Claude Monet: More than an Impression
From Alaska to Australia, Claude Monet is renowned for his contribution to the artistic world. Specifically, Monet is accredited with inspiring the subfield of impressionism. His painting, Impression, Rising Sun, (1873) is said to be the first impressionist painting (Taschen 31). This canvas vaguely pictures a small, lonely boat floating in front of a brilliant orange sun. This sun is surrounded by blue and grey tones that leave the viewer slightly chilled from the brisk early morning sense of the painting. The fact that the lines are blurred and the picture is without graphic detail led Louis Leroy to call its creator an impressionist. The impressionist movement stormed through Europe in the latter part of the 19th century. Today in museums from St. Petersburg to Chicago, people peruse Monet’s vision of the world. What many people do not realize, however, is that he left more than an impression. Aside from pleasing the eye, Monet’s works also paint a picture of 19th century France.
France in the 19th Century
Monet’s artistic career started much before the impressionist movement. While today he is famous for his landscapes and nature scenes, it wasn’t until 1858 that Monet began to paint outside, focusing on the natural beauty of France (Interagir.com). At this time, Napoleon III had gained power and France was beginning to feel the affects of the Industrial Revolution, which had started in 1830 (Francegate.com). Napoleon’s right hand man, Baron Haussman, redesigned the Europe District of Paris (Steele 35). He added huge boulevards and transformed Paris’ first train station into the magnificent station, Gare Saint Lazare. The changes that happened in the Europe District eventually spread through the City of Lights, and then through the country, as if the district were the epicenter of an industrial earthquake (National). During this period, dirt roads were replaced with large boulevards and railroads in just one of the many transitions underway at the time.
These physical transitions also reflected the ongoing mental transition in French society. As France industrialized, its new methods of transportation made the movement of ideas from other parts of the world more practical. Thus, the ultra religious mindset that had dominated France prior to this time period started to weaken as technology and world awareness increased. Religion was partially replaced with modernity. In essence, the cathedral, which had previously represented France, was replaced by the train: new, powerful, and mechanism for cultural exchange.
Saint-Lazare train station
It is the Saint-Lazare train station which inspired Monet to paint a series of eleven paintings about the station in 1876 and 1877 (Taschen 93). This series focused on the changing aspects of light within the...