NATIONAL GALLERY, The Railway By Manet

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English / USA Language: English / USA

Edouard Manet, born into a rich and influential middle-class family in Paris, is one of the greatest representatives of French painting.

He is often wrongly associated with Impressionists. The truth is he admired and was friends with them, especially Monet, yet Manet falls within the Realist tradition, albeit with Romantic and Modernist influences.

An admirer of the French Naturalism of Flaubert and Zola in particular, Manet liked to portray everyday life and the middle-class environment in which he lived, looking for objectivity by shining the light on social changes.


The Railway” is an example of the artist’s poetic expression and talent: the subject, the railway, is actually not featured, hidden by a puff of white steam from a locomotive in the background, behind the woman in the foreground. A child has her back to us and leans against the guard rail, looking curiously at the train going by and thus, albeit only evoked, the subject of the title remains at the center of the painting. “The Railway” was Manet’s last painting to feature his favorite model, the painter Vittorie Meurent, who was central to the two most famous works of art at the beginning of his career, “Luncheon on the Grass” and “Olympia”. In those canvases the young woman appeared nude and they were severely criticized by society at the time, which accused Manet of wanting to stir up a scandal to achieve notoriety.

Manet was merely guilty of not being a hypocrite, yet his art was defended only by Zola and Baudelaire and he would only be recognized as masterful after his death.


Here in the Gallery of Art you can see many masterpieces by Manet, including the “Old Musician”, painted during the period when the artist was influenced by Spanish art, which features common people, as well as the “The Dead Toreador”, which was clearly inspired by Mantegna.


Interesting fact: Manet only painted what he saw to respect reality and when he decided to draw inspiration from a historical event, such as the execution of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, he went to the port of Paris on the Seine every day for weeks because he was certain that, sooner or later, photographs of the event would have arrived in France. He didn’t start the work until he was able to get them. 

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