The First Railroad Train on the Mohawk and Hudson Road
Edward Lamson Henry (1841-1919)
Oil on canvas
42 3/4 H x 110 W
Gift of the Friends of the Institute through Catherine Gansevoort Lansing
Edward Lamson Henry's paintings are largely genre scenes or depict events from recent American history. Thus, they document the nostalgia that was widespread at the end of the nineteenth century in America. This was Henry's largest and most famous painting. He made it for an exhibition in the Transportation Building of the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. It commemorates an event of six decades earlier, the first trip using a steam locomotive on the route from Albany to Schenectady. By the 1890s, American railroads were a matter of national pride, and these early experiments were hailed as the beginning of a new era in travel. The detailed painting was likely based on a lithograph that was, in turn, based on a silhouette picture made at the scene. Although the train was the newsmaker, Henry gives at least as much attention to the spectators gathered to watch it. The engineering marvel of the DeWitt Clinton (the train in question), is also on full display for viewers to admire. The dimensions of the work—it is almost three times as wide as it is high—echo the expanse of the American landscape the train is conquering.