Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway  

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Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844) by William Turner
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Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844) by William Turner

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844) is an oil painting by British artist William Turner. It depicts a steam train passing over a bridge. This painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844, though it may have been painted earlier. Its style can best be described as impressionism or abstract art avant la lettre.

The Great Western Railway (GWR) was one of a number of private British railway companies created to develop the new means of transport. GWR’s aim was initially to connect Bristol with London; its chief engineer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The location of the painting is widely accepted as Maidenhead Railway Bridge, across the River Thames between Taplow and Maidenhead. The view is looking east towards London. The bridge was designed by Brunel and completed in 1838. The line from London Paddington to Taplow opened in 1838.

The title follows the Turner pattern of 'nature first' in his titles. A tiny hare appears in the bottom right corner of the painting. Some have interpreted the hare running ahead of the train as a suggestion to the limits of technology. Others believe the rabbit is running in fear of the new machinery and Turner meant to hint at the danger of man's new technology destroying the inherent sublime elements of nature.

The painting is now in the collection of the National Gallery, London, England.


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