Railing Against It

Eric Ravilious: 'Train Landscape', 1939. Watercolour on Paper

Does sitting in the carriage now, have the same evocation, either of Englishness, or future collapse? Perhaps the increasing disintegration of capitalism and the re-introduction of feudalism, or so it feels reading the morning paper? Listening to the suited and booted man in front discussing his meeting schedule with someone, clearly his junior, merely makes me glad we are not in the old two bench dog carriage. The clue to the difference between painted image and life on the 7.16 am is in the relationship to the exterior. In the Ravillious we are parallel to the internal picture plane, in a semi private world. In the modern train we are not. Ravillious’ world perhaps owes a debt to earlier imagery.  In John Tenniel’s: ‘Alice on the Train’, From ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’

John Tenniel: 'Alice on the Train' wood engraving, 1872

or Leopold Egg: ‘The Travelling Companions’, 1862 both of which use the same frontal format, parallel to the picture plane, symetricality etc.

Augustus Leopold Egg: 'The Travelling Companions',1862 Birmingham City Museums


The carriage is now a public space, focussing down a tubular formthat enforces the single viewpoint perspective aspect, reinforces the notion that we meaningfully speed towards our destination. Unlike the steam era images that often stress the privacy of the first class carriage. Compare this with, for example, Daumier’s Third Class carriage, a density of rumpled lines and close tones, raw humanity.

Honore Daumier: 'The Third Class Carriage', 1863-65. Oil On canvas. Metropolitan, New York


Train Landscape is a third class carriage, you can tell this by the letter three on the door. But the number seems very big, it stands out. Earlier Cubists had used text to stress modernity, although this doesn’t look quite like that.

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