Thursday, 2 February 2023

Frith, Paddington Station

William Powell Frith - The Railway Station
I think this is a great painting, of Paddington Station, supposedly as the train prepares for departure. 
Frith liked pictures that were long, and had a rise in the middle, here supplied by the porters loading luggage onto the roof of the coach.  Rail travel in 1862 was exciting, adventurous and also dangerous.  Apart from the danger of human beings being themselves there is added class distinction, a signal system nowhere near as efficient as todays, and train times that are as believable as railways anywhere in the world.  
However, I like the picture as it is full of life.
Clearly Paddington, it is always recognisable, the train sets the scene, the smouldering engine awaiting at one end, the long line of wooden coaches, terrible in an accident, and the wide selection of human nature to be seen on the platform. 
Brunel's spectacular Paddington Station building had been completed only a decade before this picture emerged in 1862.  Frith would no doubt have used it before, he certainly reconnoitred the place to get this right.   He also ensured his family's fame by placing them in the left centre of the picture.  The woman kissing a child goodbye in the near foreground, possibly the son of to school, is Froth's wife, he himself stands behind with his elder son.  The bearded man next to them had given Italian lessons to Frith's daughters, and appears to be haggling over the taxi fare.  As the porter scrambles to pick up the luggage and possibly a tip, a bridal party in full Victorian overdress fusses about nothing before clambering into the coach.  These coaches were not very big inside, how did all those women fit in?  Or did they just dump the Bride and Groom and send them on their way?  I guess so.  
A Sherlock Holmes lookalike is being accosted by two Police Detectives, accompanied by a uniformed officer.  This apparently is based on real incident.   
The picture is full of the confusion, worry, fear and nervousness so many experience at railway stations.  Add the class distinction, the need to be in the right place, the distracted children staring at the huge arena about them, the noise of the engine warming up for the off, the smell of the smoke, Welsh coal was the best coal for engines it appears, the noise and bustle, the thoughtlessness of those in a hurry or just used to the fuss, the dogs, the mixture of uniforms and the journey ahead.  All are caught in this wonderful painting. 
Frith sold it for £4500, plus another £750 for not showing it at the RA.  This allowed the buyer to show it in his gallery at one shilling a time.  Louis Victor Flatow saw 83,000 visit his gallery for a peek.  It was also shown elsewhere and I suspect he easily regained his cash.
I think this a great picture in so many ways.
For Christmas, could you buy it for me...?


the fly in the web said...

There's a lot to enjoy in that painting.

Adullamite said...

Fly, I love it.