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Topic: Representing railways
Representing railways
Ever since the appearance of the first steam locomotives at the beginning of the nineteenth century, artists have been fascinated by railways. As railways transformed the natural environment and altered notions of speed, power, time and distance, artists began to see the world in new and sometimes revolutionary ways. Huge construction projects and powerful machines proved irresistible subjects, first for artists and then photographers. Soon railway companies were using images to promote and record their operations, the forerunners of today’s huge advertising and publicity industries. However, as railways became commonplace interest waned until the emergence of a new wave of artists who saw beauty in the banal. Enthusiasts, too, began to represent railways, as photography became cheaper and more accessible. Today, the portrayal of railways is a curious mixture of the modern and the nostalgic, as the allure of powerful new technology combines with the lingering charm of the ‘golden age’ of steam, recreated on preserved railways in the UK and in countless images.
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Topic section: The artist’s eye
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As railways emerged early in the nineteenth century, the new transport technology was reflected in new printing technology. Railways were shown in cheap lithographs produced in their thousands. And the shocking power of the train also inspired one of the most famous works of the great artist, JMW Turner.  > more

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Photographers of the nineteenth century with their new techniques were also inspired by railways and often commissioned to document great railway works as monuments of the age. In the late twentieth century, railway photography would mourn the dilapidation of these once-grand monuments.  > more

Topic section: Railway posters
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The railway poster, reaching its peak in the inter-war years, offered a vision of effortless travel to exotic destinations. Well-known artists were commissioned to give glamour to seasides and cities. A later age would emphasise modernity and efficiency.  > more
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