After several days in Paris, we left for Giverny and Normandy, and we’d go by train as the Impressionists did.
In the late 1800s trains were changing life for people in and out of Paris. They allowed people living outside the city to come in to work. Weekend trains with double decker cars, as seen in this painting by Monet, took the Impressionists and other Parisians out of the city to relax at restaurants, and popular swimming, boating, and fishing spots.
Trains and train stations show up in a surprising number of their paintings.
They were a part of the modern life that the Impressionists were determined to show. Which is why Musee d’Orsay, a former train station, is so appropriate as a museum for Impressionist art!
It is Gare Saint-Lazare in the northwest part of the city, where many of the Impressionists lived, that shows up in their paintings. Its trains took people to popular recreational sites along the Seine River as it flows northwest from Paris to the Atlantic. Monet would also have taken the train from there to get to and from small towns such as Argenteuil, and eventually Giverny, where he and his family lived.
Both Monet and Gustave Caillebotte painted this station. Caillebotte painted from the large bridge that crossed over the tracks behind the station and was more interested in architectural features of the bridge itself. Caillebotte’s painting, pictured below, is titled Le Pont de L’Europe.
Monet painted the station from many angles in a number of paintings done in 1877. His interest was, as always, the effects of light on his subject, and he even convinced the station supervisor to delay the trains and produce more steam than usual so he could paint these effects. In these paintings steam and smoke billow up in tints of blue and pink and gray to the glass and iron roof of Gare Saint-Lazare. Monet’s painting is titled La Gare Saint-Lazare.
Saint-Lazare is still the main station to travel from Paris to Giverny and on to Rouen and other cities of coastal Normandy, so we arrived at the station early on a Saturday morning.
Steam no longer fills the train shed, but people still hurry into the station to catch their trains. Along with many others, we grabbed a croissant and a cup of coffee on our way to the platforms. A babble of voices impatient to begin their journeys surrounds us. We’re ready, too. Now that we’ve seen the paintings, we’re ready to visit Monet’s home and famous gardens. On to Giverny!
- Compare Le Pont De L’Europe by Caillebotte to Le Pont De L’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare by Monet to see the difference in viewpoint and technique! (Both these are shown above)
- Read an enjoyable picture book called, Claude Monet: The Painter Who Stopped the Trains by P.I. Maltbie. It has an author’s note, some reproductions of Monet’s work, and a list of North American museums with his work
Are you ready to recieve the next Kathythepicturelady post about our visit to Monet’s beloved gardens at Giverny?
All photos in this post were taken by the author.