The railway in the French landscape

The railway in the French landscape

  • The railway bridge at Argenteuil.

    MONET Claude (1840 - 1926)

  • Train in the countryside.

    MONET Claude (1840 - 1926)

  • Railway bridge at Chatou or the Pink Chestnut trees.

    RENOIR Pierre Auguste (1841 - 1919)

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Title: The railway bridge at Argenteuil.

Author : MONET Claude (1840 - 1926)

School : Impressionism

Creation date : 1874

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 54 - Width 71

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palaissite web

Picture reference: 94DE18583 / RF 1679

The railway bridge at Argenteuil.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

To close

Title: Train in the countryside.

Author : MONET Claude (1840 - 1926)

School : Impressionism

Creation date : 1870

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 50 - Width 65

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 93DE1135 / MNR 218

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Railway bridge at Chatou or the Pink Chestnut trees.

Author : RENOIR Pierre Auguste (1841 - 1919)

School : Impressionism

Creation date : 1881

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 54 - Width 65.7

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 95DE13022 / RE 3758

Railway bridge at Chatou or the Pink Chestnut trees.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: October 2009

Historical context

In France, the Second Empire opened the era of rail in many ways. The revolution that the country experienced in the 1850s and 1860s was due to private initiative and to a few capitalists at the head of financial empires, but also to the State, which granted them numerous new concessions and leases. emphyteutic (99 years old).

Once divided into tiny and scattered networks, the French rail network was shared from 1857 between six major companies (from the North, East, West, PLM, Paris-Orléans and South). The XIXe French century therefore saw the generalization of new constructions and equipment: stations, railways, bridges, viaducts interfering in the urban and rural landscape. The lines operated, for example, reached in 1851 a length of 3,000 km; nearly twenty years later, 16,000 km of tracks crisscross French territory.

The painting reflects the development of these facilities of a new era, especially around Paris where the "railway octopus" extends its tentacles.

Image Analysis

The railway bridge at Argenteuil, on which a train passes discreetly, joins the two green banks of the Seine; its plume of smoke can hardly be seen against the cloudy sky; the river laps against the colossal pillars of the work. The train, fast and fleeting like the brushstrokes, hardly seems to disturb this suburban landscape.

Likewise, the wagons of the Train in the countryside flying in the distance merge with the dark green trees of the forest. Indifferent to its silent passage, small figures walk on the soft green grass that the sun floods. We feel the same feeling of rest in front of Renoir's canvas.

The Chatou railway bridge, half hidden by chestnut trees, is in harmony with this square of flowery nature.

The three paintings are not constructed in the same way: the view from the Argenteuil bridge is structured by a wide diagonal that bars the river, while the Monet of 1871 and the Renoir are built on a horizontal line of force, the railroad. But they denote the same fascination with works of art, viaducts and bridges (we find it at Caillebotte). We will especially note the appeasement they express: this serenity, in which the train itself participates, contrasts with the brute force and the fulgurance of the locomotive in Steam and Speed by Turner.

Interpretation

The paintings of Monet and Renoir bear witness to the changes undergone in French space during the railway revolution. It acquires new equipment that crosses forests, crisscrosses fields, spans rivers. The railroad has resulted in the decompartmentalization of many regions; the mobility of city dwellers and rural dwellers has been improved. Rail has also had a structuring effect, as cities tend to develop along the tracks, in a "glove-like extension".

However, it has often been accompanied by destruction. First, if not facilitated, at least accompanied the rural exodus. For example, the arrival of the railway causes the loss of 2,000 inhabitants in Poitiers. At the end of the XIXe century, several politicians will denounce the iron monster which empties the countryside of their sons and daughters. On the other hand, the waterway has suffered greatly from competition from railway companies. Thus, the PLM has completely supplanted steam navigation on the Rhône and the Saône.

But the Impressionists display a remarkable serenity in the face of the symbol of technical progress: their train does not jeopardize the rurality of France, like this tortillard which purrs in the sunny countryside.

  • suburbs
  • railway
  • rural exodus
  • impressionism
  • industrial Revolution
  • campaign

Bibliography

Georges DUBY (dir.), History of urban France, t. 4, The city of the industrial age, Paris, Seuil, 1983.

Alain FAURE (dir.), The First Commuters. The origins of the suburbs of Paris (1860-1940), Paris, Créaphis, 1991.

Annie FOURCAULT (dir.), A century of the Parisian suburbs (1859-1964), Paris, L’Harmattan, 1988.

Bernard MARCHAND, Paris, history of a city (19th-20th century), Paris, Seuil, 1993.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "The railway in the French landscape"

Glossary

  • Impressionism: An artistic movement bringing together all the independent artists who exhibited collectively between 1874 and 1886. The term was used by a critic to deride Monet's painting Impression Soleil Levant (1872). The Impressionists favored subjects drawn from modern life and open-air painting.
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