Mr. Lambert (a gift from the artist)
Private Collection, Paris (by descent from the above)
Mr. Tabarant, Paris (acquired from the above in 1936)
Mr. Coste, Paris (acquired in 1941)
Count Victor de Keyserling (acquired from the above)
Sale: Renaud-Giquello & Associés, Paris, 16th March 2005, lot 40
Private Collection, New York (purchased at the above sale)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
La gare du chemin de fer de Sceaux is a truly iconic work. This museum-quality painting is one of the very first works that Manet painted en plein air. Painted in 1870, the work's remarkably daring and self-assured execution represents a rare and early example of Impressionism. The pendant to this work, Petit Montrouge (fig. 1), also painted on 28th December 1870, is currently housed in the National Museum of Cardiff. Manet was not a prolific artist and indeed these paintings are two of a very small number of works painted during the winter of 1870-71, a time during which the artist was serving in the National Guard in the Franco-Prussian war. According to A. Tabarant, that winter was a famously icy one, and the urgency and physicality of execution can certainly be seen in the wonderfully spontaneous handling of the paint. This immediacy of execution was a deliberate artistic move and part of the artist's increasing emphasis on the two-dimensionality of painting. As argued by Robert Rosenblum, 'Manet was the first genuinely modern painter, who liberated art from its mimetic chores, and asserted a primacy of flattened pattern and colour' (R. Rosenblum, 19th Century Art, London, 2005, p. 288).
In addition to the snowscape being such an iconic Impressionist subject matter (figs. 2 & 3), it is the painting's striking feeling of immediacy that really qualifies its status as a springboard for the development of Modernism. In fact, the gestural brushwork is so daring for its time that it serves not only as an important anticipation of Impressionism, but also for the yet more physical execution of Fauve brushwork. The fact that Manet never exhibited with the Impressionists and made the conscious decision not to be publically identified with the movement, does not mean that they didn't share many of the same artistic concerns and methods, as the present work demonstrates. An explanation for the artist's marked decision not to exhibit with the group may be that 'Manet apparently believed that more was to be gained personally and professionally by continuing to challenge the artistic establishment openly by submitting work to the Salon' (Charles S. Moffett, 'Impressionism and the New Painting', in Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay (exhibition catalogue), San Francisco, 2010, p. 136).
Even if the artist was not publically affiliated with the Impressionists, he was very well acquainted with the key figures from Parisian café culture, and the lively discussions and debates that such establishments played host to. Charles S. Moffett has described the Café Guerbois as the 'crucible of the Impressionist movement' and Manet emerged as one of the key figures among the avant-garde artists who gathered there on Monday evenings during the late 1860s, the years leading up to the present work's execution. Manet's influence amongst the artists who gathered there should not be underestimated, and Monet later credited these meetings as being a continuing source of inspiration: 'in 1869 [...] Manet invited me to join him every evening in a café in the Batignolles quarter, where he and his friends would gather and talk after leaving their ateliers. There I met Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, and Degas, [...] the art critic Duranty, Émile Zola [...] I brought along Sisley, Bazille, and Renoir. Nothing was more interesting than our discussions, with their perpetual clash of opinion. They sharpened one's wits, encouraged frank and impartial inquiry, and provided enthusiasm that kept us going for weeks and weeks until our ideas took final shape. One always came away feeling more involved, more determined, and thinking more clearly and distinctly' (quoted in François Thiébault-Sisson, 'Claude Monet: Les années d'épreuves', in Le Temps, 26th November 1900, p. 3).
In addition to its revolutionary execution, the present work is also an important example of Manet's desire to capture a true portrait of contemporary France: the Industrial Revolution and all the enormous changes that came in its wake. Manet is first and foremost 'the painter of modern life', a conception first proposed by Baudelaire in his famous 1863 essay of the same name. He was fascinated by the social impact of industrialisation, sometimes depicting the human loneliness and alienation brought on by modern urban life, or else more tangible symbols such as the train station of the present work. This interest in depicting the changing face of France is also evident in the pendant work Petit Montrouge (fig. 1), with its skyline of factory chimneys.
It is near impossible to overemphasise the colossal influence of Manet on the younger generation of artists in Paris at the time, and more than being just the 'father of Impressionism', his daring was arguably the catalyst for the whole of modern art as we understand it today. La gare du chemin de fer de Sceaux is a remarkably atmospheric painting, and its daring brushwork, as well as it being one of the earliest examples of the artist painting en plein air, makes it an extremely important cog in the development of Modernism. With very few comparable works on the market, the present work is a wonderfully rare and truly landmark painting. The artist realised that this Impressionist aesthetic would in time come to be widely appreciated and valued. In a letter to his wife just prior to the painting of the present work, he outlines his intentions to start painting out of doors: 'My soldier's knapsack serves to hold everything necessary for painting. I shall soon start some sketches from life. They will be souvenirs that will one day have value.'
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