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Coming soon: Impressionists in a changing time

December 7th, 2018

A factory with three smokestacks on the bank of a river.

Camille Pissarro. Factory Near Pontoise [Usine Près Pointoise], 1873. Oil on canvas, Unframed: 45.7 × 54.6 cm. Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts/ The James Philip Gray Collection. Photo: David Stansbury

Amazed by all the new buildings changing the city skyline? Tired of scaffolding blocking the sidewalk? So were French Impressionists in the late 1800s. Opening at the AGO this February, a groundbreaking exhibition, Impressionism in the Age of Industry: Monet, Pissarro, and more, reveals how artists were fascinated by both the thrills and challenges of a changing city.

Impressionists are often associated with landscapes and sea vistas. But as this innovative exhibition shows, they were also captivated by changing technologies, cityscapes and industry. Featuring over 120 works, including masterpieces by Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassat, James Tissot and more, the exhibition opens with the transformation of Paris in the 1860s and 1870s, with the ongoing construction of new bridges and grand boulevards. The exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the rapid changes of the three decades that followed – as the medieval city of twisted and tiny streets was demolished to make room for the orderly, uniform Paris we know today.

With dramatic expansions to the railway system, steam trains became a common symbol for the thrill and speed of ongoing change. You can see this in Monet’s Arrival of the Normandy Train: Gare Saint-Lazare, where he uses his characteristic combination of loose brush strokes and layered colour palette to depict the rush of city life through the steam and commotion of a bustling train station.

With trains and bridges providing easy access to the city, factories sprang up in the suburbs, attracting new workers. This was another frequent subject for the Impressionists – as seen in Camille Pissaro’s Factory near Pointoise (1873), on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Massachusetts, and in Degas’s Henri Rouart in front of his Factory (1875) on loan from the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

Industrial change also dramatically impacted the domestic and work lives of women. In Tissot’s The Shop Girl (1883–85), a visitor favourite from the AGO Collection, we see a young woman working in a glamorous Paris shop with the bustle of urban life visible behind her.

Featuring loans from museums across North America and Europe, Impressionism in the Age of Industry showcases a dynamic landscape of change and discovery. We can’t wait for this incredible exhibition to open on February 16, 2019 in the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion. Stay tuned for more exciting details!

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