Twenty-Six

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The Gare St-Lazare

1877 by Claude-Oscar Monet
National Gallery

I first saw Gare St-Lazare at the Walker Art Gallery in the exhibition Art in the Age of Steam. It is no surprise that the Futurists were not the first to be inspired by the machine, especially when the one considered is the impressively huge, steam-billowing engine. We are drawn to the personality of these mechanical creatures, for us who are not used to them, but it seems also for those who watched them grow, perhaps because they watched them grow — Art in the Age of Steam was also a documentation of a changing way of life. Monet’s depiction is interesting because it is so different in subject matter to the natural beauty of his water lilies, yet he seems to find this beauty in industry. Light here is starkly white, the early morning of getting up and getting on; rather than a dappling of impressionist colour, it is then black that picks out the trains and crowding commuters, uniting each in their buzz of activity . Above is the steam, floating in clouds, tinged with a blue that renders it graceful among its monotone beginning of the day. Cascading, almost dancing, across the canvas it removes any repressive atmosphere from the painting – reminiscent of the water lilies creeping across the canvas themselves.

 

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