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Art theme: landscapes

The term 'landscape' is broad and encompasses seascapes, cityscapes and townscapes too. Historically, landscape painting has been associated with scenes of the natural world. Sometimes the landscape depicted contains no figures or shows human activity as secondary to the environment. The category has become looser over time and representation can range from accurate depictions of the area to much more abstracted depictions of the land and sea.

Contextual background for teachers

Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844)
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)

Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: H 91 x W 121.8 cm

This is one of J. M. W. Turner's masterpieces, in which all of the elements of water, land and sky seem to fuse in a haze of brushwork. The foggy, natural atmosphere is cut through on a sharp diagonal by a manmade train. What is Turner saying about the role of this steel locomotion in the midst of nature's fields and waterways?

Can you spot the tiny boat on the left and the ploughman and his labourers on the right? Can you spot the tiny hare? (Hint: it's in the bottom right of the painting, on the track!) Before the arrival of the train – a symbol of industrialisation – a hare would have been considered very fast.

Do Turner's loose brushstrokes help to create this distinctive atmosphere? Is the scene a depiction of what he saw or what he felt? It is likely to be a combination of his memory and imagination.

Look, describe and discuss

Open a full-screen version of the zoomable image in a new window.

Ask your students to describe the artwork, encouraging them to simply say what they can see.

You can start by showing the whole image, and then use the zoom feature to explore details of the painting. Or you might like to start by using the zoom feature to show a detail from the image, and then zoom out to see more.

Encourage your students to look carefully – this is their superpower! It's best to not give too much background information about the artwork at this stage, so students can develop their own ideas and opinions.

Nudge questions

Now when looking at the painting, ask more specific ('nudge') questions:

  • What draws your attention most in this painting? Why?
  • What modes of transport can be seen in the painting? Where might they be heading? How fast are they going?
  • What kind of noises could you hear?
  • Look at the title. How important is weather to this scene? What's the weather like? Would you need a raincoat or a sun hat?
  • What effect does steam have on our ability to see things clearly?

Questions from The Superpower of Looking Kit

Now we can start to explore the 'elements' of the painting.

Use The Superpower of Looking Kit to ask questions about the artwork.

For this artwork you will focus on:

Ask your students to evidence their points:

  • where exactly are they looking when they make a statement?
  • can everybody see what they see?
  • slow down, take time to really look closely

You may like to introduce knowledge from the contextual background for teachers at this point.

Everyone learning

You can find out more about The Superpower of Looking® SEND/ASD/ALN approach on the Superpower homepage.

Now it's time to explore the artwork in different ways. This list of sensory activities encourages students to apply their learning and can suit a variety of learning needs.


  • In sketchbooks, draw around the original picture and continue the painting outside the picture frame. Will students expand the train journey or will they draw the train's destination?
  • Use chalks on dark paper to create a misty and smoke-filled scene such as Turner's.



  • Watch and listen to some of this video of steam trains at speed.

  • After listening to real steam trains, you may wish to quieten things down and calm the classroom with this five-minute meditation from The National Gallery which focuses on the painting.



  • Make a collection of toy trains and use items such as metal and cogs for the students to feel.



  • Explore moving like a train.



  • In small groups, task your students with using vocals (e.g. singing, beatboxing) and body percussion (e.g. clapping, drumming of fingertips) to create a soundtrack that evokes Rain, Steam, and Speed. How will they depict the wind and rain? And the noises of the engine and the train chugging along the track? Ask each group to take a turn to perform their piece and feedback as a group.
  • Alternatively, use musical instruments to create the soundtrack for the painting as a whole class. Untuned percussion would work particularly well such as rain sticks and cymbals, but you may wish to include other instruments you have available.
  • Learn the Makaton sign or British Sign Language for 'train'.

Final stage: review

Ask your students to:

  • share their sketchbooks in groups and discuss the 'elements' they have identified
  • choose an element/aspect they find most interesting about the artwork and record it in their sketchbooks
  • choose their own name/s for the title of the artwork
  • think of a question they would like to ask the artist



You have now completed this lesson resource on The Superpower of Looking.

There are more resources in this theme to try – have a look at the 'next lessons' section below.

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