Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Coalbrookdale by Night

The last posting got me thinking about the idea of the industrial sublime, and the painting below which is often used to illustrate it. The Royal Academy has a Loutherbourg etching of the Ironworks, Coalbrook Dale which is much less menacing, and, going further back to 1777, there is a painting, Morning View of Coalbrook Dale by William Williams, where the industrial smoke is just a baleful presence in the distance... But with Coalbrookdale by Night the delightful horror of the new industry is evident in a fiery drama, set, according to this article, at a place called Bedlam Furnaces.

Philip James de Loutherbourg, Coalbrookdale by Night, 1801
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In his book Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe describes the way the industrial revolution changed the nature of the sublime. ‘The limitlessness once found in nature gives way, in technology, to a limitlessness produced out of an idea which is not interested in being an idea of nature, but one which replaces the idea of nature.’ The Coalbrookdale furnace is a new force in the world, but for ‘the industrial subject’ this kind of sight will henceforth be ‘part of the landscape. The landscape potentially now has in it forces comparable in power with nature, but products of reason rather than forces that just are...’


Anonymous said...

I understand this is an old post of yours. However, despite this being in the informal setting of a blog, it would be polite to provide full reference for your quotes. Not a criticism just a suggestion

Plinius said...

Thanks 'Anonymous'. As you say, I wouldn't want to spoil the flow with references, although I'd give more details if a book like this wasn't easily found via google. Might have helped to have a page number but it's a short book!