Friday, 17 April 2015
Painting of the Month (53): April 2015: JMW Turner
Rain, Speed and Steam: The Great Western Railway
JMW Turner, 1844, Oil on Canvas
The French Impressionists acknowledged their debt to Turner and you can see why in this late masterpiece. The newly-laid Great Western Railway line ran from London to Bristol and Exeter. In this painting the train is viewed passing over Maidenhead Viaduct across the River Thames looking back east toward London. In his most famous painting, 'The Fighting Temeraire', Turner seemed to be mourning the passing of the old ways as the new took over. In this one he appears a little more sympathetic to the new technology although I think there is some ambiguity. A tiny hare can just about be seen in the right-hand corner of the painting (with enlargement). This has been cited as a reference to the limits of technology while others believe the animal 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. A little easier to see is the little boat on the river to the left, which may have the same purpose. Apparently there is a ploughman in the distance, which I cannot see at all, presumably with a similar function.
Turner has very cleverly implied the speed of the train by the use of perspective with a central vanishing point which gives a steep, foreshortened view, drawing the eye strongly towards the centre thus conveying the feeling of high speed.
A further interesting point is the modern theory to why this master inspired the Impressionists with his 'fuzzy skies': towards the end of his life he was suffering with cataracts.Listening to: Los Cuates De Sinaloa - 'Negro Y Azul: The Ballad of Heisenberg' from Breaking Bad. You can listen here