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Thought you knew the Impressionists?

January 25th, 2019

Vincent van Gogh. Factories at Clichy, 1887. Oil on canvas, Overall: 53.7 × 72.7 cm; Framed: 81.3 × 101.3 cm. St. Louis Art Museum, Funds given by Mrs. Mark C. Steinberg by exchange value. Image courtesy Saint Louis Art Museum.

Paris in the time of the Impressionists was a city under construction. New technologies were dramatically changing daily life, affecting everything from housing to transit and even leisure. Sound familiar? Maybe you’re thinking of the rapidly changing skyline in our very own city, or the TTC news that makes headlines almost every day. Opening on February 16, Impressionism in the Age of Industry: Monet, Pissarro and more features more than a few images of France in the 1800s that Torontonians can relate to.

When you think about the Impressionists, do you visualize their colourful landscapes and sea vistas? This exhibition offers a different look, shining a new light on works by some of the world’s most famous artists by exploring their fascination with industry, technology and labour during this period of rapid industrialization.

Van Gogh’s work Factories at Clichy (see above) is a great example. With two small figures looking up at the large smokestacks before them, we get a sense that the pair is in awe of the power of industry. With factories taking over farmland just outside the city, smokestacks were a common theme in landscape paintings of this time.

Old black and white photo of scaffolding surrounding the framework of a round stage floor.
Hyacinthe César Delmaet. View of Auditorium Floor from Stage (Paris Opera), May 10 1865. Albumen print, Mat: 71.1 × 55.9 cm. Gift of Robert G. Hill, in honour of Maia-Mari Sutnik, Founding Curator of Photography, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2018

Or, take the works by acclaimed architecture photographers Hyacinthe César Delmaet and Louis-Émile Durandelle. Using photography, which was a relatively new medium at the time, they captured the enormous scaffolding surrounding the construction of the Paris Opera in the photograph View of Auditorium Floor from Stage (Paris Opera).

But, just like Toronto today, construction was only part of the story as artists of this time looked to capture the resilience and individuality of everyday people. Just look at Constantin Meunier’s sculpture Longshoreman, Half-Length. With a sturdy build and dashing pose, this handsome fellow takes on an almost heroic stance. As a longshoreman, he could have been one of the workers loading and unloading ship cargo in the Pissarro painting Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, Rainy Weather, a piece from the AGO Collection that’s also in the exhibition.

Sculpture of the torso, head and arms of a man wearing a hooded cap.
Constantin Meunier. Longshoreman, Half-Length, 1885. Plaster with burlap painted to simulate bronze, 117.0 x 100.0 x 50.0 cm. Art Gallery of Hamilton, The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, 2002.

These exciting paintings, sculptures and photographs are only a few of the works featured in this groundbreaking exhibition. Timed-entry tickets go on sale to the public on February 1, 2019, and are $16.50 for post-secondary students and youth ages 17 and under, $21.50 for seniors and $25 for adults. Tickets will be available online at, in person and by phone. Admission is free for AGO Members and for children five and under. AGO Members have access to an exclusive preview before the exhibition opens to the public.

Looking for even more? Join Caroline Shields, AGO’s Assistant Curator of European Art, as she dives into the story behind the Impressionists’ ongoing fascination with the industrial age, during her Curator’s Talk on March 20. Tickets are on sale now at

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