Anda di halaman 1dari 27

Pino Blasone

Trains and Trams An Archaeology of Modernity

1 Salvatore Fergola, Inauguration of the Naples-Portici Railway; Museo di San Martino, Naples A Train in the Background We like to start by paying attention to a few images, through which a subject as the railway made its triumphal entrance into the field of art. For instance, Inauguration of the Naples-Portici Railway, by the Italian Salvatore Fergola (Museo di San Martino, Naples; 1840); Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway, by the British painter J. M. W. Turner (National Gallery of Art, London; before 1844); The Berlin-Potsdam Railway, by the German A. F. E. von Menzel (Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin; 1847); The Lackawanna Valley, painted in about 1855 by the North-American artist George Inness (National Gallery of Art, Washington). In all these samples the vision is external to a steam traction train, which is crossing a landscape. This can be various, spacing from a celebrating crowd with the seaside in background of the picture by Fergola to a tendential abstraction of new sensations and emotions in the artwork by Turner, and to a full country scenery in those by Menzel or

Inness. Anyway, the representation of the railway is central, as the main theme in the scene. By surveying the later age of Impressionism, we can add to our list analogous works by French painters, as Landscape with Railway Tracks, by Gustave Caillebotte (Private Collection; circa 1872); Lordship Lane Station, (Courtauld Institute of Art, London; 1871), and The Railway Bridge at Pontoise or The Train: Bedford Park by Camille Pissarro (Private Collections; respectively, 1873 and 1897). After a popular precedent as The Railway Station by the English artist William Powell Frith, dated 1862 and now in the Royal Holloway College of the University of London, the inspiration of Claude Oscar Monet was rather concentrated on the stations, on their movement and animation. In his imagination, they look like modern cathedrals, as for a series dedicated to the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. In his country pictures set in or near Argenteuil (of some of them we have more than one version, from the Seventies of the century), or else in Outside the Gare Saint-Lazare: View toward the Batignolles Tunnels (Private Collection; 1877), the view is somewhat different. Even when it remains an urban view, in fact the landscape with train is a full open air one.

2 David Cox, The Night Train; Leeds City Art Gallery, U.K. The country landscape is a traditional co-protagonist also in the drawing La Crau from Montmajour, by Vincent van Gogh (British Museum, London; 1888). In the same year, the interest of the the Dutch painter in the railway is attested by paintings as Le train bleu or

The Viaduct in Arles and Wagons de chemin de fer, currently in the Muse Rodin at Paris and in the Muse Angladon at Avignon. Particularly in the latter case the artist focuses so closely on the trains, which there do not look in motion, as to exclude most landscape around. On the contrary, in The Yellow House (Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam; 1888) and in Landscape with Carriage and Train in the Background (Pushkin Museum, Moscow; 1890), a crossing train is removed so far, as to appear almost a minor detail. Nonetheless, in a letter to his sister Wilhelmina (ca. 12 June 1890; trans. Robert Harrison), Van Gogh writes about his latest work: These days I am working a good deal and quickly; by doing this, I seek to find an expression for the desperately swift passage of things in modern life. Yesterday in the rain I painted a large landscape, showing fields as far as one can see []; on the horizon a last line of blue hills, along the foot of which a train is passing, leaving behind it an immense trail of white smoke over all the green vegetation. A meaningful connection is evident, it is what the author himself strives to highlight, between the desperately swift passage of things in modern life and the detail of a train, which is passing, leaving behind it an immense trail of white smoke all over. With a concept borrowed from the art history, and peculiarly applied to 16 th century Dutch painting, we deal with something which has been defined as inverted perspective. An object or event, projected by the painter in the background, actually is the main portrayed theme, usually worthy of a foreground rendition, and not seldom signalized in the title of the artwork. In this way, it may assume a cryptic symbolic or problematic value. We might even confront The Yellow House by Van Gogh and such paintings as Butchers Stall with the Flight into Egypt (University Art Collections, Uppsala University) or A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms (North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, U.S.A.). The two slightly different versions of the same contrasting and tacitly polemical subject were painted in 1551 by the Dutch Pieter Aertsen, who later moved from Antwerp to Amsterdam after that some of his altarpieces had been destroyed by extremist Protestant iconoclasts.

3 Claude O. Monet, Train in the Snow, the Locomotive: Muse MarmottanMonet, Paris; and Outside the Gare Saint-Lazare: View toward the Batignolles Tunnels: Private Collection Especially, we may better compare Van Goghs The Yellow House and Landscape with Carriage and Train in the Background with A Greengrocers Stall with the Flight into Egypt beyond (or The Four Elements: Earth; National Gallery of Art, London; 1569), by Aertsens nephew and pupil Joachim Beuckelaer. What we have here in the foreground is not a landscape or a country sight; rather, a market natural still life. By looking at the picture, in the background on the left we can hardly discern the evangelical scene of a runaway Holy Family, while crossing a stream on a small bridge. On the right of The Yellow House, in the rear, instead we can discern a train passing on a bridge over a street. Is that only a vague similarity or a formal coincidence? Besides an inverted perspective, indeed there is an inversion of meaning, between a religious hopeful past and an estranging topical technics. Notoriously The Yellow House, or La maison jaune, was the residence of Vincent

Willem van Gogh at Arles in France. He committed suicide on 29 July 1890, nearly one month after the date of the above letter. How this sorrowful accident could coincide with a thoughtful and creative season of the Post-Impressionist artist, a pioneer of modern painting, it remains a mystery of the human soul even more than of his own life. Anyhow, if we wish to consider a less pessimistic perception and attitude to modern technics, we ought to have a look at The Railway by the French Impressionist Edouard Manet (National Gallery of Art, London; 1872-73). His art has been called the essence of a modern picture. Rather than of a passing train, which can be only guessed, there in the background the vision is of a cloud of steam. A little girl we can see her from back is staring at the unusual spectacle, through an iron fence. Seated nearby, her mother pensively gazes at us, while holding a sleeping puppy in her arms and an open book in her hands. Nature, culture and technics are represented altogether, but so separated by the transparent fence, as to form a visual and a moral rebus.

4 Edouard Manet, The Railway; National Gallery of Art, London The Rhythm of Modernity In his essay The Original Structure of the Work of Art, in 1994 the Italian philosopher

Giorgio Agamben wrote about rhythm and artwork: In a musical piece, although it is somehow in time, we perceive rhythm as something that escapes the incessant flight of instants and appears almost as the presence of an atemporal dimension in time. In the same way, when we are before a work of art or a landscape bathed in the light of its own presence, we perceive a stop in time, as though we were suddenly thrown into a more original time. There is a stop, an interruption in the incessant flow of instants that, coming from the future, sinks into the past, and this interruption, this stop, is precisely what gives and reveals the particular status, the mode of presence proper to the work of art or the landscape we have before our eyes. We are as though held, arrested before something, but this being arrested is also a being-outside, an ek-stasis in a more original dimension (trans. Georgia Albert). In our case, what we may infer is that the desperately swift passage of things in modern life evoked by Van Gogh in his above letter is also the ecstatic rhythm of modernity itself. It may be well represented by the motion of a train in the background of a country landscape, or else of an urban view. That is what the Metaphysical Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico will work in the second decade of the 20 th century: to introduce such a detail in urban views. An estranging, oneiric and almost surrealistic, effect is produced by the circumstance that those architectural views are mostly of Renaissance Italian cities. This group of paintings is known as Squares of Italy, or Metaphysical Town Squares. The outline of a moving train, or of a steam locomotive, recurs in the background, on the horizon of the view: nearly an authors signature in that period, what can be noticed in other quite different works as The Anxious Journey and Love Song (Museum of Modern Art, New York; 1913 and 1914) or The Anguish of Departure (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; 1913-14).

5 Vincent van Gogh, Landscape with Carriage and Train in the Background: Pushkin Museum, Moscow; and The Yellow House: Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam Such a modern ecstasy will turn into a technological enthusiasm, sometimes not safe from a rhetorical risk, in the pictorial production of vanguard movements as the Futurism, the Vorticism or the Constructivism. Not only figures of trains, but also motor ships, cars, aeroplanes and trams, will become synthetic expressions of a kind of mysticism regarding the mechanical motion and the industrial progress. A 1915 sequence of oil paintings by the Italian Futurist Gino Severini may be particularly indicative about, by going from Suburban Train arriving in Paris (Tate Modern, London) to Red Cross Train passing a Village (S. R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) and to The Hospital-Train (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam) or Armoured Train (R. S. Zeisler Collection, New York). These latest canvases tell us that the artistic revolution was early at an end, with the beginning of the First World War. For a few dark years at least, from a synonym of progress the technology will convert

into an instrument of mass death. Some a disillusion could not be not reflected by art itself. C. R. W. Nevinson, a British Futurist who had portrayed the war horrors, returned to gaze at the contemporary civilization with critical eyes. The title itself of his The Soul of the Soulless City (New York an Abstraction: Tate Modern, London; 1920) denotes a mood change. It shows an elevated railroad running up through Manhattan, toward a desolate scenery of skyscrapers. No train is passing, no human is visible. Dull colours suggest that the Futuristic feast, with its bright and fragmentary confusion, is over now. Nevinson s bitter ironical lithograph The Spirit of Progress (Private Collection; 1933) will show some Surrealistic influences too. More than at a Futuristic extroverted lesson, the pictorial Surrealism, developed in France in the 1920s, was actually looking back at introspective forerunners as De Chirico. In Time Transfixed by the Belgian Ren Magritte, a small smoking locomotive bursts into a quiet room from a fireplace like out of a tunnel or, rather, of the unconscious (Art Institute of Chicago; 1938). Over the fireplace, a clock indicates the hour and a wall mirror reflects the ambient. Is it a figure, standing for the conscience? Magritte himself did not deny this guess, at least, by specifying once that that room is a dining one.

6 Kasimir Malevich, Lady on a Tram Station: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1913); and C. R. W. Nevinson, The Soul of the Soulless City: Tate Modern, London Indeed, this odd and impressive composition-juxtaposition of elements might well remind us of the above quotation from Agambens essay, almost as an interpretative illustration or vice versa. However, even within the Futurism and surroundings we may

search for somewhat poetical images, which could work as anticipations of a Surrealistic evolution. For example, in Italy, some 1910 Milanese paintings by Umberto Boccioni; the kaleidoscopic What the Tram told Me by Carlo Carr (Museo dArte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto; 1911); above all, the later and much less optimistic postwar series Urban Landscapes by Mario Sironi. Also remarkable are Nollendorfplatz and Leipziger Strasse with Electric Tram, oils by the German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (Stiftung Stadtmuseum, Berlin, and Museum Folkwang, Essen; 1912 and 1914). In all of them, another detail or new subject makes its apparition. The opaque steam or the dark smoke of the old railway are replaced with a bright electricity. Likely, the image of an electric tram has something gentler than that of a powerful steam locomotive. With a nearly obsessive frequency, and along with the railway, the tramway will grow a protagonist in the production of the Belgian Surrealist Paul Delvaux. In his painting, they will become true phantoms or messengers of an updated, machinic unconscious. According to a psychoanalytic interpretation, the oneiric motif of trams should be a sexual metaphor. Surely it can appear so for artworks as Street of the Trams (National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; 1938), La Voix publique (Muses Royaux des Beaux-arts de Belgique, Brussels; 1948), Mujeres de vida galante (Art Collection of the Biblioteca Luis ngel Arango, Bogot, Colombia; 1962) or Final del viaje (Private Collection; 1968). In all these cases the images of trams, sometimes in the background, other times advancing toward the spectator, are associated to languid female nudes. Often, the scene is nocturnal, the atmosphere looks somewhat ambiguous. It is also true, especially Final del viaje End of the Trip looks so nocturnal and equivocal, that the artist, aware of an easy Freudian interpretation, seems to play slyly and melancholically with it. In one painting by him at least, La robe de marie (Private Collection; 1976), his eroticism becomes very nostalgic. In the foreground, a romantic nice girl is white robed as a bride. From the background, an old tram is coming forth presumably to reach her, but its tracks lie interrupted in a barren land.

7 Giorgio de Chirico, Ariadne and Love Song: Museum of Modern Art, New York; respectively 1913 and 1914 An Iron Age An explicit allusion to industrial modernity can be read in the title of another painting by Delvaux, very similar to La Voix publique except that there we have not a tram but a train impending in the background, at the stop of a railway station. That is The Iron Age (Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ostend, Belgium; 1951). We are allowed to suppose that such an age is opposed to a golden one, transfigured in dreams and mainly in that open eyes dream which art is, allegorized by the naked fair lady sensually lying down in the foreground. Yet here we like better to consider how this artwork well introduces us to an appreciation of Delvaux as a visual poet of old fashioned train stations, after Claude Monet albeit in a less realistic way. Even when not evident at the surface, a dreamy dimension is always latent in the formers works. The fascination of the tramway or of the railway is connected with an intuition of the

world as imagination. This does not mean scarce accuracy on details. On the contrary, they are so clear and precise, such as in dreams alone not seldom they occur to be. What Delvaux shares with other Surrealists is the combination of depicted elements, often incongruous in a disconcerting manner. Yet it is not so always, nor necessarily. In his paintings Train du soir (Muses Royaux des Beaux-arts de Belgique, Brussels; 1957), Gare la nuit (Socit Nationale des Chemins de Fer Belges; 1963), Solitude (Muse des BeauxArts, Mons, France; 1955) and its variant Nuit de Nol (Private Collection; 1956), the contents of the representation are coherent and quite normal, with relation to the portrayed scenes, all set in or close to railway stations by night. Nevertheless, the effect is enigmatic. That is, inside the reality itself, like a persistent mysterious side which the context of modernity concurs to stress and make uneasy, whereas trying to dissimulate or remove it. Not always in such scenes there are figures of persons. Mostly, they are female and seen from behind. In Small Train Station at Night (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; 1959), the only understood presence is of the painter or of the viewer, or almost an impersonal gaze from out of the picture. In the magazine La Lanterne (29 January, 1970), a comment of Delvaux was reported: I wanted to paint boredom, sadness, desire to get away from it all. Paradoxically, he adds: People are not necessary, for a station has its own life.


8 Paul Delvaux, The Iron Age: Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ostend, Belgium; and La Voix publique: Muses Royaux des Beaux-arts de Belgique, Brussels If we want to make a comparison with a Surrealist more, we may take a look at the paintings Premature Ossification of a Railway Station (Private Collection; 1930) or The Perpignan Railway Station (Museum Ludwig, Dsseldorf; 1965) by Salvador Dal. Again, especially the former looks nearly an illustration of the above quotation from Giorgio Agamben. Within a desert landscape a broken locomotive, lying down on its tracks in the distance, has failed in reaching the station in the foreground. Every detail is deformed, included a man or the long shadow of another guy maybe a woman near the station, and a big wall clock indicating the hour. Even better than an odd juxtaposition of elements, a Surrealistic device is the projection of everyday life scenes out of time, or of the tyranny of a chronological rhythm. On the contrary, the reduction of time to an amount of subsequent instants is one of modernitys devices, not less than the conversion of any value into money. On an ideal and visual level, railroad stations seem to be among the crucial places for such a

subversion, or recovering of an untimely perception of time. No wonder, the Metaphysical art as well as the Surrealism have been much appreciated by a Post-Modernist criticism. After all, Surrealism is a sort of realism. It literally strove to descend under the surface of reality, searching for a truer essence. If we deem that this is only psychological and subjective, a simpler term as Surrealism is preferable. From a philosophical viewpoint, we can rather call it Metaphysical, as the artistic movement led by De Chirico, when some an objective substance is presupposed. In practice, there is no apparent difference between the productions of the two movements, which were nearly contemporary with each other. As intuitable, a strong symbolic component is present in both of them, even if it is not so easy nor necessary, indeed to ascertain to what the symbols make reference. Showing this potential richness even of a banal reality, it would be enough, for a figurative work by Giorgio de Chirico titled Gare Montparnasse: The Melancholy of Departure (Museum of Modern Art, New York; 1914) as well as for the playful watercolour Station L 112 by the Swiss Abstractist painter Paul Klee (Kunstmuseum, Bern; about 1935), which does not show allegorical pretensions at all but just only hints at a possibility of further significance.


9 Paul Delvaux, Le dernier wagon: Muse Paul Delvaux, St. Idesbald, Belgium; and Final del viaje: Private Collection
Boredom, sadness, desire to get away from it all..., solitude, melancholy of

departure: actually, they are a few hints left by the artists themselves, in order to explain and popularize their fascination concerning the subject of trains and railway stations. Quite obviously, another inspiring feeling was the regret of a parting, such as already represented in Recalled on Service, by the British painter Robert Collinson, where a young woman standing on a departure platform farewells a soldier on his leaving train (Private Collection; 1863), or in the more choral Departing for the War by the Russian Konstantin Apollonovich Savitsky (State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; 1888). A Futuristic variation on the theme is The Farewells, in the series States of Mind by Umberto Boccioni (Museum of Modern Art, New York; 1911). A mix of all these impressions pervades an old fashioned, foggy group of images, titled Train Stations and pictured by the living Canadian artist Dragan Sekaric Shex (Modern Migration Exhibition, Galera Avellaneda, Havana, Cuba; June 2003). Evidently

not only trains, so many existential dramatic experiences passed along or through railway stations, that their memories contributed to what Delvaux defined as a stations own life. Going back to the first half of the 19 th century, with regard to the themes of our speech, an antecedent can be found in The Night Train, by the English watercolourist David Cox (Leeds City Art Gallery, U.K.; 1849). There, a train runs across a rural landscape, spreading smoke and sparks behind. Its noisy irruption terrifies some horses, on a hill in the foreground. The whole scene is moonlit, through a cloudy, gloomy sky. As for J. M. W. Turner, it has been asserted, Cox somewhat anticipated Impressionism thanks to his formal characteristics. Here, we rather remark the metaphoric value that his Night Train assumes, as a foresighted confrontation between technics and nature, at the trustful beginnings of the industrial era. Not in fine arts alone, also in poetry such a tension stirred up contrasting passions. Likely, Cox himself was inspired by a polemic Sonnet on the Projected Kendal and Windermere Railway, by William Wordsworth. In North-American literature, poems as Walt Whitmans To A Locamotive in Winter and Emily Dickinsons I Like to See It Lap The Miles are far more indulgent. In At the Station on an Autumn Morning, still perplexed in 1875, the Italian poet Giosu Carducci wrote: Plaintively, shrilly and stridently whistles/ the steam belched from the engine nearby. Leaden/ the sky, and the morning autumnal/ like a huge phantom over all hovers./ Whither and to what goal do these people/ hasten along, closely muffled and silent/ to the dark cars? To what unknown sorrows,/ to what vain torments of hope long deferred?.


10 Ren Magritte, Time Transfixed: Art Institute of Chicago; and Salvador Dal, Premature Ossification of a Railway Station: Private Collection Mobile Interiors Hitherto, we followed the eyes of modern art while watching trains, trams and railway stations, mostly from outside. An exception are the intrusions of Delvauxs gaze into station waiting rooms, as for Le train de nuit (Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan; 1947), but they are haunted by inexpressive and equivocal apparitions rather than by human beings. A less disquieting image is Le dernier wagon (Muse Paul Delvaux, St. Idesbald, Belgium; 1975). There too, a surreal naked woman is sitting in a third class empty carriage. Beyond the windows, a blue sky with just few bracket poles suggest that the train is moving. Instead, no doubt about a stationary train in The Indiscretion by the Belgian Constant Aim Marie Cap (Private Collection; 1895): here, the elegant lady is a real one and a gentleman is courting her through a window of the compartment. Edward Hopper, the North-American author of Railroad Train (Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; 1908), The El Station or Railroad Sunset (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 1908 and 1929), also depicted train interiors. In his Compartment C, Car 293 (Collection IBM Corporation, Armonk, New York; 1938), a female seated traveller is reading a magazine; this time, a nice country landscape sliding beyond the window is to warrant that this is a moving interior. Like Monet or Van Gogh in the 19 th, in the 20th century probably no artist as Delvaux and Hopper dedicated so much attention to the railway world. In different but confluent ways, both of them succeeded in expressing related and opposite feelings as a desire of escaping the humdrum of a petit bourgeois life, the loneliness of travel, a sense of transitoriness of the existence which modernity was vainly busy to dissolve. Not less than for Surrealists, Hoppers painting may even look like a subtraction of emotions from an existential flux of tendential nonsense, as well as from a diffuse condition of lack of personal communication. Despite these similarities, Delvauxs gaze remains a sedentary one, whereas Hoppers realistic almost hyper-realistic spirit of observation was rather influenced by a direct travelling experience. His House by the Railroad (Museum of Modern Art, New York; 1925) and Hotel by the Railroad (Hirshhorn Museum, Washington; 1952) are eloquent evidences of

that. The oil Chair Car (Private Collection; 1965), or the etching Night on El Train (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 1918), show a few passengers as precarious inhabitants of mobile interiors. Nor is an image lacking, as the juvenile Yonkers, where a brilliant yellow tram is still painted in an impressionistic manner (Whitney Museum; 1916).

11 Edward Hopper, Compartment C, Car 293; Collection IBM Corporation, Armonk, New York For a painter, a train compartment was not only a possible new setting, but also an occasion for an unusual framing of his pictures, for a dynamic relationship between internal and external view. And maybe something more, such as suggested in the sonnet Le Cadre by the French poet Charles Baudelaire: Comme un beau cadre ajoute la peinture,/ Bien quelle soit dun pinceau trs-vant,/ Je ne sais quoi dtrange et denchant/ En lisolant de limmense nature (from Les Fleurs du mal, 1857). That is, the stop and capture of an image or of a scene not so much from immense nature, as rather from the context of a jerky and dispersive world. Whereas in Chair Car the portrayed passengers are anonymous and


indifferent, in Night on El Train Hopper focuses on a flirting couple, upon a possible change or illusion of change in their lives, even if it might be for one night while the train is running in the dark. A century before, in The Travelling Companions by the English painter Augustus Leopold Egg, the couple was not made of a man and a woman. Two seated girls look so akin to each other, as to resemble twins or specular images, although the former is dozing and the latter is reading a book in front of her. Through the compartment open window, a splendid landscape of hills and water appears (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; 1862). Is that the I do not know what strange and enchanted, by Baudelaire? Is it there and then, where and when the immense nature and an artificial world may happen to have their unexpected, clandestine rendez-vous? Presumably, just only a poet or an artist can answer a question like that. Today, what we should do is working inside such a dangerous contradiction, for a reconciliation of those two aspects of modern life. What an art historian or critic can specify is that Egg was not new in giving his works a symbolic, even enigmatic value, as attested by the trilogy of paintings Past and Present (Tate Gallery, London; 1858). Yet about them, unlike for The Travelling Companions, he was used to explain his symbology, made of late Romanticism and social utopian concerns. In one sense, it is his later reticence, which makes him nearly a Surrealist long before the Surrealism.


12 Augustus L. Egg, The Travelling Companions; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Instead, reality as it is or was, this is the understood subject of the set of oil on canvas and watercolours altogether usually titled The Third Class Carriage, by the French painter Honor Daumier (ca. 1862-64). In order to better perceive the bitter irony of their social criticism, they ought to be compared with The First Class Carriage, watercolour by the same author (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; 1864), or all the more with Gentleman in a Railway Carriage by the younger French artist James J. J. Tissot (Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, U.S.A.; 1872). The pretentious attitude or open ostentation of these latest travellers is so clashing with the poor or modest people depicted in the former series, that every comment about the hard class differences in an early industrial age sounds superfluous. Gallant scenes within a train compartment became almost an iconographic clich, recurring in the artworks of the British Victorian painter Abraham Solomon. A funny annotation is that a scandalized criticism induced him to work out a revised version of his First Class: The Meeting, because in the former a girls father was dozing seated in a corner, while a young man verbally courted her (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; 1854). Obviously, in the latter the elderly man is wide awake, watching over the situation at the centre of the scene (Southampton Art Gallery; after 1854). In 1854, Solomon painted an analogous but sadder and serious picture, Second Class: The Parting, dealing with the forced separation of a family group, due to emigration supposedly to Australia or to other British Empire colonies (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra). Renewed by a curiosity of the journey, the joy of living in a low-middle class people returns to be the coloured topic in On a Journey to Beautiful Countryside by Adolph von Menzel, where the train is at a stop in a station along its trip. Even by means of binoculars, most passengers are admiring the fine landscape out of the windows (on load to the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg; 1892).


13 Honor Daumier, The First Class Carriage: Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; and The Third Class Carriage: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York An Inverted Perspective Did we neglect a light, in favour of a heavy rail? We will try to make up for this oversight. Reliably, the best hymns ever sung to a street railway were The Lost Tram and A Night Tram in Berlin. Composed in 1921, the former is set in St. Petersburg, and in a fancy elsewhere, by the Russian poet Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilev (or Gumilyov, with a varying transliteration). Gumilevs strange tram travels on aerial rails, not only across the space, but down into an imaginary past too. Its bridges step over rivers as the Neva, the Nile, the Seine. And a voice asks the poet: Do you see the station where you can buy/ a ticket to the India of the soul?. The latter poem was written in 1961 by the Turkish Nazim Hikmet. Albeit in a more realistic way, his trolley car runs not only across the town, but along a recent and tragic history too. The characters, who get on it at its stops, come out of a collective memory and an

individual regret as much as of streets and squares. Not less than the people and shadows evoked by Gumilev, or some figures depicted by Delvaux, they possess a visionary force. Unfortunately the text is too long and difficult to translate here, save for a few lines: The old age, the solitude and I, and some a sadness,/ all of us walk together side by side./ By night we get on a tram,/ which we do not know where is going./ But they are so clean and large, these three-carriage trams,/ that, although creaking and rattling, they carry us anywhere. This anywhere, like Gumilevs exotic elsewhere, mainly are spots of a mind topography or geography. All over the world, from Prague to Lisbon or to Rio de Janeiro, still today amateur or professional artists as the Ukrainian Yuriy Shevchuk and the Brazilian Sandra Nunes are specialized in painting outdoor views with old trams, less frequently tram interiors. Not without a nostalgic feeling there are several places, where an industrial archaeology is the only practicable one , others prefer to focus on a concrete and contemporary environment. One of them, the Australian Graham Lees, well expounds the reasons of a setting like that, referring to his modern town and to his work Smile on Number 971, dating from 2008: Melbourne goes by at a different pace, while in the tram people go into their own worlds, forming a microcosm of the city for the short while they are in there.


14 Abraham Solomon, First Class: The Meeting, former and latter versions; respectively, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and Southampton Art Gallery In a 1913 address to his disciples, On Beginning the Treatment, Sigmund Freud compared the psychoanalysis itself with a train ride, referring to the scenes appearing to a traveller through the windows. At last, we feel supported in playing with a psychological interpretation again. With the exception of Gentleman in a Railway Carriage, most pictures of interiors above considered show the presence of women, or a woman at the centre of the attention. Moreover, sometimes they are portrayed in a maternal attitude, as in the series The Third Class Carriage by Daumier and in the etching Interior of a Tramway Passing a Bridge by the North-American Impressionist Mary S. Cassatt, representing a seated group of mother, nurse and child, with a view of the Seine river at Paris beyond the windows perhaps of a horse tram (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; 1890-91). In not few 19 th century English or French pictures of omnibus interiors, a detail of mother and child was almost a stereotype. Those are the cases of Maurice Delondre, En omnibus (Muse Carnavalet, Paris; 1880);

John or Alfred? Morgan, Gladstone in an Omnibus (Private Collection; 1885); George William Joy, The Bayswater Omnibus (Museum of London; 1895). Especially the nearly propagandistic one, dedicated to the British Liberal premier William Ewart Gladstone, such paintings are animated by some a democratic spirit too. As the derived Latin denomination denotes, the omnibus were not only horse drawn public vehicles, ancestors of our buses and trams, but also accessible to everyone, without that showy distinction of social classes we have seen applied to train carriages. In particular Omnibus Life in London (Tate Gallery, London; 1859), by William Maw Egley, emphasizes this promiscuous dimension of a fortuitous meeting of different people, due to the development of a modern urbanized society. At this point, the vital image of a mother and child grows not so much a mere detail, as rather a sort of familiar good wish for a civilization which was born from a troubled transformation.

15 Adolph von Menzel, On a Journey to Beautiful Countryside; on load to the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg For sure, the sheltered setting of an interior like those looks suitable for a maternity scene. We may wonder about something more: if they might recall the image of a pregnant womb, curiously a transparent one, in a less or more conscious way. Peculiarly the case of Le dernier wagon by Delvaux, where its naked woman is depicted with a particular intensity and allusiveness, may leave us not so much perplexed about the plausibility of such a mental

association. Is that content an introverted projection, of what rather is the living source and container of an auroral life? Then, even the frequent representation of waters beyond the windows, as in certain mentioned artworks by Cassatt, Solomon, Egg and Hopper, might assume a cryptic sense, almost an amniotic fluid reminiscence. A well known proverb says, To leave is to die a little. More rarely though, it could be also a bit like to be born again... A Multilayer Background Thanks to an illusionistic inversion, the immense nature or an urban context, or even a contemporary history as in the painting The parting by Solomon and in the above verse by Hikmet, each of them may resemble a mobile beyond, whereas train or tram interiors stand for our own worlds. Like otherwise in a maternal womb, there we do not seem to be absolutely alone. The possibility of a meeting, of a confrontation or a proximity with others, is always at hand. Nowhere such an opportunity is described so sharply as in Snow Country, by the 1968 Nobel prize Yasunari Kawabata: The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky.... After this beginning of the novel quite evocative of the birth, indeed , a coachs window glass works as an imperfect mirror, which lets our passenger see through it while reflecting the illuminated interior, until the composite sight acquires a human connotation. That persistent overlay on the sliding landscape is but the reflected face of an unknown female presence, sitting in the same compartment. Only when the moonlight rises amid the mountains, the man gets aware of it.


16 Mary Cassatt, Interior of a Tramway Passing a Bridge: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and William M. Egley, Omnibus Life in London: Tate Gallery, London Respectively, we deal with a metaphor of the conscience and a perception of the existence as a trip into the unconscious, whereas modernity made us rather familiar with one portion of reality: just to say so, the interior of our existential vehicle. Nearly by a pictorial conventional device, as the inverted perspective, the unconscious is projected outward instead of inward, and vice versa with regard to conscience. What also betrays the original culture of the Japanese author and could be defined a phenomenological approach, at least since terms as psychoanalysis or metaphysics sound improper about a basically Buddhistic worldview: In the depths of the mirror the evening landscape moved by, the mirror and the reflected figures like motion pictures superimposed one on the other. The figures and the background were unrelated, and yet the figures, transparent and intangible, and the background, dim in the gathering darkness, melted into a sort of symbolic world not of this world. Particularly when a light out in the mountains shone in the center of the girls face, Shimamura felt his chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it... (trans. E. G. Seidensticker). Kawabata returns to the theme in Niji ikutabi (Rainbows; 1951). Again, a train emerges from a tunnel. This time, the traveller is a young woman. What unexpected she sees through the window of her compartment is a rainbow, arching over a hazy lake. No longer a
snow country, the land she admires is a late winter rainbow country. Sitting in front of 25

her, a young father holds a girl few months old. And a debated query is whether a so little baby is able to discern the rainbow, in the outside landscape. Most probably, not at all, the man replies, while his daughter smiles to the woman, Yet I will remind her of it anyhow, when she will be older. Some pages further on, we read of the still fresh effects of atomic bombs on the towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just only now we can realize a meaning level more in the beginning of the novel, nay of both novels, where the image of a running train grows a complex and powerful semiotic machine. What could appear a timeless, idyllic scene, turns into a tacit invitation to muse over and beyond a modernity at twilight. That is, else, an ever topical question: which kind of modernity, what use of technology?

17 Graham Lees, Smile on Number 971: Private Collection; for more information about, see the Website at Copyright 2010 Articles by the same author on like topics, at the Websites below:

18 Mario Sironi, Urban Landscape with Crashed Aeroplane (and tram in the background): Estorick Collection, London; ca. 1920