Nowadays, the train is a widespread means of transportation throughout the world, it is part of our lives but this was not always the case. Sometimes an object of fascination, sometimes of fear, the train has inspired major painters in the history of art.

Art Shortlist invites you to discover 10 paintings paying tribute to the train and the railroad.

Art Shortlist
by Art Shortlist - September 5, 2022

1 - Rain, Steam, and Speed, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1844

A painting of great importance. This painting with abstract tendencies represents a locomotive passing over a railroad bridge spanning the Thames. This is the Maidenhead Railway Bridge, which was considered a technical and architectural feat when it was built as it connected London to Bristol.

In several later paintings, Turner focused on industrialization and progress, subjects generally dismissed by his contemporaries as "unartistic".

In this painting, the locomotive depicted was one of the fastest at the time, the Firefly Class had broken a speed record in 1840. The locomotive had covered the 50 km between London and Twyford in only 37 minutes, an average speed of 80 km/h, something never seen before.

2 - The Railway, Édouard Manet, 1872-1873

Also known as La Gare Saint-Lazare, this painting by Manet depicts his favorite model, Victorine Meurent who was also his muse for Olympia and Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe.

Édouard Manet was fascinated by the railroad, and he depicted the Saint-Lazare station and the train on numerous occasions. This painting kept in the National Gallery in Washington allowed the train to become an object worthy of a pictorial representation.

3 - La Gare Saint-Lazare, Claude Monet, 1877

It is difficult to select a painting by Claude Monet as the artist painted so many beautiful pictures related to the railway world.

Monet's series on the Gare Saint-Lazare is his first series, twelve paintings compose it. The father of Impressionism chose to represent this smoky Parisian train station in response to criticism of his painting Impression, Sunrise presented at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874.

It was at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877 that Claude Monet presented this series representing technical progress and the industrial revolution. This series inspired Emile Zola to write The Human Beast.

Read also : 5 thing to know about Impressionism

4 - Railway bridge at Chatou, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1881

An important figure of the Impressionists, Renoir also wished to pay homage to the train with this painting full of poetry. Behind this green nature hides a bridge, but not just any bridge, a railroad bridge, as if nature and modernity were one!

5 - La Gare Saint-Lazare, Paul-César Helleu, 1885

© Les Amis de Paul-César Helleu

This station did not only fascinate Claude Monet, his great friend and wedding witness Paul-César Helleu is also the author of this marvelous painting capturing the motif in the moment with vapour effects worthy of the greatest impressionist painters.

The subtle and daring framing chosen by the painter is inspired by photography, Octave Mirbeau wrote about this painting: "The departing trains, those that arrive, out of breath, heavy, devouring the rails, emerge from the black mouth that simulate the arches of the bridges. Enormous swirls of smoke, spewed from the locomotive pipes, fill the picture, floating on the parapets, staining the sky, crawling along the houses. A smell of coal, pungent, emanates from all that. We feel the air torn by the breath of the pistons and the cough of the machines. The painting is in a blue tone, a blue-gray in which the smoke drowns and which the red dot of the lit disks pierces. All in all, the impression is excellent."

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6 - Dinamismo di un treno in corsa nella notte, Luigi Russolo, 1911

When we talk about trains, how can we not evoke Italian futurism? With this painting, Luigi Russolo represents a locomotive in motion, the title of the work means "Dynamism of a moving train". This painting is therefore almost a century later a modern reinterpretation of Turner's Rain, Speed, and Steam.

The repetitions and superimpositions of spirals, curves and obliques represent the kinetic energy of the train and its optical resonances.

7 - Train in the station, Raoul Dufy, 1935

Colorful and lively, this painting by Raoul Dufy presents the arrival of a train at the station in the manner of a show. In this painting, the train is a party!

This is not the only example of the artist's representation of the train, he represented it several times, in motion or on the station.

Discover Raoul Dufy's works for sale on Art Shortlist

8 - Time Transfixed, René Magritte, 1938

A surprising painting by Magritte! Impressed by the works of René Magritte at the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition, the collector Edward James invited the artist to paint canvases for his London house. Magritte did so and painted two pictures: Time Transfixed and On the Threshold of Liberty.

What is remarkable in this painting is the presence of unrelated elements and scales that are totally disconnected from reality. The train coming out of the chimney is represented as if it were coming out of a railway tunnel.

Discover René Magritte's works for sale on Art Shortlist

9 - Chair Car, Edward Hopper, 1965

It is difficult to choose only one of Hopper's paintings representing the train. We have chosen to highlight this sublime painting entitled Chair Car which takes us directly into the car of a train in the United States.

Read also: 10 things to know about Edward Hopper

10 - Autumn of steam, Terence Cuneo, 1979

© Christie's

A magnificent oil on canvas by British painter Terence Cuneo who specialized in depicting horses and trains. This painting is a moving tribute to the last days of steam locomotives on British railroads.

It should also be noted that Terence Cuneo was the official painter for the coronation ceremony of Elizabeth II in 1953.