Gare de l'Est and the fresco "Le Départ des poilus, August 1914"
The Gare de l'Est was inaugurated in 1850 by Emperor Napoleon III under the name of the "Strasbourg embarkation point" before it acquired its current name. Located in the 10th district of Paris, its façade runs perpendicular to the North-South boulevard created by Baron Haussman.
Unlike the northern railway lines, built for industry, the Eastern railway line was for strategic and defensive purposes, essentially for mobilising the troops in the event of conflict with Germany. Which was why, on 2nd August 1914, the area around the Gare de l'Est was invaded by crowds of soldiers. On the station platforms, the chant went up "To Berlin, we will win!". Between 1914 and 1918, millions of soldiers passed through the Gare de l'Est in transit, including soldiers on leave and the wounded.
In the hall of the left wing of the station, you can admire a monumental painting of 60 m² in area (5 m x 12 m), Le Départ des poilus, août 1914, a work by the American artist Albert Herter (1871-1950). This great symbolic fresco illustrates the departure of French soldiers to the front in August 1914. It was painted in memory of the artist's son, a volunteer soldier in the French army, who was killed at the front at Bois-Belleau in the Aisne region in 1918, in the last few months of the war.
The painter included himself on the right of the painting, with a bouquet in his hand, while his wife is on the far left with her hands clasped together. Their son is the person in the centre of the painting, proud and enthusiastic with his arms in the air, in the doorway of a carriage. With a flower in his gun and his cap held high in the other hand, the volunteer soldier catches the eye. His bravery and charisma contrast with the sorrow of the women in tears on the platform.
Given to the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de l'Est by the painter as a gift, the canvas was unveiled and exhibited in the Gare de l'Est in 1926, with Marshal Joffre in attendance.
The façades and roofs of the Gare de l'Est, along with the departures and arrivals areas, were listed as Historic Monuments in 1984.