British industrial power

British industrial power

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Title: Cardiff docks.

Author : WALDEN Lionel (1861 - 1933)

School : American

Creation date : 1894

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 127 cm - Width 193 cm

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 85EE2011 / RF 1052

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Cardiff, located at the mouth of the Severn and a symbol of British industrialization, is at the end of the XIXe century a very active port. This port function explains the very rapid growth of Cardiff, whose population rose from less than 20,000 inhabitants in 1851 to 129,000 inhabitants in 1891.

Image Analysis

In 1894, Lionel Walden, specialist in seascapes and ports, presented at the Paris Salon the painting entitled Cardiff Docks. Like Whistler, another American painter from New England who had won over London landscapes or like Monet who had magnified the railroad in his painting Gare Saint-Lazare, Walden is part of a movement here that sees smoky industrial landscapes as worthy of the artist's gaze, unlike a whole tradition that denied this status to the machine world.

What is striking about this port panorama is that there is no water in it, while the sky, barred by three plumes of smoke, occupies more than a third of the canvas. Everything here is the work of man and the gigantism of the fireplace which almost comes up against the top of the painting manifests this demiurgic power of man in industrial society.

What mainly caught Walden's attention were the technical equipment and warehouses surrounding the ponds. The traffic lights, the steam locomotive, their reflections, the ghostly light, the smoke falling on the damp docks, give an unreal atmosphere to a canvas, more than half of which is occupied by switches and railroads, symbol of industrial power.

In the background, the masts of sailing ships dominate, and the superstructures of steamers are rare: in 1894, the British merchant fleet numbered some 13,000 clippers and a little over 8,000 steamers, but the latter had a very large tonnage. higher and their share is already preponderant.


The fascination with the great export port of the black Welsh country and the exaltation of British industrial power could not make us forget that from this time on, British supremacy was threatened by other countries. The table highlights the importance of rail safety networks, with electricity becoming, since the 1880s, the real lever for industrial growth. In this new industrial revolution, the leading roles are held by the IIe German Reich and the United States of America, of which the British are not yet aware ...

  • railway
  • electricity
  • modernism
  • Harbor
  • industrial Revolution
  • UK
  • steel industry


François LOYER, The Century of Industry, Geneva, Skira, 1983.

Brian Redman MITCHELL, European Urban Statistics, 1750-1970, London, The MacMillan Press Ltd, 1975.

Patrick VERLEY, The industrial Revolution, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Folio", 1997.

To cite this article

Jean-Luc PINOL, "British industrial power"

Video: Factories and Machines - History of Britain A11