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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway” by J. M. W. Turner

Turner - Rain, Steam and Speed - National Gallery file

“Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway” by J. M. W. Turner

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway by J. M. W. Turner depicts an early British steam train on a railway bridge, crossing the River Thames with a view that is looking east towards London. The Great Western Railway as referred to in the title was one of a number of private British railway companies created to develop what was a new means of transport. Art historians have suggested that Turner in this painting is hinting at the danger of man’s new technology destroying or competing with elements of nature.

The bridge in the painting is Maidenhead Railway Bridge, across the River Thames between Taplow and Maidenhead. The bridge was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and completed in 1838. To the left in this is yet another bridge and in the river between the bridges is a small boat with two figures. There is also a farmer with two horses in the field to the right. These details are not initially apparent without close inspection, as the focus is on the steam engine and all the other features are painted are in a ghostly outline to emphasis a speeding viewpoint.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, later more commonly called J. M. W. Turner entered the Royal Academy of Art in 1789, aged 14, and his first watercolour was accepted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1790 when Turner was 15. From a young art student trained in executing topographical watercolours, he became one of the most original artists of his time. Turner was a Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist, today known for his vivid colouration, imaginative landscapes and turbulent marine paintings. As a private, eccentric and reclusive figure, Turner was controversial throughout his career. He left over 2,000 paintings and 19,000 drawings and sketches.

Reflections on J. M. W. Turner

  • Does this painting capture the spirit of the new age of Steam and Speed?
  • Does Turner capture the danger of man’s new technology destroying elements of nature?

Turner Paintings to Explore

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway

  • Title:            Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway
  • Artist:          J. M. W. Turner
  • Date:           1844
  • Medium:     Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 91 cm × 121.8 cm (36 in × 48.0 in)
  • Museum:     The National Gallery, London

Joseph Mallord William Turner

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“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
– William Shakespeare

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Photo Credit: 1) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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