When Edouard Manet first exhibited his painting titled "Le Chemin de Fer" (the railway) at the Paris Salon in 1874, it was universally derided by critics. The "Gare Saint-Lazare," as the painting has come to be known, depicts a seated woman holding a small dog and staring off the canvas, and a young girl with her back to the viewer regarding a railroad track, steam, and architectural details of a Paris city street just beyond an immense iron fence. It wasn't until long after the painting moved into a private collection that the structures forming its background were identified as part of the iron bridge that spans the railway lines just beyond the station and an exact rendition of the facade of the Manet's studio. The "Gare Saint-Lazare" was Manet's first major work after the Franco-Prussian War, and it marked a break with his earlier, more pastoral subjects in favor of those exploring the burgeoning urbanization and modernization of the industrial age.
Manet, Monet, and the Gare Saint-Lazare, which was published to accompany an exhibit of the same name at the Musée D'Orsay in Paris and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1998, is exceptionally well conceived. With the "Gare Saint-Lazare" as a centerpiece, writer Juliet Wilson-Bareau launches into a survey of the work of Claude Monet, who painted a group of canvases depicting the same neighborhood, and Gustave Caillebotte, whose two most important works portray the same area. She contrasts the artists' vantage points and finished pieces in order to compare their diverse perspectives of a similar scene and examines the symbolism of the steam train as harbinger of a new age. The book includes finely reproduced color images of the painters' work, albumen prints of the area taken during the era in which they were painted, bird's-eye maps of the station, and some contemporary photos of the area. It is a well informed and incisive assessment of both a seminal body of artwork and an important moment in Paris's cultural history. --Jordana Moskowitz