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“Our artists have to find poetry in train stations the way their fathers found poetry in forests and rivers,” wrote French novelist Émile Zola in a review of the Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877.[1] Zola’s comment likely referred to paintings by Claude Monet of the Saint-Lazare train station in Paris. As Zola noted, Impressionists defied artistic conventions by depicting urban and industrial subjects and addressing the rapidly changing social environment of 1870s France. During this period, train travel epitomized technological advancement, and the Saint-Lazare station was a frequent subject for painters like Monet and Édouard Manet, as well as Gustave Caillebotte, who lived in the vicinity. Caillebotte was a friend of Monet and an affluent supporter of the arts who frequently exhibited with the Impressionists and collected their works.

In his painting On the Pont de l’Europe Caillebotte depicted the Saint-Lazare station from the Pont de l’Europe, a monumental bridge that crossed over the station’s railyards. One man in a bowler hat leans against the railing of the bridge and gazes out at a moving train, indicated by a puff of smoke in the distance. A man in a top hat also stops to look, while a third man hurries on, passing out of the frame. Despite their proximity, the men do not interact with one another. Muted blue and gray tones conjure the atmosphere of a cold, overcast day and emphasize the isolation and anonymity of the urban environment.

In On the Pont de l’Europe, Caillebotte appropriated the conventions of photographs—images recorded by machine—to capture the mechanized and industrialized environment of Paris. Emulating the framing of a camera lens, Caillebotte cropped the composition to emphasize the imposing trusses of the bridge, which frame a view of the train station beyond. The sharp detail of the painting also suggests the clarity of photography, invented less than 50 years before, which had revolutionized perception and would soon capture phenomena invisible to the human eye.

From June 27 to September 22, visitors to the Museum can view Caillebotte’s On the Pont de l’Europe in Gallery 218, which is dedicated to the theme The Impressionist Landscape. The Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth has loaned On the Pont de l’Europe to the Saint Louis Art Museum, while the Museum has loaned Claude Monet’s Water Lilies to the Kimbell. Water Lilies is featured in Monet: The Late Years, the first major exhibition in two decades dedicated to the final stages of Monet’s artistic development, those years Monet spent in Giverny between 1913 and his death in 1926.

Gustave Caillebotte, French, 1848–1894; On the Pont de l'Europe, 1876–1877; oil on canvas; Unframed: 41 5/8 x 51 1/2 in.; Framed: 55 11/16 x 65 3/4 x 4 15/16 in. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas 2019.1

  • [1] Émile Zola, “Notes parisiennes: Une exposition: Les peintres impressionistes,” Le sémaphore de Marseille (April 19, 1877), quoted in Juliet Wilson-Bareau, Manet, Monet, and the Gare Saint-Lazare (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, in association with Yale University Press, 1998), 106.

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