KANSAS CITY.- A major international exhibition opening this fall at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will capture the excitement and range of emotions that steam-powered trains elicited as railroads reshaped culture around the world. The exhibition, Art in the Age of Steam: Europe, America and the Railway, 1830-1960, open from Sept. 13 through Jan. 18, 2009, will feature more than 100 paintings, prints, drawings and photographs drawn from 64 museums and private collections.
Art in the Age of Steam is the most wide-ranging exhibition ever assembled of American and European works of art responding to the drama of the railroad, from the earliest days when steam trains churned across the landscape through the romance of the Victorian era to the end of the steam era in the 1960s.
The exhibition opened first at Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, where it was on view from April 18 to Aug. 10. It drew more than 113,000 visitors and received excellent reviews in general and scholarly publications.
"In light of Kansas Citys historic position as a railway town, this exhibition has strong local resonance. At the same time, it captures the international fascination with the steam train as both an inspiration for art and a life-changing experience for the world at large," said Marc F. Wilson, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director/CEO of the Nelson-Atkins. "It is especially fitting that the exhibition arrives from Liverpool, another city with transportation at the core of its modern history."
Among the works of art are modern and Impressionist masterpieces, including Edouard Manets The Railway, Claude Monets Gare Saint-Lazare, Gustave Caillebottes On the Pont de lEurope and Rene Magrittes Time Transfixed. The exhibition features works that span a variety of styles, from an early lithograph by John Cooke Bourne, No. 1 Tunnel, to Edward Hoppers modern Railroad Sunset, and Thomas Hart Bentons The Wreck of the Ole 97. Photography, which also came of age during the rise of steam trains, is represented with works by Alfred Steiglitz, Charles Sheeler, André Kertész and O. Winston Link.
―The exhibition demonstrates how art and technology came together to contribute to the definition of modernity, exemplified by the speeding up of modern life in an increasingly mechanical society,‖ said Ian Kennedy, Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward Curator of European Painting and Sculpture at the Nelson-Atkins, who co-curated the exhibition with Julian Treuherz, former Keeper of Art for National Museums Liverpool, England.
Britain was the cradle of the railroad and Liverpool was a major railroad terminal. The railroad was critical for the westward expansion of the young United States, and Kansas Citys Union Station was the nations second largest railroad station after Chicago.
The Formative Years in Europe explores the genesis of railroading in Great Britain and France.
The Human Drama of the Railway focuses on classic topics of the Victorian railroad the station and the passenger compartment and includes Augustus Eggs masterpiece Travelling Companions.
Crossing Continents: America and Beyond explores railroad expansion in the American Midwest and West and features the well-known Nelson-Atkins work by Thomas Otter, On the Road, as well as Albert Bierstadt, Donner Pass.
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism demonstrates how artists captured both the power of the iron world and the psychological interplay of people in train stations.
States of Mind surveys the depiction of the railroad in art movements of the late 19th and early 20th century, from Symbolism through Futurism, Expressionism and Surrealism, represented by Wassily Kandinsky, E.L. Kirchner and Giorgio de Chirico.
The Machine Age moves from admiration of the power of steam and locomotive machine to the feelings of nostalgia as it declined in general passenger travel use.
The Railway in Art
Early observers viewed the steam train with combined wonder and fear. Many early prints and paintings explored the evolving landscape of the industrial age, punctuated with the bridges and viaducts built to accommodate the new trains. The view from the train car provided a new panoramicalmost cinematicperspective. Particularly in the American west, broad landscape paintings illustrated the cinematic point of view from a railroad carriage, emblematic of the vast and unexplored frontier now made accessible by train travel. Prints and paintings also focused on train stations themselves as new centers of city life. Reactions were not purely celebratory, though: Honoré Daumiers realist works hinted at the anxieties of mixing with strangers of different classes in the closed compartments of a train car.
Later in the 19th century, the French Impressionists latched onto the steam train as a symbol of modernity, simultaneously heralding and expressing anxiety about the fast pace of the new city. The train provided a convenient link between city and country, condensing what had previously been a day of travel time into an hour, and many Impressionist works explored the newly-accessible countryside as a site of leisure, a counterpoint to the bustling city. Stylistically, the bursts of steam spewed by the trains provided stunning illustrations of the emphasis on light and movement that characterizes Impressionism.
In the early 20th century, modern artists used the train to explore abstracted depictions of speed and power in an increasingly mechanized society. Russian poster designers celebrated the train as the epitome of strength and power and as a valuable tool for a Socialist system. Art Nouveau travel posters, meanwhile, depicted the train as a sleek bullet and the essence of glamour.
The railway continued to serve as a metaphor for power or the restlessness and alienation of modern life well into the 20th century, especially in the works of Hopper and Benton, but eventually with the increasing dominance of new forms of transport railway art became imbued with nostalgia for a golden age, particularly after steam haulage was superseded by diesel or electric traction. Nostalgia for a vanishing age is poignantly expressed in the photography of O. Winston Link.
The exhibition will be presented in six sections: