Manet, The Railway
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Manet, The Railway

November 17, 2019

(piano music) Man: We’re at the National
Gallery in Washington, D.C. We’re looking at Edouard
Manet’s The Railway, which is one of their great canvases. Woman: And one of my personal favorites. Man: It’s a very difficult
painting to read in certain ways. Woman: Well that’s the idea I think. Man: I think you’re absolutely right. Woman: There were all these paintings
that were easy to read at the academy. Man: It’s still pretty luscious
to look at but it’s breaking a
hell of a lot of conventions. Woman: It is. We can’t read it. Man: Presumably the main
subject is facing away from us. Woman: We also don’t understand
what their relationship is. Man: And spacial construction
is very ambiguous. But let’s
try to set this up a little bit. We’re in Paris and we’re just
standing outside one of the
main train stations in Paris and we’re at an iron gate looking
down actually at the train yard. Woman: The train yard, right. And we’re on a very modern
bridge in the middle of Paris
that has recently been rebuilt. Man: We have this young
woman and this child that have stopped to look
and rest for a moment. The young woman looks up and out
at us. There is a puppy in her lap. She is interrupted with
her finger in a book and is folded up in her lap. Woman: She directly engages us. She has looked up and
we’ve interrupted her and we’re so implicated. What are we in the
middle of saying to her? Man: That’s right and she’s looking up, almost assessing us. Woman: We don’t know what
our relationship is with her. Man: She has a reason to be there.
The child has stopped to look. She has sat down to rest perhaps. It is about this interaction,
which the city had made possible. The Grand Boulevards had opened up. The city became a place
that you moved through as opposed to a series of
sort of separate areas. Woman: And small neighborhoods. Man: That’s right, and so
there are interactions between
people between classes. Woman: Between strangers. Man: Between strangers
that was intensely modern. Manet is capturing that beautifully here. But also with all of the ambiguity
of the industrial culture that had made this
possible with the railway. Look at the ambiguity that the
railway constructs with its steam. With that cloud, that is in some ways
really the subject of the painting. And really stark contrast between
the luminosity of that cloud of steam and the dark
bars of the iron fence. Woman: What I find amazing is the
looseness with which everything is painted and how that also is a
symbol of the modern world. Manet is rejecting all the finish. Man: But also the momentary
because to clarify we need something that’s fixed
and stable, that’s right. Woman: So for example the grapes on
the ledge over to the right corner spill over but you don’t have a sense of
that as a real ledge that exists in space that is foreshortened and
comes out towards us and all
that brown paint behind those black bars on the right side almost comes forward in front of the black bars, so that space collapses all of
those rules about perspective and atmospheric perspective and
constructing space and finish. This is a painting that’s meant
in just about every way to signify the modern and the contemporary. Man: And it really does. Think about what it means to
have the primary central figure
turned away from us completely so we cannot see anything but the
very edge of her face and her cheek. Woman: And look at how unfinished. Her arm is really lax
modeling to define it. Nothing is framed.
Nothing is in the center. It’s the way that we experience the city. It’s the way that our eye moves. Man: Where does he put his focus? For a moment it’s on the puppy. For a
moment it’s on the young woman’s face, but it’s especially on her hat
and the fashion of her hat. Woman: Yes, it’s very much about fashion
and about reading people in the city based on what they’re
wearing, reading their class. Man: You know we still do this.
It’s an intensely modern painting. (piano music)


  • Reply bethelshiloh June 20, 2013 at 3:40 am

    I don't think this painting is all that mysterious.

  • Reply Chayla Hart April 24, 2014 at 1:51 am

    hello fine arts students

  • Reply Dream Clean April 11, 2015 at 4:04 am

    I adore this picture, it's as if Manet has just turned his head quickly to glance at the scene and then recreated it from memory with this brief glance. But that gives it its sense of immersion and practical realism – if not photo realism.

  • Reply John Sánz July 2, 2019 at 7:37 am

    Manet was amazing.

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