This is an impressionistic work featuring a travelling train on it’s tracks. Trains were a popular subject for the Impressionists as the movement was deeply influenced by modernisation and the industrialisation of the nineteenth century. Trains, steam and smoke conveyed theses concepts of mobility and speed. Perhaps the most famous impressionist works to depict this subject were Monet’s ‘Gare Saint-Lazare’ series that he completed in the first half of 1877.
This work illustrates the train as a massive unstoppable locomotive that dominates the pictorial space. We see it here speeding towards us, rushing towards the end of the track. It plows through its own thick cloud of smoke and leaves pungent plumes of smoke from the burning coal in it’s wake. The smoke obscures objects in the distance, dissolving forms through suffused light. Depicting the train and its surroundings at this time has given Browne the opportunity to fully explore how bright lights react to impending darkness, Browne applying deliberate dots of vivid colour to show the glowing signals.
The vaporised forms are consistent with impressionism’s credo that matter should appear to be in a constant state of motion. Coinciding with impressionist’s preoccupation with instantaneous and atmospheric change, with its rapid dissipation and ever changing shape, steam embodies these characteristics in a way that nothing else can. As the critic Jules Janin once wrote: ‘The poetry of the nineteenth century… is steam’.
Robert Ives Browne is one of the lesser known Hague impressionists. He was born in Rotterdam and moved to The Hague in 1888, where he attended the academy and was taught by Frits Jansen, among others. There he came under the influence of the prevailing impressionism and painted smoothly designed landscapes, figure pieces, nudes and cityscapes. The painter was a member of numerous painter’s associations, participated in exhibitions at home and abroad and was selected, together with Tholen and Akkeringa, to represent the Netherlands at the World Exhibition in San Fransisco.