For the first time in France, the Musée d'Arts de Nantes explores how, from the middle of the 19th century, the rise of the railway changed our perception and our representations of time and space.
From October 21, 2022 to February 5, 2023, an original exhibition of a hundred works shows how artists have reacted to the eruption of this new environment with its codes, its locomotives, its semaphores, its billows of smoke...
Traveling by train is also part of the history and spirit of cultural life in the Nantes metropolitan area, particularly marked by the technical imagination (Jules Verne museum and future Cité des imaginaires, the Machines de l'Île, festival The Utopias).
In a scenography signed Scénografiá, the exhibition presents a varied set of works from the 1840s to the 1930s, also including some contemporary ones.
The picture rails cross the space, like moving trains, standing out against the background of a large colored gradient evoking the sky.
Then, the visitor wanders between interior and exterior, between stations and carriages, between frantic pace and suspended time, extending the experience to the inner journey.
Among the works presented, we note a little-known canvas by Vincent Van Gogh, painted in Arles in 1888. In a letter addressed to his brother Theo, the painter describes his aesthetic emotion at the sight of a railway depot. The strength of this work lies in the fact that the train is not only a motif, but also a fragment of a pictorial journey, in the division of space and time that Hokusaï would not have disavowed.
In this lithograph by Henri Rivière, the frail switch shack on the Quai de Javel and its small watering can placed in front seem to tremble before the arrival of a train that can be seen on the left. The semaphore and the electric poles, the Eiffel Tower, the factory chimney cut out the scene with their vertical lines, as if to welcome the locomotive into the space of triumphant modernity.
We could not mention this exhibition without illustrating it with one of Claude Monet's most famous series, painted during several stays in London between 1899 and 1901 and whose theme is the fog on the Thames. Started on the motif, this series will be completed in the workshop, in Giverny, until 1904. On this canvas, we can see in the foreground the Charing Cross railway bridge, on which a plume of smoke suggests the passage of a train . The Parliament emerges in the background, like a ghostly cathedral in a diffuse mist underlined in the center of the bridge by a plume of steam.
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