‘Monet at his Impressionist best’: La Gare Saint-Lazare, Vue extérieure

A centrepiece of the artist’s celebrated 1877 series capturing the dynamism of metropolitan Paris, the work from The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass led Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on 20 June in London

Between January and March 1877, in a short period of intense creativity, Claude Monet (1840-1926) executed a series of 12 canvases depicting the Gare Saint-Lazare, the oldest railway station in France. By 1870 the station was handling more than 13 million passengers per year.

The modern age of steam trains, iron bridges and extended public transport networks was perfectly captured by Monet’s series of atmospheric paintings. The subject would turn out to be Monet’s last artistic confrontation with modernity: not long after, he would abandon scenes of modern life and turn to pure landscape painting.

On 20 June, La Gare Saint-Lazare, Vue extérieure, offered from The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, will lead Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale  in London. 

‘This superb painting describes Monet at his Impressionist best, capturing in quick, bold brushstrokes the energy of metropolitan Paris as described by the sound and fury of the steam trains as they left the Gare Saint-Lazare,’ says Christie’s Global President Jussi Pylkkänen.

In the Gare Saint-Lazare  series Monet depicted the station from a variety of different positions, at different times of day and in different atmospheric conditions — marking the first occasion on which the artist committed himself to the pursuit of a single subject through a sequence of variations. This would come to be one of the defining aspects of Monet’s practice for the rest of his career. In April 1877, Monet included several of the Gare Saint-Lazare  canvases in the Third Impressionist Exhibition.

Before he executed La Gare Saint-Lazare, Vue extérieure, Monet had been living and working in Argenteuil, just outside Paris. Based in rural Montgeron in the summer of 1876, he returned to the capital in the new year eager to capture the bustling urban landscape. Monet’s friend, the artist Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), rented him a small ground-floor apartment near the station; just three months later, the series was complete.

Of the 12 Gare Saint-Lazare paintings, today only three remain in private hands. The remaining nine are in public institutions, including the Fogg Museum, Massachussetts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Gallery, London; the Musée Marmottan, Paris; and the Musée d’Orsay. Three of these museum works are currently included in Monet & Architecture, a pioneering show at London’s National Gallery which examines the central role architecture played in many of the artist’s compositions.