A major international exhibition opening September 13 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, “Art in the Age of Steam: Europe, America and the Railway, 1830‱960,” will capture the excitement and range of emotions that steam-powered trains elicited as railroads reshaped culture around the world. The exhibition, open through January 18, 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 line in the 1960s.
Among the works of art are Modern and Impressionist masterpieces, including Edouard Manet’s “The Railway,” Claude Monet’s “Gare Saint-Lazare” and Gustave Caillebotte’s “On the Pont de l’Europe.”
The exhibition features works that span a variety of styles, from an early lithograph by John Cooke Bourne, “No. 1 Tunnel,” to Edward Hopper’s modern “Railroad Sunset” and Thomas Hart Benton’s “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.
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 City’s Union Station was the nation’s second largest railroad station after Chicago.
The exhibition will be presented in six sections. 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 Egg’s 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.” 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 Nineteenth and early Twentieth 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 Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is at 45th and Oak streets. For information, www.nelson-atkins.org or 816-751-1ART.