The landscapes that Monet painted at Argenteuil during the 1870s have been widely hailed as a high point of Impressionism. Paul Tucker has described Monet's oeuvre from this period as "one of the most remarkable bodies of work in the history of art and a touchstone for the development of Western visual culture" (in exh. cat., op. cit., Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 14), while John Rewald has written, "Probably no single place could be identified more closely with Impressionism than Argenteuil" (in The History of Impressionism, New York, 1946, p. 341). When Monet moved to Argenteuil in December 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War, it was a burgeoning suburban enclave of around eight thousand inhabitants. Prominently situated on the right bank of the Seine eleven kilometers west of Paris, the town was a popular destination during the summer months for recreational boaters and weekend vacationers. Monet remained at Argenteuil until January 1878, producing more than a hundred views of the landscape there. The present painting is among the best known and most important canvases from this seminal moment in the artist's career. Tucker has declared, "This is one of the classic paintings of the period, filled with all the novelty and drama of Monet's undisguised embrace of modern life and art" (in exh. cat., op. cit., Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 110).
Le pont du chemin de fer is the earliest, largest, and boldest of five views of the railway bridge at Argenteuil that Monet made in 1873 and 1874 (Wildenstein, nos. 318-321). The railway bridge (fig. 1) was one of two bridges that spanned the Seine between Argenteuil and Petit Gennevilliers, a distance of two hundred meters. The other was the highway bridge (fig. 2), a few hundred meters to the south, which forms the focal point of nine canvases that Monet painted during the same years (Wildenstein, nos. 194-195, 278, 311-316). The two bridges were dramatically different in both materials and design. Originally built in 1831, the highway bridge was made from wood and cut stone, with a traditional elevation based on a series of graceful, rounded arches springing from carved pilings. Serving pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles, it would have evoked for contemporary viewers the picturesque Argenteuil of yesteryear. The railway bridge, in contrast, was a marvel of modern engineering, embodying everything new and progressive about the town. Constructed in 1863 from poured concrete and pre-fabricated iron, it had a stripped-down, industrial design, with four pairs of slender, cylindrical supports and a straight, unadorned trestle. As a pair, the two bridges provided during Monet's day a potent visual analogue for the contrasts of modern life: industry and nature, work and pleasure, town and country, new and old.
The Argenteuil bridges, moreover, had palpable political resonance at the time that Monet painted them. They had both been destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, blown up by retreating French troops, and were being re-erected when Monet arrived at Argenteuil following the cessation of hostilities (fig. 3). Monet's first painting of one of the bridges, a view of the highway bridge from 1872, in fact shows it prominently encased in scaffolding, the repairs ongoing (Wildenstein, no. 194; Private Collection). The bridge appears to be open to traffic, however, suggesting that Monet intended the canvas not as a painful reminder of defeat but as a symbol of the reconstruction of France after the war. The present painting, with its newly re-built railway bridge gleaming in the afternoon sun, reflects the same mood of post-war optimism and revitalization. Tucker has written, "That Monet bided his time, waiting more than a year to paint [the railway bridge] fully reconstructed, is ample testimony to his desire to elevate it, like the views of the highway bridge, as a potent symbol of France's powers of recovery" (in op. cit.., 1995, pp. 72-73).
When the railway bridge at Argenteuil was first opened in 1863, it attracted a wide range of critical response, both positive and negative. Some praised the bold and unabashedly modern design of the bridge, while others disliked the prominent industrial contrast that it made with the surrounding landscape. Firmly in the latter camp, the editor of the Journal d'Argenteuil wrote, "Instead of those gracious constructions on which wagons and machines slide onward to discovery, they made a wall of iron that is impenetrable to the eye" (quoted in P. Tucker, op. cit., 1982, p. 73). Another contemporary viewer objected that the piers "should have been surmounted by carved capitals instead of the bulging blobs that sit there now" and that "the bridge itself should have been adorned with some cast-iron decorations, which would have broken up this relentless straight line" (quoted in ibid., p. 73).
The composition of the present painting clearly indicates that Monet numbered among the bridge's admirers. The picture is one of frank and audacious confrontation with this triumph of modern engineering. Elevated high above the sparkling Seine, the bridge dominates the scene with imposing authority, streaking across the landscape without interruption. Silhouetted starkly against the summer sky, it seems to stretch the already elongated canvas to its extreme, defining a new horizon line for the town of Argenteuil. Foliage is minimized, focusing attention on the bridge itself, and the details of its industrial design, from the extended iron trestle to the undersized concrete capitals, are picked out in sharp relief. The path in the foreground, with its low retaining barrier, helps speed the viewer's eye along the near shore, making the opposing thrust of the bridge more dramatic. Two diminutive male figures stand on the bank, gazing up at the span as though marveling at the achievements of technology. High above them, two trains thunder past, one heading left into Argenteuil, the other heading right toward Asnières and Paris; the latter has just departed the station and is picking up speed, belching smoke as it goes. Tucker has written:
"The product of the new technology, the bridge carries across the river the new hope for the future, the train. The sleekness of the trestle and the long trail of smoke emphasize the speed at which the train is traveling Taking up a position close to the structure, [Monet] has rendered the unsculpted capitals and primitive, undecorated trestle with bold clarity. He has made the concrete piers and the wall of iron glisten in the afternoon sun and has not allowed the foliage of the trees to reach above the rigid chute. The leafy bank on the right closes off the scene and breaks the horizon on that side, and the flame-like trees in the distance rise above the hills to puncture the skyline, but no natural element interrupts the relentless straight line of the trestle. The train and the bridge shoot across the landscape with an industrial bluntness. Slicing the picture in half, the bridge speaks for the intrusion, indeed for the importance, of industry in Argenteuil" (ibid., pp. 70, 74, 76).
Monet's emphasis on the modernity of the bridge does not mean, however, that his view is stripped of all romance. First, the bridge is shown in the best possible light, clean and gleaming and colored with tints of blue. Tucker explains, "Though monumental and obviously industrial, the bridge is neither a foreign nor an unwanted element in the scene; indeed it appears fully appropriatebaked by the warm afternoon sun until it has turned almost white" (in exh. cat., op. cit., Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 110). Moreover, the billowing steam from the Paris-bound train merges with the cloud formations, forming a canopy of blues and pinkish-whites--"a peaceful blending of man-made and natural vapors"--that help relieve the starkness of the bridge (in R. Herbert, op. cit., p. 222). Even the vantage point of the painting has been carefully chosen. Just to the other side of the bridge on the foreground bank, there stood a series of factories, warehouses, shipping docks, and storage areas, all of which Monet has purposefully cropped out of his view. "For Monet, Argenteuil's development was something to be hailed on a symbolic level--using the railroad bridge as a metaphor--but it clearly was something to be avoided on a realistic one Aware of the context, Monet excerpted the bridge to make it a symbol of industry, transforming Argenteuil into a modern utopia" (P.H. Tucker, op. cit., 1982, pp. 75 and 82).
Despite these concessions to the picturesque, the present painting remains relentlessly modern. The novelty of the composition is indeed apparent by comparison with a view of the railway that Monet had painted in the vicinity of Rueil or Chatou in 1870, his earliest depiction of a train (Wildenstein, no. 153; fig. 4). In the painting from 1870, the train is prominently elevated above the rolling green meadow, smoke from its engine trailing across the sky. Instead of standing out against the sky, however, the train is nestled in the foliage in the background of the picture, its mass minimized and its horizontals and verticals cushioned by the gentle undulations of the natural landscape. With the entire foreground given over to a well-tended public park, the 1870 painting is a celebration less of modern technology than of modern leisure.
The theme of leisure, however, also plays an important role in the present painting. The two sailboats visible beneath the span of the railway bridge reflect Argenteuil's great popularity among vacationers devoted to the fashionable new sport of boating. The Seine is deeper and broader at Argenteuil than anywhere else in the environs of Paris, making it particularly auspicious for the pastime. The most elegant yacht club in the capital, the Cercle de la Voile de Paris, had its moorings at Argenteuil, and the town was even chosen as the site for the sailing competition during the Exposition Universelle of 1867. In the present scene, the pair of sailboats seems, on the one hand, to provide a striking contrast to the two trains, gliding by rather than hurtling forward, powered by wind instead of steam. Compositionally, however, the bridge and the boats are integrally linked. The boats pass one another immediately beneath the trestle, artfully locked into the geometric spaces between the cylindrical pylons, and their sails are filled with the same wind that dissipates the engine's smoke above them. Together, they represent the twin forces of industry and urban leisure that were transforming traditional life in the valley of the Seine. Tucker has argued:
"[The sailboats] are subtly tied to the mechanical beast on high, for like the railroad they represent the newest intrusion in Argenteuil's landscape, one inevitably linked to the faster form of railroad travel, since it was the train that brought the boaters to the town in the first place. It also was industry, as symbolized by the trains, that permitted such recreational sports. Industry was more efficient than all previous forms of production, thus generating more leisure time. It was also more profitable, providing people with more disposable income to rent or purchase such leisure craft. The beauty of this union is implied in the glories of the day, with the bridge glistening in the afternoon light; in the neatly integrated parts of the scene, for like finely honed gears they all mesh perfectly; and in the two figures [who] stand in front of this technological marvel, locked between the pylon and the sail, their heads just touching the distant shore. The picture, therefore, on one level at least, is a stunning celebration of the modern landscape whose horizon is literally being redrawn by the engineered lines of the bridge's iron trestle" (in op. cit., 1995, p. 71).
Although the remaining four paintings that Monet made of the railway bridge at Argenteuil, all of them dated 1874, also glorify the structure's daring modernity, none do so with the same directness and audacity as the present canvas. In three of the four views (one of them only a small oil sketch), the bridge pierces the surface of the painting on a radical diagonal, striking out across the river from the upper right corner of the canvas and rushing headlong into the scene to meet the trees on the opposite bank (Wildenstein, no. 318; fig. 5; see also Wildenstein, nos. 319-320; Musée d'Orsay and Musée Monet- Marmottan, Paris). The deep, dramatic perspective of the trestle emphasizes the bridge's tensile strength, while the piers bathed in bright sunlight underscore the industrial sleekness of the structure. Rather than dominating the landscape majestically, however, as it does in the present picture, the bridge in these three views is depicted as an integral part of the landscape. It emerges at either end not from a barren quay but from a verdant mass of foliage; likewise, the reflections of its piers in the river tie the structure to the grassy foreground bank, subtly uniting the natural and the man-made. Notably, Monet used a very similar composition, with the bridge plunging into the scene from the right, for two of his largest paintings of the decidedly more traditional highway bridge at Argenteuil, also painted in 1874 (Wildenstein, no. 312; fig. 6; see also Wildenstein, no. 311; Musée d'Orsay, Paris).
In his fifth and final view of the railway bridge, Monet re-worked the composition of the present painting, again showing the trestle slicing the scene horizontally (Wildenstein, no. 321; fig. 7). Rather than positioning his easel on the Argenteuil bank, however, as he had done for the other four views of the railway bridge, he stood this time on the Petit Gennevilliers side of the river, about half a kilometer upstream from Argenteuil. Viewed from a greater distance, the bridge in this final canvas lacks the imposing authority and monumental presence that it boasts in the present painting. The details of its construction are rendered more summarily, no train is visible atop the trestle, and the two men in the foreground, contemplating this technological wonder, have been replaced by an elegantly clad mother and son, out for a leisurely promenade.
No artist before Monet depicted the railway--the symbol par excellence of technological progress in the nineteenth century--with the unabashed and celebratory directness of the present canvas. Painters of the generation older than Monet had avoided the subject altogether. Although Corot, for example, frequently used the railroad to travel between Paris and the suburbs, he chose to paint the Seine in the late 1860s not as a bustling, modern waterway, but as part of a timeless, pastoral landscape (fig. 8). Around 1873, the same year that Monet painted the present view, Pissarro broke with this tradition by depicting the railroad bridge at Pontoise, a cast-iron structure with the same stripped-down design as the bridge at Argenteuil (Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, no. 305; fig. 9). Rather than glorifying the bridge's modernity, however, Pissarro has fully integrated it into the tranquil, rural surroundings, nestling it in the middle distance and partially screening it with a leafy tree that camouflages its industrial lines. The train itself is barely visible, its engine sending up a small column of smoke at the right side of the bridge. Richard Brettell has written, "It seems likely from pictorial evidence alone that Pissarro and Monet had decidedly different attitudes toward the railroad and modern technology. Pissarro always placed his trains in the midst of landscapes that contain rather than feature them. They are not the glorious motifs that are such an evident feature of Monet's landscapes" (in Pissarro and Pontoise: A Painter in a Landscape, New Haven, 1990, pp. 70-71).
Renoir also addressed the theme of the railroad during this period. Probably in 1873, the same year as the present canvas, Renoir made a small oil sketch of the railway bridge at Argenteuil from the exact vantage point that Monet had selected (Dauberville, no. 144; fig. 10). Although Renoir was living in Paris at the time, he frequently visited Monet at Argenteuil. A letter from Monet to Pissarro in September 1873 indicates just how constant a presence Renoir was in the Monet household: "Renoir is not here, you will be able to use the bed" (quoted in B.E. White, op. cit., p. 66). As they had at La Grenouillère in 1869, Monet and Renoir worked side-by-side at Argenteuil on several occasions, painting almost the identical landscape motif. In 1873, for example, they each depicted the duck pond at Argenteuil, creating canvases so similar that forty years later, neither was able to say with certainty who had painted one of the works (ibid., p. 273, note 34; Monet: Wildenstein, no. 289; Private Collection; Renoir: Dauberville, no. 102; Dallas Museum of Art). In 1874, they again set up their easels alongside one another, this time painting a regatta at Argenteuil (Monet: Wildenstein, no. 340; Private Collection; Renoir: Dauberville, no. 128; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and a group of sailboats in the boat basin there (Monet: Wildenstein, no. 324; Private Collection; Renoir: Dauberville, no. 126; Portland Art Museum, Oregon). Renoir also made eight portraits of Monet at Argenteuil and sixteen portraits of his wife Camille, attesting to the close friendship that the two painters enjoyed during this period.
The views that Monet and Renoir made of the railway bridge at Argenteuil are remarkably close in composition and may well have been painted at the same moment. Another possibility is that Monet's version is slightly earlier and inspired Renoir to experiment with the same motif, as in the case of closely comparable views of the Pont Neuf in Paris that the two artists painted the previous year (Monet: Wildenstein, no. 193; Dallas Museum of Art; Renoir: Dauberville, no. 118; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). However, Monet's painting of the railway bridge is larger and more thoroughly worked than Renoir's version, with more vivid color contrasts and cleaner contours. It also takes a wider view of the scene, depicting all four pairs of concrete cylinders that carry the bridge; Renoir includes only three pairs of supports, leaving out the Argenteuil end of the structure. The two figures admiring the bridge in Monet's painting are missing in the Renoir, as is the train departing Argenteuil for Paris. Finally, Renoir includes several small, sketchily rendered boats in place of the two strategically positioned sailboats that anchor the middle ground of Monet's composition. As a result of these changes, Renoir's view lacks the concentrated symbolism of modernity that characterizes Monet's version of the scene.
It was not until 1876-1877, when Caillebotte painted the Pont de l'Europe in Paris, that another artist would rival Monet's bold embrace of technological progress. An immense bridge spanning the yards of the Gare Saint-Lazare, the largest and most important of six railroad stations serving Paris at the time, the Pont de l'Europe was an engineering marvel of the Second Empire. Caillebotte depicted it in two of his most important paintings of the mid-1870s, one showing a deep, plunging view along one of the bridge's six spans (Berhaut, no. 49; fig. 11) and the other painted from the center of the structure, its massive iron trellises parallel to the picture plane (Berhaut, no. 51; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth). Rather than temper the industrial severity of the bridge, Caillebotte exploits its stark latticework to organize the two compositions. Robert Herbert has written, "The key to Caillebotte's paintings is the cyclopean metalwork, embodiment of industrial power, aggressive symbol of the transformation of Paris. Caillebotte's frank use of its unembellished geometry brings this raw power out into the open" (in op. cit., p. 24). Notably, Monet's view of the railroad bridge at Argenteuil was featured in the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876 (see below), the same year that Caillebotte, who also participated in the show, began the Pont de l'Europe canvases. Moreover, at the exact moment that Caillebotte was painting the Pont de l'Europe, Monet was at work on a series exploring the very same bridge and the Gare Saint-Lazare, enfolded in steam and smoke from the powerful locomotives (fig. 12).
Monet's revolutionary treatment of modern life exercised a potent influence on younger artists as well. In 1887-1888, for instance, Signac, Van Gogh, and Emile Bernard all painted views of the railway bridge at Asnières (Signac: Cachin, no. 161; Van Gogh: de la Faille, no. 301; figs. 13-15). These pictures differ stylistically both from Monet's work and from one another, ranging from Signac's meticulous, Pointillist brushwork to Bernard's heavy, Cloisonnist outlines and flat zones of color. All three paintings, however, employ many of the same compositional strategies as Monet's pioneering view of the railway bridge at Argenteuil. In each, the unadorned iron trestle slices horizontally across the image, suggesting the rapid encroachment of industry at Asnières, while the bold diagonal of the riverbank (or, in the case of the Signac, of the boat in the foreground) draws the viewer into the scene, forcing a confrontation with the looming structure of the bridge. John House has identified paintings such as the present one as a key precedent for these Neo-Impressionist formulations of the modern landscape: "For painters of the younger generation, Impressionism--and especially the work of Monet--remained the yardstick by which they measured themselves" (in exh. cat., op. cit., Saint Louis, 2001, p. 164). Signac, for one, in fact claimed that it was Monet who had originally moved him to take up painting. In 1883, the year before the two artists first met, Signac wrote to Monet, "Frankly, this is my position: I have been painting for two years, and my only models have been your own works" (quoted in Signac 1863-1935, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001, p. 69).
Monet's influence persisted well into the twentieth century. Derain's brilliantly colored, Fauve view of Charing Cross Bridge in London from 1906, for instance, reprises the composition of the present painting, with its industrial trestle dominating the center of the canvas and its train heading across the bridge into the station (Kellermann, no. 88; fig. 16). The most immediate source for Derain's canvas, of course, were the views of Charing Cross that Monet had painted in 1899-1901, which the dealer Ambroise Vollard had specifically in mind when he suggested a London sojourn to Derain. However, Derain's emphasis on the commercial activity of the wharves is a far cry from Monet's hazy, atmospheric treatments of the Thames and bears a closer affinity to the Argenteuil bridge pictures, with their overt embrace of modern life. Monet's glorification of technological progress in Le pont du chemin de fer also provides an important precedent for the art of Léger's "mechanical period" (circa 1917-1920), with its iconography of motors, engines, propellers, gears, and wheels, and for the work of the Futurists, with its exaltation of the velocity and dynamism of the machine age. Particularly noteworthy is a series of paintings that Severini made in 1915, which depict trains speeding through the French countryside, the surrounding landscape a cacophony of fragmented forms (e.g. Fonti, no. 234; fig. 17). We might even liken the present painting to a canvas such as Charles Sheeler's American Landscape of 1930, an homage to modern industry based upon a series of photographs that Sheeler took of the Ford Company's River Rouge industrial complex outside of Detroit (fig. 18). As Sheeler himself proclaimed:
"Every age manifests itself by some external evidence. In a period such as ours when only a comparatively few individuals seem to be given to religion, some form other than the Gothic cathedral must be found. Industry concerns the greatest numbers--it may be true, as has been said, that our factories are our substitute for religious expression" (quoted in C. Brock, Charles Sheeler Across Media, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2006, p. 89).
The first owner of the present painting was Jean-Baptiste Faure, a famous baritone and important early patron of the Impressionists (fig. 19). Faure began to collect art in the 1860s, purchasing paintings by Corot, Delacroix, Millet, and Rousseau. In 1873, he sold his entire collection of Barbizon School paintings at auction and began to focus his collecting activities exclusively on the work of the Impressionists. By the 1890s, he had acquired more than sixty paintings by Manet, between fifty and sixty each by Monet and Sisley, around twenty-five by Pissarro, and at least ten by Degas. His collection included some of these artists' greatest masterpieces, including Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe (Rouart and Wildenstein, no. 67; Musée d'Orsay, Paris) and Gare Saint-Lazare (Rouart and Wildenstein, no. 207; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Degas's At the Races (Lemoisne, no. 281; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and The Dance Class (Lemoisne, no. 397; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and five of Sisley's landscapes from his seminal 1874 trip to Hampton Court, which Faure financed (Daulte, nos. 118, 119, 121, 122, 125).
The present painting was one of the first four works by Monet that Faure ever purchased. He acquired all four directly from the artist in June 1874, paying four thousand francs for the group. Along with the present canvas, this first purchase included a view of the highway bridge at Argenteuil, painted in 1874 (Wildenstein, no. 311; Musée d'Orsay, Paris). Faure sold the present painting in an auction of his collection at Drouot in April 1878. It was one of only six of the forty-two paintings on offer that found a buyer. As a contemporary journalist wrote, the auction was "crowned with a complete lack of success, despite the most sumptuous advertising. It was a very rude awakening, and most of the works up for auction had to be bought in by their owner" (quoted in A. Distel, Impressionism: The First Collectors, New York, 1990, p. 83).
The present canvas was also included in the landmark Second Impressionist Exhibition in April 1876 (fig. 20). This second showing by the so-called Indépendants attracted much more attention in the Parisian press than the First Impressionist Exhibition had two years earlier, and a distinguished roster of literary luminaries, including Henry James, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Emile Zola, wrote about the event for an international readership. Hollis Clayson has explained, "By staging a second exhibition, the Independent artists effected an automatic shift in the public's view of their identity: overnight the one-time cause célèbre became an ongoing phenomenon, entrenching a small group with recognizable and consistent traits and practices. In other words, the series of Independent exhibitions actually begins with the second show, not the first" (in exh. cat., op. cit., San Francisco, 1986, p. 145).
The exhibition was held in three rooms of Durand-Ruel's gallery at 11, rue le Peletier, and featured 252 paintings by a total of nineteen artists, including Degas, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, and Caillebotte. Monet was represented by eighteen canvases: seventeen landscapes and a single large figure painting, Japonnerie (Wildenstein, no. 387; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which drew more comment from critics than any other work in the show. Faure lent nine paintings by Monet to the show, including the present canvas and a view of the highway bridge at Argenteuil (Wildenstein, no. 311; Musée d'Orsay, Paris). One additional landscape by Monet (Wildenstein, no. 291; Private Collection) came from the collection of Victor Chocquet, another important early champion of Impressionism, whom Monet once described as the only person he had ever met "who truly loved painting with a passion" (quoted in J. Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1996, vol. I, p. 194).
Critical reaction to the Impressionists' second endeavor ran the gamut from enthusiastic praise to outright derision. In the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, Alfred Wolff called the show a "cruel spectacle" and the exhibitors "lunatics"; in the specialized periodical L'Art, Léon Mancino opined, "We are simply dealing with a band of maddened and vain individuals, condemned by their crass ignorance to the perpetual production of endeavors lacking any creative thought, any science of composition, any trace of dessin, the least notion of perspective, of any anatomical knowledge, of any virtuosity of the brush" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., San Francisco, 1986, pp. 151-152). Zola, on the other hand, wrote in Le Messager de l'Europe, "One cannot doubt that we are witnessing the birth of a new school. In this group a revolutionary ferment is revealed which will little by little win over the Academy of Beaux-Arts itself, and in twenty years will transform the Salon from which today the innovators are excluded" (quoted in ibid., p. 149).
(fig. 1) Postcard of the railway bridge at Argenteuil, late nineteenth century. Private Collection. BARCODE 26016078
(fig. 2) Postcard of the highway bridge at Argenteuil, late nineteenth century. Musée de l'Ile de France, Sceaux. BARCODE 26016085
(fig. 3) Photograph of the railway bridge at Argenteuil after the Franco-Prussian War, 1871. Private Collection. BARCODE 26016009
(fig. 4) Claude Monet, Train dans la campagne, 1870. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. BARCODE 26016092
(fig. 5) Claude Monet, Le pont du chemin de fer, Argenteuil, 1874. Philadelphia Museum of Art. BARCODE 26016016
(fig. 6) Claude Monet, Le pont routier, Argenteuil, 1874. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. BARCODE 26016023
(fig. 7) Claude Monet, Au pont d'Argenteuil, 1874. Saint Louis Art Museum. BARCODE 26016153
(fig. 8) Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Pont de Mantes, circa 1868-1870. Musée du Louvre, Paris. BARCODE 25012705
(fig. 9) Camille Pissarro, Le pont de chemin de fer, Pontoise, circa 1873. Sold, Christie's New York, 14 May 1997, Lot 17. BARCODE 26016115
(fig. 10) Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Le pont du chemin de fer à Argenteuil, 1873. Private Collection. BARCODE 26016030
(fig. 11) Gustave Caillebotte, Le Pont de l'Europe, 1877. Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva. BARCODE 26016122
(fig. 12) Claude Monet, Le Pont de l'Europe (Gare Saint-Lazare), 1877. Musée Monet-Marmottan, Paris. BARCODE 26016139
(fig. 13) Paul Signac, Arrière du Tub, 1888. Sold, Christie's New York, 9 May 2007, Lot 35. BARCODE 25513776
(fig. 14) Vincent Van Gogh, Le pont, Asnières, 1887. Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zurich. BARCODE 25240405
(fig. 15) Emile Bernard, Ponts de fer, Asnières, 1887. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE 25240399
(fig. 16) André Derain, Le pont de Charing Cross, Londres, 1906. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. BARCODE 25240412
(fig. 17) Gino Severini, Train de la Croix Rouge traversant un village, 1915. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. BARCODE 26016047
(fig. 18) Charles Sheeler, American Landscape, 1930. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE 26016146
(fig. 19) Edouard Manet, Portrait de Faure dans le role d'Hamlet, 1877. Museum Folkwang, Essen. BARCODE 26016160
(fig. 20) Catalogue from Second Impressionist Exhibition, 1876. The present painting was probably No. 152. BARCODE 26016054 and 26016061
present painting was probably No. 152. BARCODE 26016054 and 26016061
Le Pont du chemin de fer à Argenteuil
Oil on canvas
Claude Monet's Le Pont du chemin de fer à Argenteuil
Two men are standing by a sunlit river, as boats pass by, with a bridge in the background: these are ingredients, it would seem, for an idyllic rural view. And it was a type of view that had often been painted before; a canvas such as Corot's Le Pont de Mantes, painted in the late 1860s (fig. 8; Louvre, RF 1641), is a classic example, with its picturesque medieval bridge and shaded riverbank--a serene image of a seemingly timeless refuge.
But Monet's canvas is nothing like this. The riverbank is bald and open, fringed by a low man-made barrier; the only trees are relegated to the far distance; and, most strikingly, the bridge, cutting boldly across the whole composition, is a rigid, geometrical metal structure, crossed by two railway trains. Monet's riverbank is expressly, unashamedly modern. His two figures stand confidently, at ease with the scene; the boats that pass are recreational sailing boats, for Argenteuil was a centre for amateur sailors; and the bridge, with its trains, was the umbilical link that joined the place to Paris, only eight miles away to the south east. The train to the right in Monet's canvas, its funnel proudly puffing smoke into the open sky, is heading for the city.
Moreover, the bridge was absolutely new--rebuilt after its destruction during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1; the contrast between its ruined and restored state could not be more striking (see photos). Viewed in this light, Monet's canvas appears optimistic; its image of sunlit leisure intersecting with new technology can be seen as a celebration of France's rapid revival after the country's disastrous defeat in the war.
However, the picture has another context, too--its context in the world of art. In fine art paintings at the time, the role of landscape was to offer a mental escape, to invite the viewer to imagine taking refuge from the city in the unspoilt natural world, an idea that became still more urgent after the destruction wrought in and around Paris by the recent war and the Paris Commune of 1871. Critics of the Impressionist exhibitions of the 1870s lamented their decision to paint the tainted scenery of the environs of Paris rather than 'true nature'. Viewed from this point of view, Monet's canvas was an affront to the whole idea of landscape.
For Monet and his fellow Impressionists in the 1870s, this traditional idea of landscape and 'nature' was anathema; for them, the world to be painted was the world around them, a world that visibly carried the marks--or scars--of both disaster and progress. In Le Pont du chemin de fer à Argenteuil, Monet produced one of his grandest and most ambitious depictions of this new world, Close examination of its making reveals the extreme care that Monet took in its conception and execution, but the resulting canvas has an immediacy and informality that makes it one of the most vivid of all the Impressionists' evocations of this modern landscape.
Walter H Annenberg Professor
Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Pont du Chemin de fer d'Argenteuil, view of construction. BARCODE 25012484
The railway bridge pylons in the early stages of construction. BARCODE 25012491
Signed 'Claude Monet' (lower left)
Claude Monet , 19th Century, Paintings, oil, France, Impressionist, landscape
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., La 2ème exposition de peinture, April 1876, no. 152.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Tableaux par Besnard, Cazin, C. Monet, Sisley, Thaulow, February-March 1899, no. 44.
London, New Gallery, The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Art Congress: Sixth Exhibition, January-February 1906, no. 190.
Copenhagen, Musée Royal, Art français du XIXe siècle, May-June 1914, no. 146.
Basel, Kunsthalle, Impressionisten: Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Vorlaufer und Zeitgenossen, September-November 1949, no. 126.
Paris, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Claude Monet, June-July 1952, no. 32.
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Impressionists on the Seine: A Celebration of Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, September 1996-February 1997 (illustrated).
London, Helly Nahmad Gallery, The New Painting: The New Vision in Modern Art (1835-1956), February-May 1998, no. 1 (illustrated in color, p. 17).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art and Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, The Impressionists at Argenteuil, May-December 2000, no. 26 (illustrated in color, pp. 110-111).
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum and The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Monet and Renoir: Two Great Impressionist Trends, November 2003-May 2004, no. 2, p. 149 (illustrated in color, pp. 22-23).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
23 5/8 x 38¾ in. (60 x 98.4 cm.)
E. Porcheron, "Promenades d'un flânneur: Les Impressionnistes," in Le Soleil, 4 April 1876, pp. 2-3.
Le Curieux, "Notes diverses," in La Renaissance, March 1923, p. 162 (illustrated, p. 161).
G. Geoffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre, Paris, 1922, p. 71.
M. Liebermann, "Claude Monet," in Kunst und Künstler, vol. 25, February, 1927, p. 169 (illustrated).
O. Reuterswärd, Monet, Stockholm, 1948, p. 232.
J. Rewald, Le Post Impressionnisme de van Gogh à Gauguin, Paris, 1961, p. 353 (illustrated).
L. Reidemeister, Auf den Spuren der Maler der Ile de France, Berlin, 1963, p. 104 (illustrated).
D. Wildenstein, Claude Monet, Biographie et catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1974, vol. I, no. 279, p. 232 (illustrated, p. 233).
P.H. Tucker, Monet at Argenteuil, New Haven and London, 1982, pp. 70-76 (illustrated in color, p. 65, pl. XIII).
R. Gordon and A. Forge, Monet, New York, 1983, p. 290, (illustrated, p. 57).
T.J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers, New York, 1984, p. 190 (illustrated in color, pl. XVII).
J. House, Claude Monet: Painter of Light, exh. cat., Auckland City Art Gallery, 1985, p. 48 (illustrated).
The New Painting, Impressionism: 1874-1886, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1986, pp. 157 and 163.
Claude Monet (1840-1926), exh. cat., Madrid, Museo Espanol de Arte Contemporáneo, April-June 1986, p. 47 (illustrated).
R.L. Herbert, Impressionism: Art, Leisure and Parisian Society, New Haven and London, 1988, pp. 220-226 (illustrated in color, p. 222).
M. Alphant, Claude Monet, une vie dans le paysage, Paris, 1993, pp. 233 and 235 (illustrated).
P.H. Tucker, Claude Monet: Life and Art, New Haven and London, 1995, p. 71 (illustrated in color, p. 72).
B.E. White, Impressionists Side by Side: Their Friendships, Rivalries and Artistic Exchanges, New York, 1996, p. 98 (illustrated in color). D. Wildenstein, Monet, Catalogue raisonné, Cologne, 1996, vol. II, p. 119, no. 279 (illustrated in color).
J. House, "Monet: The Last Impressionist?" in P.H. Tucker, ed., Monet in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1998, p. 2 (illustrated in color).
A. Callen, The Art of Impressionism: Painting technique & the Making of Modernity, New Haven and London, 2000, p. 41 (illustrated in color, p. 42).
C. Homburg, Vincent van Gogh and the Painters sof the Petit Boulevard, exh. cat, Saint Louis Art Museum and Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtisches Galerie, 2001, p. 164 (illustrated in color, p. 165).
P.H. Tucker, "Monet and the Bourgeois Dream: Argenteuil and the Modern Landscape," in Modernism and Modernity, Halifax, 2004, pp. 21-41 (illustrated, p. 29; illustrated again in color on the cover).
J. House, Impressionism: Paint and Politics, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 97 (illustrated in color).
M.T. Lewis, ed., Critical Readings in Impressionism & Post-Impressionism, Los Angeles, 2007, p. 129 (illustrated).
Jean-Baptiste Faure, Paris (acquired from the artist, June 1874); sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 29 April 1878.
Prince de Wagram, Paris.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris.
Galerie Georges Petit, Paris.
Galerie Barbazanges, Paris.
M. Levesque, Paris (circa 1914).
Meyer Goodfriend, Paris and New York; sale, American Art Galleries, New York, 4-5 January 1923, lot 110.
Thomas McLean (Eugène Cremetti), London.
Alphonse Morhange, Paris (acquired from the above, 1927).
Maurice Barret-Decap, Paris.
Etienne Bignou, Paris (circa 1949).
Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London.
William A. Cargill, Carruth, Scotland.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 11 June 1963, lot 31.
Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills (acquired at the above sale).
Mr. and Mrs. Sydney R. Barlow, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above, 1963); sale, Sotheby's, London, 2 April 1979, lot 6.
Private collection, Europe (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, London, 28 November 1988, lot 10.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.