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Hopper captured a singular vision of 20th century American life as it developed before his eyes, and in the 1908 landscape 'Railroad Train' his new realist eye is applied to the junction between the urban and the rural: the end of a passenger train hurtling across a landscape, heading out of shot; on its way where, the artist leaves us to wonder.
This work presents a sense of Hopper catching a moment in what was becoming a fast-paced world. Newly settled in America from his time in Paris in the two years prior, 'Railroad Train' presents little of the precision that would become his signature style, yet the single moment it captures is alive with possibilities; it presents an artist forcing the world to stop, while also keeping it headlong in motion.
Of the tail of the train, its red lights shine and a trail of smoke occupies to top half of the canvas. Coupled with the hint of motion in the wheatfield alongside and the slightly angled shot, a sense of motion being captured is firmly established. There is an unmistakeable pace to this work, demonstrating the carriage in stark contrast with the open field, otherwise seemingly untouched by technology and progress. Stop for a moment, the piece appears to urge, while one still can.
It is telling, however, that the eye is drawn not to the railroad, nor to the landscape, but off to the right of the canvas where it is headed. The journey is represented as unfinished, but destined to be completed - and its trajectory pre-determined and defined. As we can see only half the train in motion, so we see only half the story, the rest of the journey towards modernity yet to be explored, perhaps, but already mapped out.
The brushwork is soft and fluent, allowing the layers to fall into one another, portraying simplicity yet also confidence. Each brush stroke remains visible, yet can also blend into the cohesive whole. The piece makes visible the process of its creation as well as its finished product. Hopper presents on this canvas some anticipation of the possibilities of the future, yet also calls attention to the painstaking process that is required to reach it.