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Monet and Pissarro's fascination with a changing Paris revealed at Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition
Vincent Van Gogh, Factories at Clichy. Courtesy of the AGO.


TORONTO.- Pulsing with life, Paris in the 1870's was transforming – thanks to wider streets, increased traffic, an explosion of factories in the suburbs, and faster and more frequent steam-powered trains. No one in France was immune to the rapid pace of change, least of all artists. This winter the AGO presents a groundbreaking new exhibition, exploring how French Impressionist artists and their contemporaries, famous for their lush landscapes and sea vistas, were equally obsessed with capturing the spirit of the industrial age. Impressionism in the Age of Industry: Monet, Pissarro and More features over 120 artworks, including numerous loans from across Europe and North America. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Caroline Shields, Assistant Curator, European Art.

“This exhibition invites us to journey through this period of immense change, experiencing its thrills and challenges alongside the artists. As our cities and technologies rapidly change, it’s a journey that continues to resonate today,” Dr. Shields says. “Seeing these works together for the first time provides an incredibly rich addition to the story of Impressionism as we know it.”

Organized thematically, and featuring paintings, photographs, prints, drawings, sculptures, and period films, the exhibition opens with the dramatic rebuilding of Paris in the 1860’s and 1870’s. The Paris Opera was among the many monuments built during this period, and in an image by the renowned architectural photographers Delamet & Durandelle from 1865, View of Auditorium Floor from Stage (Paris Opera), the building appears in its earliest stages, draped in scaffolding. Pissarro’s Place du Théâtre Français, Paris: Rain, (1898) on loan from the Minneapolis Institute of Art, offers a plunging view toward the Opera and down the new boulevard constructed by urban planner Baron Haussmann.

Steam-powered trains and boats, coupled with new bridges, dramatically changed life in France, affording workers the ability to commute daily between the suburbs and the city. A painting by Claude Monet, Arrival of the Normandy Train: Gare Saint-Lazare (1877), captures the bustling energy of a train station as steam and iron mix overhead. The exhibition shows how artists used the frequent subject of trains and train stations to express the thrill of speed and feats of engineering.

Factories sprang up in the suburbs and transformed life there. A symbol of change, productivity and national pride, towering factory smokestacks became a hallmark of landscape paintings of this period. The exhibition features several extraordinary examples including Edgar Degas, Henri Rouart in front of his Factory (1875) on loan from the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh and Maximilien Luce’s, Factory in the Moonlight (1898) on loan from the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

The industrial age created incredible demand for new material comforts. In portraits of laundresses, shopkeepers and domestic labourers, Impressionist artists spotlight the labour behind the leisure. James Tissot’s The Shop Girl (1883-85, AGO) provides a glimpse into decadently appointed retail shops of Paris. Through the lens of works like Mary Cassatt’s Children in a garden (The Nurse), (1878) on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the exhibition highlights the prevalence of women in domestic, retail, and service-sector labour.

As Paris grew and more people flocked to the cities and suburbs to work in factories, many artists fled Paris in search of an idealized, simpler way of life. Pissarro, a mentor to many Impressionist artists, captures that idyllic sentiment in The Pork Butcher, on loan from the Tate, London.

The countryside wasn’t the only escape. Around the turn of the 20th century, Monet left France, turning instead to London for inspiration. There, he produced a series of dazzling urban landscapes featuring trains and factories, not unlike those he had left behind. Three such views of London by the master artist close the exhibition, two of Charing Cross Bridge, and one of Waterloo Bridge. In each work, the sky overhead is a misty mix of industrial smog and fog, as the sun rises and sets over the Thames River.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated hardcover catalogue, edited by Dr. Caroline Shields, and co-published by the AGO and DelMonico Books. Featuring essays by Joseph Clarke, Mary Hunter, James Rubin and Monique Johnson.





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