and industrialization. In 1877 he rented a studio near the Gare Saint Lazare.

The artist always wanted to be remembered as a painter of the ‘modern’ world. He painted a dozen canvases which attempt to portray all facets of the station. They all have similar themes— the play of light, the smoke of the train shed, the billowing clouds of steam, and of course, the locomotives. Of these twelve paintings, Monet exhibited between six and eight of them at the third Impressionist exhibition of 1877, where they were among the most discussed paintings exhibited by any of the artists.

claude monet saint lazare train station
 Claude Monet, Interior View of the Gare Saint-Lazare, the Auteuil Line, 1877, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Monet faced harsh criticism, probably due to the fact that he showed the locomotives as the main subject, rather than as background elements. Four paintings in the set of twelve, show the large and distinctive cast iron spans that covered the platforms. However, the other paintings show the exterior, the yards, workers, tunnels, switches, sheds, and engines of the station. But what Monet has never shown is the grand hotel, lavish entrance or sculpture of the station’s impressive façade. It never interested him.

In Interior View of the Gare Saint-Lazare, the Auteuil Line Monet renders the steam with a range of blues, pinks, violets, tans, greys, whites, blacks, and yellows. He also depicts the effect the steam and light has on the site— the large distant apartments, the Pont de l’Europe (a bridge that overlooked the train station), and the many locomotives— all of which peak through, and dematerialize into a thick industrial haze.

claude monet saint lazare train station
Claude Monet, Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877, Art Institute of Chicago.

In the 1870s also the other major Impressionists including Caillebotte, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, Guillaumin, Raffaëlli, and even Manet— had shown a steady interest in the railroad as a subject within their paintings of modern of life. For example, the Pont de l’Europe was painted by Gustave Caillebotte and presented on the Third Impressionist exhibition as well.

Gustave Caillebotte, Le pont de l'Europe, c. 1876, oil on canvas (Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva)
Gustave Caillebotte, Le pont de l’Europe, c. 1876, oil on canvas, Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva.

Monet’s paintings of the Gare Saint-Lazare are unique in the artist’s oeuvre and the series was one of his most famous series in his lifetime. As said by Émile Zola, “Monet is able to turn a normally dirty and gritty place into a peaceful and beautiful scene…You can hear the trains rumbling in, see the smoke billow up under the huge roofs…that is where painting is today…our artists have to find the poetry in train station, the way their fathers found the poetry in forests and rivers.”

This is how the station looks like now – unfortunately not that spectacular like in the 1870s.

St Lazare station seen from La Place de l’Europe, Paris, photography by Gregory Deryckère. Wikimedia Commons.

Art Historian, founder and CEO of DailyArtMagazine.com and DailyArt mobile app. But to be honest, her greatest accomplishment is being the owner of Pimpek the Cat.


More in Impressionism

  • 19th Century

    Masterpiece of the Week: Eugène Boudin, Trouville, Jetties, High Tide


    Eugène Boudin could be considered one of the fathers of Impressionism. It was he who met and influenced a young Claude Monet in 1858 with his sketchy impressionistic landscapes. Boudin’s changing color values, bold brushstrokes, and limited lines were stylistic elements clearly adopted by later and...

  • 19th Century

    Japonisme: Western Fever for Japanese Art and Culture


    During the mid 19th and 20th centuries, Western art saw the birth of Japonisme. The term was coined by Philippe Burty in 1872 and it refers to the craze of Japanese culture in Europe. In a time when artists started to reject traditional art-making, Japanese aesthetics...

  • dailyart

    See Rare Photographs Taken by Edgar Degas


    Today is World Photography Day. On this day, August 19th, in 1839 the French government bought the patent for the daguerreotype and released it “free to the world.” On this special occasion, we have prepared a special article revealing little known photographs taken by famous French...

  • Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life or La Table Garnie, 1866. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Yelkrokoyade, Wikimedia Commons. Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life or La Table Garnie, 1866. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Yelkrokoyade, Wikimedia Commons.

    19th Century

    Genres Explained: Still Life in Painting


    Let’s explore the history of still life through a selection of 10 paintings corresponding to two key moments: the 17th century in the Netherlands, and the 19th century in France. Dutch and Flemish artists painted still lifes with great skill, sometimes with the goal of communicating...

  • 19th Century

    Painting of the Week: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Ruins of the Château de Pierrefonds


    Soon after Château de Pierrefonds was displayed, Emperor Napoleon III restored the actual Château de Pierrefonds in the 1850s under the direction of architect Viollet-le-Duc. Perhaps the emperor was inspired to restore this great castle after viewing Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s painting? We will never know. Visit the...

To Top