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Train in the Countryside

Claude Monetcirca 1870

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

This small painting, dating from before the official birth of the Impressionist movement – the first exhibition of the group would only take place four years later – is representative of the preference for the domesticated natural settings found to the west of Paris over the "wilder" nature of the countryside outside the Paris region; the young generation of plein air painters preferred to set their easels in front of a man-made, garden-like nature.

In spite of the remark by the critic Jules Champfleury in his manifesto Le Realisme published in 1857: "Isn't the machine, and the role it plays in the landscape, enough to make a good painting?" - the emergence of an industrial subject – in this case the railway – remains quite allusive. Here, only the carriages are visible; the engine is hidden behind a screen of vegetation, its presence revealed only by a plume of smoke. The machine, which had not yet achieved the status of an aesthetic object, is screened here by dense trees.

At a technical level, the time not having yet come for scattered multiple brushstrokes, the tones of a restricted palette, homogeneous and vividly contrasted, are placed in broad areas according to a simplified distribution of light and shade, rather similar from a tonal point of view to the early photographs.

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