The formative years in Europe

Illustration of a steam train leaving a tunnel with the words Great Western Railway

'No. 1 Tunnel', John Cooke Bourne, The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust

The first railway images were documentary rather than artistic. Between 1830 and 1850 about two thousand railway prints were published in Britain alone.

They illustrated the new railway lines and showed off feats of engineering, such as bridges and tunnels. 

This section includes railway prints and preparatory studies made for prints.  Most of the artists were minor figures, but JC Bourne’s drawings show he was the first important railway artist.

In the 1840s, following Turner’s example, a few successful painters including David Cox and the German realist Adolph von Menzel, produced railway landscapes. Paintings like this were rare as most artists considered machines to be ugly and unworthy of art.

The invention of photography in 1839 was, like the railway, considered a technological marvel.  One became a natural subject for the other. Early photographers in France and Britain, unlike the fine artists, were happy to represent railways in their work.

Artists featured in this section of the exhibition: - David Cox, Adolph von Menzel, SG Hughes, Thomas Talbot Bury, Henry Pyall, George Scharf, John Cooke Bourne, John Osborn Brown, Edouard Baldus, Auguste-Hippolyte Collard, James Mudd.