Turner is generally considered to have deplored the Industrial Revolution. The absence of men, and of man made objects (apart from ships being ripped apart by seas) from his paintings, suggest the dominance, the arrogance, the victory of a Nature more sublime, more divine, than any person could comprehend.
Looking at his paintings makes me feel small. The dazzling light, with even shadows being aglow with crimson and gold, the suggestion of space stretching beyond fences set by eternity, the brush strokes that veil a sharp, clear scene in a hazy mist of light, elements of the awesome, the titanic: a sort of gentle rebuke that the world is, always has been, and always will be, greater than we can possibly imagine.
This particular picture disturbs those fragments slightly. The eye is instantly drawn to the black train, the solid bridge, away from the sky in its gently coloured turbulence. The train is not still: it is moving, and moving fast, so fast it should be a blur, and it is a blur, but at the same time, concrete and arrogant, master of the painting.
I can't separate the painting from the artist. What was he thinking? What was he trying to say? If you look at the Romantic artist as a prophet like figure - is this the prophecy Turner was making? Did he, with shimmering oil paints in lieu of a crystal ball, look out of his window one morning, towards the end of his life, and feel, with a sharp, short stab, that the future was one of rain, steam, speed? Goodbye seas that play merrily with history's ships, goodbye endless skies that throw Icaruses down, let's all get into a train and move as fast as we can, try and run over Time itself, and see where it takes us?
And what of the hare towards the bottom right corner? Nature runs too. But can it beat the flashing black steamlined monster that is beautiful in its way: human hands are capable of creating beauty, even the sounds of harsh screeching metal and spitting steam cannot deny that.
And as the old man set his brushes aside and gazed at it, in his studio perhaps, with polished wooden floors and a wind scented sunrise pouring through the windows, did he think to himself that he'd created a promise, or a warning, or perhaps a bit of both? Or did he simply smile ruefully, knowing that all the black steam engines in the world wouldn't be able to strip the sun that he'd spent a lifetime worshipping of its splendour, though vainglorious attempts would try.