Interpretive Resource

Examination: Guillaumin's The Arcueil Aqueduct at Sceaux Railroad Crossing

An examination of Guillaumin's painting of a new aqueduct just south of Paris, with its celebration of the railroad and the travel opportunities it offered to the urban middle class.

Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 44.

During the early years of his career, Armand Guillaumin—whose working-class family did not support his ambition to become an artist—held a series of low-ranking administrative posts to make ends meet. While employed by the Paris–Orléans railway, he began painting the countryside around the capital. The subject of this canvas is a new aqueduct, constructed in early 1874, that crosses over the tracks of the suburban Sceaux line in Arcueil, just south of Paris. Listed in contemporary guidebooks as a major tourist site, this was the latest in a series of regional water channels dating back to the Roman era.

In Guillaumin’s painting, passengers await the train at a small, covered station just beyond the aqueduct, while pedestrians, notably several well-dressed women with parasols, can be seen strolling along the road at the left. Between the tracks and the road lies a triangle of foliage, which Guillaumin sketched in thick, short strokes of brightly colored pigment that demonstrate his refined Impressionist technique. The railroad symbolized modern technology for many of Guillaumin’s contemporaries. It also played a crucial role in allowing the urban middle class (to which most of the Impressionists belonged) to make leisurely excursions to the suburbs and outlying villages. Around this time, Arcueil became an increasingly popular retreat, situated as it was in a picturesque valley only a short distance from Paris. The Arcueil Aqueduct at Sceaux Railroad Crossing, painted the year of the first Impressionist exhibition, may have been one of the dozen canvases Guillaumin contributed to the group’s third show, held in Paris in 1877. There, it would have joined other representations of the train motif: Claude Monet’s paintings of Gare St.-Lazare.

landscapes, urban life, water, weather/seasons


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