Events of social change in the second half of the 19th century such as industrialisation, population shifts and a rise in consumerism had a great effect on the work of many artists. I am going to look at how it affected one artist in particular, French impressionist painter Claude Monet. Industrialisation had a big impact on Monet’s work, as his style developed his subject matter changed as well. As the pace of life was rapidly increasing, due to new technological advancements and greater urbanisation, I think the impressionist painters tried to contrast this by looking toward nature and attempting to capture the moment.
An example of this is Monet’s ‘Haystacks’, a series of paintings, each canvas had a different feel to it. In some the colours evoked a bright spring morning, others a beautiful sunset and even winter snow in another. Monet focused on trying to render different perceptions of light at various times of day, seasons and weather types. In doing so he managed to create a specific feeling in each of the paintings. Also the subject matter is important, haystacks are part of farming, a trade which people were leaving behind at the time to move into higher paid jobs in factories in the cities.
Was Monet looking at these because he was nostalgic for a lifestyle many were moving on from? Or was it because he thought they needed documenting because in the near future it may not be a trade at all? It is possible both these things are true and I think that’s why Impressionist painters looked towards nature and it’s beauty rather than looking forward at the new lifestyle. However nature wasn’t the only thing Monet painted; in 1877 he exhibited seven canvases depicting scenes from the railway station, Gare St-Lazare, in Paris .
The paintings were done in the same impressionist style but the subject matter was different, so they have a contrast feel to other Monet pieces. Thick brush strokes show the steam from the engines and blurry images of people give the impression of busy activity in the station. I think this shows that Monet didn’t only want to capture the natural world, he also wanted to capture the new technology and new lifestyle of modernity. Maybe this was because he realised that new things were developing all the time and the steam engine, like farming, may not be around forever so it needed documenting too.