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I. K. Brunel
Acrylic on canva
242.6 x 119.4 cm
© Bryan Organ & the Redfern Gallery, London
Curatorial description (Accessed: 28 October 2015)
The painting is after Robert Howlett’s iconic photograph of the engineer standing in front of the chains of the 'Great Eastern' at the ship’s launch ramps on the Isle of Dogs. Brunel collapsed and died soon after the photograph was taken. The Bryan Organ painting is larger than life and was commissioned by Sir Peter Parker, last Chairman of British Railways.
The artist has replaced the chains with the portal of the railway tunnel at Box, and the picture originally hung in the Brunel Room at the Great Western Royal Hotel, Paddington. No longer manacled, the engineer stands at a doorway through which the sun shines on his birthday, if the stories are true.
The Victorians' favourite word for machines was ‘promethean’. The engineer is a romantic figure, like the Titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. Here he is unchained.
Rose Teanby (29 May 2019) has pointed out that "Howlett took the Brunel chains portrait in November 1857 and Brunel died on 15th September 1859. That's 22 months - not what I would describe as "soon after"".