Joy of Museums Virtual Tours

Virtual Tours of Museums, Art Galleries, and Historic 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 several 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 modern 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 the painting in this is yet another bridge. 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 watercolor was accepted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1790 when Turner was 15. From a young art student trained in executing topographical watercolors, he became one of the most original artists of his time. Turner was a Romantic painter, printmaker, and watercolorist, today known for his vivid coloration, 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.

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

Explore The National Gallery

13th Century Paintings

14th Century Paintings

15th Century Paintings

16th Century Paintings

17th Century Paintings

18th Century Paintings

19th Century Paintings

20th Century Paintings

Explore The National Gallery

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?


“It is only when we are no longer fearful that we begin to create.”
– Joseph Mallord William Turner


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

Top Posts & Pages

Museums, Art Galleries & Historical Sites - Virtual Tours
Statuette of a Horse in Geometric Style
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Ralph Earl
"Jeanne Hébuterne" by Amedeo Modigliani
Dying Gaul
"Lamentation of Christ" by Andrea Mantegna
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation - Virtual Tour
"The Execution of Lady Jane Grey" by Paul Delaroche
"Pygmalion and Galatea" by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Quotes about Museums, Art and History