warm and cool colors, as well as loose, rapid brushstrokes cover the entire
rectangular canvas surface, enveloping the objects in the appearance of
a misty haze. Two diagonal forms predominate, both receding within the
canvas space. On the left, an arched bridge moves diagonally into a misted
central area of the same color variants. A larger and darker diagonal
movement on the right draws our eye into the center of the composition
as well. This shape, however, contains a smaller, darker form on top of
it, semi-circular in shape with a vertical rectilinear object protruding.
This dark rectilinear shape is the darkest and tallest of all the shapes,
thus attracting our eye to it as a central focus.
Steam and Speed is a painting that addresses the new technology of
the railways in Britain. This image, painted to illustrate the new rail
bridges crossing the Thames, illustrates the effect of speed (through
diagonal movement) and steam (misty, loose brushwork) all working within
the natural environment of a rainy England.
As a sublime experience, speed,
a novel factor of the 'new' 19th century life, offered its power to overcome
nature (water and sky). The locomotive (complete with steam powered engine)
is a representative of the 'new' technology and creates a 'new' ingredient
to the atmospheric effects that were representative to Turner's paintings
at this time.
Bills were granted in great heaps. Two hundred and seventy-two additional
Acts were passed in 1846. Some authorized the construction of lines running
almost parallel to existing railways, in order to afford the public 'the
benefits of unrestricted competition.' Locomotive and atmospheric lines,
broad gauges and narrow gauge lines, were granted without hesitation.
Committees decided without judgment and without discrimination; it was
a scramble for Bills, in which the most unscrupulous were the most successful.
Smiles; Lives of the Engineers, 1862