Monet's Trains

7:00 AM

Claude Monet, Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil, 1874
A casual train ride through the countryside can be a relaxing and scenic adventure. You board the train in the bustling, dirty, smoky station, but as the wheels begin to turn and follow the track towards the flowing grass and luscious trees, the sounds of the city fade away and nature embraces the train. Although the train tracks pave their way through nature, uprooting trees and grass to make way for the heavy metal, Monet illustrates a sense of embracing nature in Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil. Yes, the bridge’s support beams rest in the water, and the train passing makes a ruckus, but Monet paints the train’s presence in a graceful manner that suggests a beauty of industry and nature together, rather than one taking over the other.

There is a balance between the presence of colors found in nature, such as the green grass, trees, and reflective blue in the water, and the concrete and metal bridge that has yet to display rust. The use of color seems to draw your eye across the painting, starting at bank on the right side with an array of shades of green and then leads your eye across the bridge to the green on the other side, which meshes with the concrete foundation of the bridge on the bank., suggesting a balance in palette as no color outweighs another. The reflection of the support beams in the water also shows a balance between nature and industry, as the beams stand solid and strong above and below the water, but their reflections flow and ripple along with the current of the water. Even the smoke from the train seems to blend into nature, not appearing as dirty, polluted air, but as fluffy, pure clouds crossing the sky.

Claude Monet, Le Pont de l'Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877

A few years later, Monet represented the train in another setting – in the heart of Paris. Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare depicts trains departing from the bustling, dirty, smoky station to travel out to the countryside. This painting differs drastically from Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil not only due to the subject matter of nature and industry versus solely industry, but also in Monet’s technique of painting. Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil contains a combination of short and long strokes, all in an effort to make the water, grass and trees seem more natural, as if the wind is softly blowing and the water is carrying along the sailboat in its current. The strokes are soft and only really noticeable upon closer inspection, but Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare contains more choppy, short strokes. The strokes seem harsher, more striking. It is as if the entire scene has a layer of haze covering it, blurring the train station and the surrounding elements, creating an almost dizzying effect.

Jacques, a liberal critic, explained that Monet’s “brush has expressed not only the movement, color and activity [of the station] but also the clamor; it is unbelievable. Yet the station is full of din – grindings, whistles – that you make out through the colliding blue and gray clouds of dense smoke. It is a pictorial symphony.” While Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil appears complacent and quiet, the sound of Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare practically strikes the viewer, a drastic difference between the two works. My favorite difference between the two is the smoke. While the smoke in Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil resembles natural clouds in the sky, the smoke in Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare seems more forced and crude. The smoke isn’t billowing, made of more natural strokes; rather, it is harsh and choppy, possibly alluding to the presence of over industrialization in the city. Where as the Railroad Bridge, Argenteuil depicts a balance between nature and industry, Le Pont de l’Europe, Gare Saint-Lazare illustrates a scene where industry has taken over, and both paintings together illustrate the true variety and talent of Claude Monet.

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