The railway, symbol of a new industrial revolution

The railway, symbol of a new industrial revolution

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Title: Saint-Lazare station.

Author : MONET Claude (1840 - 1926)

School : Impressionism

Creation date : 1877

Date shown: 1877

Dimensions: Height 75.5 - Width 104

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 97DE21187 / RF 2775

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: September 2020


The railway, symbol of a new industrial revolution


Historical context

Symbol of the nascent industrial revolution, the railway developed in France from the 1820s. Long considered a curiosity, a "toy" according to Thiers, it became under the Second Empire a new, prodigious means of transport. Quickly, the construction of railways and stations reshaped the face of Paris, at the center of the star network of the six major companies.

This tremendous promise of progress and freedom fascinates the population, and artists in particular, as evidenced by Gare Saint-Lazare by Monet.

Image Analysis

In January 1877, Claude Monet moved to the Saint-Lazare train station. Eager to tackle a decidedly modern and urban subject, the painter obtained official permission from the director of Western Railways to set up his easel inside the station.

Installed on the Auteuil line platform, Monet represents the swarming activity of the place. In the center, a dark locomotive pulls into the station, letting large clouds of smoke escape as a train sped towards the Pont de l'Europe, which spans the railway tracks in the distance. On the left, the isolation of a stationary car contrasts with the hustle and bustle of a departure or arrival, on the right. Towering buildings bathed in light and a clear sky share the background. The architecture of the hall subtly creates a symmetrical composition where the perspective sinks in the center into the deep trench that the construction of the tracks has dug along the rue de Rome.

Monet captures the bubbling atmosphere on the spot, which in turn blurs or emphasizes the metal frame and the canopy of the marquise, the layout of the tracks, the facades of the buildings, the silhouettes. With a rich palette and a varied touch, the painter fixes the "impressions" inspired by the multiple games of light and colors between the sun and the steam.

Unlike Manet and Caillebotte on the same subject, he approaches the station as a place in perpetual motion and endeavors to make all of its aspects changing with a wide variety of techniques and compositions.


In front of this painting and six other views of the Saint-Lazare station that Monet presented at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877, many critics recognized its remarkable ability to reproduce the life of the station, its colors and its sounds.

The painter thus immortalizes the Saint-Lazare station [4] built by the architect Alfred Armand in 1841-1843 and covered, on the suburb side, with a huge canopy fitted out by the engineer Eugène Flachat in 1853. This part of the station, left intact by the architect Juste Lisch, who was responsible for the last extension of the station in 1885-1889, is still identifiable today.

Monet also invites us to discover the new district of Europe, established by Baron Haussmann in 1858 and built from 1860, its wide arteries, its apartment buildings and the Pont de l'Europe, which in 1867 replaced the old place of Europe and its tunnels.

It is thus fascinating to verify that the Impressionist masters, and Monet the first of them, were not only wonderful landscape painters, but also sensitive observers of the modern city.

  • railway
  • station
  • Haussmann (Georges Eugène)
  • impressionism
  • Paris
  • industrial Revolution
  • town planning
  • city
  • Thiers (Adolphe)
  • engineer


François CARON, History of railways in France, 1740-1883, Paris, Fayard, 1997.

Georges DUBY, History of urban France, Paris, Seuil, 1983.

Ernst Hans GOMBRICH, The history of art, Paris, Gallimard, 1995.

Bernard MARCHAND, Paris, history of a city (19th-20th centuries), Paris, Seuil, coll. “Points Histoire”, 1993.

Sylvie PATIN, Monet, “one eye… but good God, what an eye! ", Paris, Gallimard, RMN, coll. “Gallimard Discoveries”, 1991.

Karin SAGNER-DUCHTING, Claude Monet: a feast for the eyes, Cologne, Paris, Taschen, 1994.

COLLECTIVE, Educational sheets from the cultural department of the Musée’s Orsay Claude Monet, Gare Saint-Lazare, Orsay Museum.

COLLECTIVE, Manet, Monet, Gare Saint-Lazare, catalog of the Orsay museum exhibition, RMN, Paris, 1998.

To cite this article

Fleur SIOUFFI, "The railway, symbol of a new industrial revolution"


  • 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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