The human drama of the railway

Two young women sat in a railway carriage. One has her eyes closed and the other is reading a book.

'The Travelling Companions', Augustus Egg, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery

Paintings that told stories were very popular in the Victorian period. From the mid-1850s, a few artists chose the railway as a setting for this type of painting.

They concentrated on two types of scene, the railway compartment and the railway station. Both raised the issue of social class. The contrast between first, second and third class travellers was a way of highlighting social inequality. The mixture of classes and incidents in the crowds expressed the restless, random nature of modern life. Departures and arrivals offered an opportunity for drama and emotion.

Frith’s The Railway Station of 1862 was an enormous success and was imitated in many other countries. Later in the century, the focus of some artists moved to the poorer classes and the railway was used as a setting for paintings highlighting social problems.

Artists featured in this section of the exhibition: - Abraham Solomon,  Augustus Egg, William Powell Frith, Frederick Bacon Barwell, Karl Wilhelm Hahn, Karl Karger, James Tissot, Frank Holl.