The Coalmen

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A scene showing labourers is unusual in Monet's oeuvre. The Seine here is not the light-hearted setting for regattas, but the river plied by heavy barges. The banks are lined not with trees, but smoking chimneys. Sunday strollers have given way to workers unloading coal from the barges to supply the nearby factory.

Admittedly, social criticism is not the aim here: the urban landscape in the distance is a commonplace, everyday spectacle. But the deadened tones, ranging from green to grey, give the scene a muted atmosphere. The backlit, depersonalised figures filing mechanically along the parallel planks are also an image of the bleakness of the workers' plight.

c. 1875, Musée d'Orsay

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