In 1867, crowds in their millions came to marvel at Paris's world fair, the 'Exposition Universelle'. Among them was Monet, then a young artist. The fair was a showcase for the newest art, technology, and industry from across the world, and showed Paris off as a modern metropolis.
Pont Neuf, Paris (le Pont Neuf a Paris). (1865) by Charles SoulierThe J. Paul Getty Museum
Inspired by the fair, Monet went in search of urban subjects to paint.
His cityscapes from this period show an artist attentive to modern life.
St. Germain l'Auxerrois (1867) by Claude MonetAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
That same year, Monet painted the Church of St Germain l’Auxerrois from a balcony in the Louvre. Rather than studying the art within the museum, Monet looks out and down to the people in the square in front of the church.
His swift brushstrokes, and the rhythmic shadows of the trees, give a sense of movement and vitality, in contrast to the old stones of the church.
The view that Monet painted has not changed much, as seen in this Street View.
St Lazare Station
A few years later, in 1877, Monet painted a dozen canvases of St Lazare Station in central Paris. He was so intent on depicting the station, that he rented a studio nearby. You can see three of these paintings here, all of which focus on trains arriving into the station.
Monet was consciously choosing a modern subject; although trains had appeared in paintings before, they were not usually the main subject as they were not considered picturesque.
The Gare St-Lazare (1877) by Claude MonetThe National Gallery, London
In this view of the station, Monet plays with the conventions of landscape, with the roof standing in for the sky, and machine-generated steam creating irregular shapes where you might expect trees.
This is how St Lazare Station (Paris Saint-Lazare) appears today.
Move to the suburbs
Monet and his family had settled in the suburb of Argenteuil in 1871. Northwest of central Paris, the suburb was linked to the capital by both road and the railway terminating at St Lazare Station.
Argenteuil was a place in constant transition, its population having almost doubled in the two decades before Monet’s arrival.
Argenteuil (c. 1872) by Claude MonetNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Throughout the years when he lived in this varied and developing environment, Monet tended to pick out modern motifs, whether the busy bridges, smart middle-class villas, or the chimneys of the ironworks and brick factories.
The Bridge at Argenteuil (1874) by Claude MonetNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Monet used his landscape painter's fascination with nature’s variety and changeable weather to make his pictures of suburban Argenteuil more interesting.
Red Boats, Argenteuil (1875) by Claude MonetHarvard Art Museums
Here, he captures the pleasure boats on the Seine that drew tourists to Argenteuil in the summer months.
Snow Scene at Argenteuil (1875) by Claude MonetThe National Gallery, London
During a famously snowy winter, he painted 18 views of Argenteuil blanketed in snow. Many of them, like this work, show his street – the boulevard Saint-Denis – leading down from the railway station to the river Seine.
Monet sacrifices details in favour of atmosphere. The predominantly monochrome palette of blues and greys conveys the bleakness of an overcast winter's afternoon.