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Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway

Key facts
Full title Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway
Artist Joseph Mallord William Turner
Artist dates 1775 - 1851
Date made 1844
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 91 × 121.8 cm
Acquisition credit Turner Bequest, 1856
Inventory number NG538
Location Room 34
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway
Joseph Mallord William Turner

A steam engine comes towards us as it crosses the Maidenhead Railway Bridge in the rain. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the bridge was completed in 1838. We are looking east towards London as the train heads to the west. The exaggeratedly abrupt foreshortening of the viaduct, which our eye follows to the horizon, suggests the speed with which the train bursts into view through the rain. Turner lightly brushed in a hare roughly midway along the rail track to represent the speed of the natural world in contrast to the mechanised speed of the engine. The animal is now invisible as the paint has become transparent with age, but it can be seen in an 1859 engraving of the painting.

Turner frequently painted scenes of contemporary life and was particularly interested in industry and technology. As he often used new forms of transport, including steam trains, it is unlikely that the painting is a rejection of modernity. Instead, he saw both the train and the bridge as subjects worthy of being painted.

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