Completed Continental European after 1800 39 Do you know what type of train is in 'Train in Landscape with Cork Trees'?

Topic: Subject or sitter

Where is this place and what type of train is it? Do you have any more information on the artist?

National Railway Museum, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Edward Stone,

The artist record has been changed to 'attributed to' Eduardo de Alba y Masas and the painting title to ‘Train in a Spanish Landscape’.

These amends will appear on the Your Paintings website by the end of July 2015. Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.


I cannot comment on the type of train, but I am sure these are not cork trees (see image attached). They are more like pine trees or conifers. Something about the landscape feels to me South American not Spanish.

Is it possible the locomotive is similar to this Portuguese locomotive?

Might it be then Brazil?!

2 attachments
Martin Hopkinson,

Can someone check the signature to make sure that it does not read 'da Alba' rather than 'de Alba'?

Alice Read,

After enlarging the image on Photoshop I would say it reads 'de Alba', however what do the collection think?

Martin Hopkinson,

The Royal Botanic Gardens and Library at Kew should be able to identify the trees and state in what parts of the world that they can be found, if an image was sent to them

Kirsty Hooper,

Does the museum have any information about the picture's provenance?

A M,

Apparently that shape foliage is called a "vase" and trees that grow very tall quickly and concentrate their foliage at the top do so to avoid fire and grazers.

They look like the trees around Rhode Monument in Cape Town: mountain cape town 09/cape town table mountain a11.jpg

A M,

If these are definitely cork trees, they seem unusually tall ones. They're higher than the telegraph poles in the painting. But I found a picture of tall cork trees in Spain like this in the Sierra de Aracenan on the Andalusian/Portuguese border.

I don't know anything about trains, but it looks a bit like the Tren de la Fresa (Strawberry Train)?

Have you tried contacting the Spanish railway museums?:

Azpeitia Railway Museum (Basque Railway museum)
Gijón Railway Museum (Museo del Ferrocarill de Asturias)
Railway Museum in Madrid (Museo del Ferrocarril)
Railway Museum in Vilanova (Museu del Ferrocarril de Catalunya)(Catalonia Railway Museum)

Here's quite a good English site about railways in Spain

Mark Robinson,

I have had a suggestion forwarded to me via Steam In Action that the scene might be South African. Neither the locomotive nor the scenery look like anything from this part of the world.

I am certain that this is not correct and with regard to the Rhodes' Memorial trees, these are stone pines with the lower branches removed to protect them from the fairly regular fires on the slopes of Table Mountain.

Mark Robinson (Chair - Cape Railway Enthusiasts Ass.)

A M,

I was just going by the title of the painting above.

Martin Hopkinson,

Are those animals in the foreground right at the edge of the pond? If so, could we have an enlarged detail so that it can be identified where they are known?

A M,

The utility lines beside the track can provide a lot of clues.

Most likely I'm not telling the National Railway Museum anything they don't already know, but as far as I can see this painting shows classic wooden poles carrying five, evenly and vertically spaced, single, uninsulated telegraph transmitter wires and one earth wire, supported by (or under?) five insulators, overground, for commercial companies rather than the railway.

This dates the painting at least after 1843 which was the first time overground lines were used, and after 1855 if this is Spain.

The style of pole places it outside North America (unless very early) because they graduated towards cross arms. Most likely Europe, Asia or Australia.

If you could see whether the poles are made of wood, concrete or metal (Oppenheimer) this would narrow things down further. If wood, which type of wood, whether they are well or roughly made and whether they are weather treated could tell you more still.

The distance between and height of the poles and the tension of the wires could indicate whether this is a rural or urban location and whether it is a main or branch line because such things were standardised. I think this painting may be less rural than it looks and may be the edge of a town. I think I might just about make out a guy rope terminal on the ground in the foreground of the painting, if this is the case it might indicate that the painter is next to the dead end pole, which in turn indicates he is just outside the station or signal box - which would make sense because if you wanted to paint a train,the station might be the best place to be rather than the middle of the wilderness with one train going past per day.

The single, evenly spaced wires indicate these are communication rather than power lines or a mixture of both. The fact they are uninsulated suggests they are early. I think the number of them may be significant and give you information about the telegraph patent or companies involved, but I don't know enough about the technology to say for sure. But telegraph wire was very expensive so this number of wires does suggest that it is supplying a main urban hub (and it would be its business and commercial district). In Spain due to the peculiarities of the smaller market and centralised control of telegraph patents, this is likely to be one of the major cities.

I can't see the insulators or their brackets well enough to get much of an impression of them. But if you could provide a higher res image and it was possible to make out whether they were glass, porcelain or ceramic and what their colour and shape were you could be quite precise about their location. In England, vitrified porcelain was soon selected as the insulator material instead of the cheaper glass. On the continent, glass insulators of the Little pattern were the usual choice.

I also can't tell whether this is using Single Wire Earth Return or Common return which might be informative. A high res might show this.

Equally informative is what is missing from the line, e.g. Signal box points on the ground at intervals.

Whether it would tell you any more than a railway map I don't know, but telegraph maps from the period are available.

You could perhaps try contacting, Ericsson and Telefonica's archivists regarding the history of Compañía Telefónica Nacional de España (CTNE).

Further information:

History of Technology Volume 30: European Technologies in Spanish History edited by Ian Inkster, Angel Calvo of telephone in spain&f=false

Martin Hopkinson,

They do look like umbrella pines found all over theMediterranean

Martin Hopkinson,

The Maremma cannot be ruled out, but the Ebro valley in North Eastern Spain is full of pines and is in a plain

John Middleton,

The locomotive does not look South African - although its difficult to tell (and of course there may be an element of artistic licence), it seems to have a fairly large squat boiler (or possibly saddle tank) with what might be a sand dome with sand pipes leading down, the cab roof appears lower than the dome and chimney. There are some Spanish locos that are not too dissimiliar. However, a key clue is the rolling stock which appears to have elevated brakemans positions - these were not used in the Cape as far as I am aware, Spain / Portugal or Latin America seems more likely.

A M,

Andrew Greg. Apologies, I misunderstood your question in my previous reply.

The reason I thought they were Cork trees was that The Telegraph article refers to the author riding through Cork groves so I assumed that this was what the photo was of. However later in the article it also refers to Holm Oaks.

But in fact the trees in the painting and the photo don't look like either of those two species. They do look like pines, e.g Sylvester Pine.

Based on the fact that the utility poles are likely to be 20-25 feet high, the trees look around 30 foot tall.

Louis Musgrove,

The steam lcomotive looks like a tank engine- similar to a Dale 2-2-2 of about 1860, but almost no detail to go on. Is that a man sitting astride the top of the boiler?

A M,

Louis Musgrove, actually on closer inspection I think you are right, it looks like a man leaning across to the sand dome or the steam dome. He looks like he's wearing a dark green uniform and flat cap.

A M,

Regarding the train's lamps, it looks like there are,

- A headlamp at the top of the smoke box (front), set to red.
- A classification (class) lamp, (kerosine, oil, electric?) on the right side of pilot, either switched off or set to white.
- Possibly a smaller class lamp on top of the headlamp, set to white.
- Possibly a smaller class lamp on left side of the water tank set to green.

The headlight places this outside the UK because they weren't used here (although this is obvious from the landscape anyway).

The colours and positions of steam train lamps conveyed semaphore signals called Head Codes for Wayside signalling regarding the train's destination, schedule and cargo. Unfortunately the codes varied according to date and train company. Usually it seems, red means the train is stationary or in reverse, while green means another train in the section was following it. Given that there seems to be a man leaning over the engine, I guess it's stationary.

Wayside signalling with flags dates back to 1832, oil lamps were introduced in 1842, electrical ones in 1882.

There are some anomalies in the picture:
- Usually a headlamp wouldn't change colour, the class lights would.
- It seems like it would be quite unusual to only have one class light on the pilot as it would have required the driver to keep moving it. So perhaps this tells us something about the train route (e.g it always went in the same direction on a single track).
- And there aren't any coloured flags in use, but perhaps they weren't used at night.


Picture showing steam train lamps:

A M,

Actually further to what I said before about there being no flags I can just about make out a blue signal flag on the top left of the train's smoke box (top right as you look at the picture). It was difficult to see. Blue apparently signals that there are workers around or under the train.

Martin Hopkinson,

Umbrella pines can also be found on the French side of the Western Pyrenees at Guethary near Biarritz and Bayonne see Whistler's early portrait of his mistress Jo, 'A White Note.'

Tim C,

A higher resolution image would allow enthusiasts to identify the train and the trees!

Tim Williams,

Benizet says painter from Madrid died 1900. 'Student Edouard Plelayer, awarded distinction at exhibitions in Madrid, 1895, 1897, 1899. Museum of modern art notes a picture by him titled 'Troupeau de brebis' (flock of sheep).

Tim Williams,


The benizet entry is under Alba (Edouard de) and I mispelled Pelayer, which I assume is one of his family names also.

National Railway Museum,

Thanks for all your comments, which have been very helpful. It does seem quite likely that the painting is by de Alba y Masas and I'll amend our records to reflect this tentative attribution. In response to some contributors' requests for more detailed views I've attached images of the signature, the locomotive and the trees.

3 attachments
Alice Read,

I have now amended the artist of this work - does the collection want the title changed to ‘Train in a Spanish Landscape’?

My apologies for not coming back to this discussion sooner.
I agree with the recommendation to close this discussion, which seems to have reached a satisfactory conclusion and been accepted by the NRM as a useful contribution to their collections knowledge.

Patty Macsisak,

This photograph may help you visualize the engine and the coal car, but not the cars which follow. The rectangular element on the roof of the car which follows the coal car is a mystery to me.

If you click on "Back to Gallery" near the lower left corner, you can see other British engines (often the source of engines used in continental Europe) from the same era.

Below is a link to a gallery of steam engines on permanent display at the railroad museum of Madrid, which may be able to provide additional information.

Edward Stone,

The collection has emailed and accepted the change to the title.