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The National Gallery of Canada http://www.gallery.ca has just opened a new exhibit entitled ”Bridges to Modernity” on paintings by Monet done between 1872-1878 while he lived with his growing family in Argenteuil a suburb of Paris on the Seine river. This is years from his move to Giverney where he will live later in life.

By the dates we have a young painter, a young Monet before becoming famous and also the dates 1872-1878 are crucial years just after the Franco-Prussian which France lost with devastating consequences, loosing Alsace-Lorraine to the new rising power of a unified German Empire proclaimed at the end of that war in the Palace of Versailles.

Following the war, the French Empire under Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon collapse. France slipped into a terrible civil war devastating Paris and seeing score of Parisians killed by a French Army gone wild, Tuileries Palace was burnt to the grown and so were scores of other public buildings like the Paris City Hall.

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At first Monet fled to London where he will paint the bridges of the Thames river and then returning to France will settle in Argenteuil well outside Paris and will paint the bridges being rebuilt over the Seine river.

Railway and trains and train bridges are a fairly new phenomenon at the time and impressive engineering work also created a lot of interest. This exhibit shows the devastation on infrastructure of this war and the re-building that took place and the return to a normal life. The colours and composition are very interesting and already shows what will come to be known as Impressionism, which is defined as a personal reflexion and impressions of the artist on his surroundings.

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Railway bridge at Argenteuil  

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Houses of Parliament on the Thames river 

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Waterloo bridge with the industrial area of Southwark on the Thames

From the balcony of his London hotel room overlooking the Thames, Monet could see Waterloo Bridge if he faced to his left. He worked on this subject through the afternoon and after dinner. Gustave Geffroy, a friend of Monet, described it in this way: ‘Waterloo Bridge, made of huge solid stone, towered over the water like some aerial construction.’ In this painting the morning mist partially conceals the industrial landscape of the opposite riverbank. So once again, the real subject becomes the atmospheric variations of the London environment. Hence the group of canvases around Waterloo Bridge have names reminiscent of the Grainstacks series painted by the artist a few years earlier.

From the balcony of his London hotel room overlooking the Thames, Monet could see Waterloo Bridge if he faced to his left. He worked on this subject through the afternoon and after dinner.  In this painting the morning mist partially conceals the industrial landscape of the opposite riverbank. So once again, the real subject becomes the atmospheric variations of the London environment. 

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At the end of the exhibit we have this camera view live from the Bank street bridge over the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

It really is a beautiful exhibit by a master and to this day a much loved artist. See it until 15 February 2016.

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