The Machine Age

Abstract painting of a train moving along a track

'Speeding Train', Ivo Pannaggi, Cassa di Risparmio, Macerata

From the beginning of the 20th century, artists embraced the machine and industry. Railways were now acceptable subject matter and artists found beauty in unlikely places such as sidings, dockyards and polluted skies. The velvety textures seen in photographs of the ‘Pictorialist’ movement were especially suitable for steam and smoke. New lightweight Leica cameras made it possible for photographers André Kertész and Ilse Bing to take spontaneous railway photographs.

From the 1920s, artists explored the imagery of the machine, conveying power and speed. A new, sleek machine aesthetic emerged in avant-garde paintings. This influenced the design of French railway posters. In Russia, poster designers used photomontage to create striking images associating the railway with the progress of the socialist revolution.

In the 1950s and 60s steam locomotives were replaced by diesel, and aeroplanes and cars became more widespread. In Britain, the paintings of Terence Cuneo demonstrate a romantic nostalgia for the vanishing age of steam. Similar feelings were also expressed in the photographs of O. Winston Link, recording the last steam railway in America.

Artists featured in this section of the exhibition: - Lionel Walden, Alfred Stieglitz, Alvin Langdon Coburn, George Luks, Reginald Marsh, André Kertész, Bill Brandt, William H Rau, László Moholy-Nagy, Ivo Pannaggi, Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, Pierre Fix-Masseau, Gustav Klucis, Nikolai Dolgorukov, Charles Sheeler, Ilse Bing, Terence Cuneo, O Winston Link.