Art gallery shapes social history of the railways

New gallery at the NRM in York showcases thousands of paintings, prints and photographs that chart the history of the railways.

In the spring of 2011, a state-of-the-art, climate controlled exhibition space was created at the National Railway Museum in York.

Funded by the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, it is seen as the 'missing link' which finally enables the NRM to showcase its 1052 paintings by important British artists including Spencer Frederick Gore, Abraham Solomon, William Powell Frith and John Piper.

Richard Jack RA's British Industries, Steel, on display at the National Railway Museum

Without the new gallery an exhibition of 19th-century woodblock prints of the first railway in Japan could not have been loaned from the Modern Transport Museum in Osaka.

Helen Ashby, Head of Knowledge and Collections, says: "The only way our better pictures have been seen till now is as loans to other galleries."

William Orpen's The Night Mail, on display at the National Railway Museum's new art gallery.

The vast collection reflects society’s often emotional relationship to the train and embraces 11,270 posters, 1,750,000 photographs which date back to 1850, and 2358 prints and drawings. Choicest among these, Helen says, are prints by J C Bourne made around 1838 during the construction of the London and Birmingham Railway.