FEMALE SPEAKER: We’re looking at
Turner’s great painting “Rain, Steam, and Speed–
The Great Western Railway,” which dates from 1844. MALE SPEAKER: A time when
the railway was really crisscrossing the
British landscape. FEMALE SPEAKER: Right. And was really a brand new way
of traveling and connecting cities and people to each other. MALE SPEAKER: And would really
change not only the landscape, but change society
incredibly dramatically. It was probably the most potent
symbol of industrialization. FEMALE SPEAKER: Turner
really captures that feeling of the speed of the
train coming toward us, the rain pounding at
the train and the bridge as it moves toward us. I mean, I can almost feel
the wetness of this day and hear the sound of the train. MALE SPEAKER: Well, the
carriages were open, and so people really
would have felt that. You think about what the
speed of the train meant. I mean, of course, the
trains then in 1844 didn’t move at the speed that
trains move now, but think about the speed with
which people had traveled through history
up to this point. People had either walked,
or they had taken a horse. FEMALE SPEAKER: And
if you were lucky, you took a carriage
with multiple horses and could go a
little bit faster. But not much. MALE SPEAKER: But a
little bit faster. So that means you might
have gone 15 miles an hour. And for the first
time, people are being able to be
transported mechanically. FEMALE SPEAKER: I
think it’s hard for us to recognize the
radicalness of the railway. MALE SPEAKER: And the
kind of impact it must’ve had on the landscape. Part of this is a
kind of nostalgia for what’s lost, right? The notion of the violence
of this hulking iron monster ripping through the landscape. And it must have been loud. FEMALE SPEAKER: Surrounded by
agricultural fields, perhaps, the way that Turner shows us a
farmer on the right edge there. I think you look out at the
landscape of this period, and you saw those contrasts
between an old rural England and a new industrial England. MALE SPEAKER: That’s
absolutely right. I mean, on the left, you see
that in the bridge, as well. In the extreme left, you
see an old stone bridge. Here on the right, you have a
modern industrial brick bridge meant to carry this railway. FEMALE SPEAKER: But so much
of this is about the subject. But it’s also about, obviously,
the way Turner painted it. The atmosphere effects
that we associate with Turner, this kind of gold
and blue and brown coloring, and these thick imposto
of paint that we can tell has been applied with
a palette knife that’s particularly thick toward
the center and center line of the painting
and in the upper right. MALE SPEAKER: It’s so abstract
that much the painting is actually unreadable in
terms of anything specific. It is, you said, atmospheric. And it’s atmospheric
almost in an operatic way. Three quarters of
this painting is nothing but the variations
of color and tone of the sky, of the atmosphere, of the
rain, and the way in which, in a sense, the rain
creates a kind of unity and dissolves any
kind of hard form. FEMALE SPEAKER: Any
kind of specific reading of forms, right? MALE SPEAKER: The
only one, really, that comes through with
any real clarity is the black iron of that
chimney of that train. FEMALE SPEAKER: That’s true. And it’s only the chimney. The rest of the train
itself kind of dissolves into paint, as well. MALE SPEAKER: That idea
of the confrontation between the industrial
power of man and nature is probably most oddly
juxtaposed by the train steaming towards a small rabbit
in the lower right-hand corner that seems to be hopping
away as quickly as possible. A rabbit, of course, a
symbol of speed itself. FEMALE SPEAKER: I’m
reminded that it’s the power of hate that
communicates to us more than the subject,
that it’s really about the textures and the
colors and the globs of paint and the dissolution of form that
communicate this idea of rain and atmosphere and
speed and sound. It would’ve been a very
different painting had it been painted differently. MALE SPEAKER: This
painting is ostensibly about industrialization,
about this powerful new thing, this train. But the painting really is about
the act of painting itself. It is about the portrayal of
this much more complex and much more subtle relationship
between nature and man because of Turner’s ability
to handle tone and form with a kind of abstraction
that is incredibly brave for this early
period of the 19th century. FEMALE SPEAKER: It really is. I mean, it’s close
to the abstraction of the 20th century
in many ways.