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By David Rooney on

Waterloo – couldn’t escape if I wanted to

Keeper of Technology and Engineering, David Rooney, takes a closer look at Waterloo Station by Terence Cuneo.

While I was at the National Railway Museum last week, looking at the wonderful George Earl paintings, I also reminded myself of the splendour of Terence Cuneo’s giant view of London Waterloo station, painted in 1967.

‘Waterloo Station’, Terence Cuneo, 1967.

It’s quite a feat. Measuring 20 feet by 10 feet, it is Cuneo’s largest painting and was commissioned by the Science Museum for its then-new Land Transport gallery. Cuneo painted it in the gallery itself, surrounded by locomotives, cars and bikes all shrouded in protective sheeting prior to the opening.

The view is the same as that taken by artist Helen McKie for her pair of paintings of the station at war and at peace, made for publicity posters in 1948, also in the museum collections.

Waterloo Station - war, watercolour by Helen McKie, 1948 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)
‘Waterloo Station – war’, watercolour by Helen McKie, 1948 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)
Waterloo Station - peace, watercolour by Helen McKie, 1948 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)
‘Waterloo Station – peace’, watercolour by Helen McKie, 1948 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

Across all these railway station views, by Earl, Cuneo, McKie and others, the detail is remarkable and makes them really valuable not just to art-lovers and railway enthusiasts but to historians keen to learn more about everyday life.

Waterloo station has changed quite a bit since then. Now electric trains ply the platforms. The Eurostar terminal has come and gone (it’s moved to St Pancras – now there’s a station to explore), and passengers can now speed directly to the thriving Docklands and east London on the Jubilee Line extension underground.

But some things stay the same. The station clock still keeps time, suspended over the concourse, favoured meeting point in the days before mobile phones replaced ‘when and where’ with ‘text me when you’re near’…

6 comments on “Waterloo – couldn’t escape if I wanted to

  1. That marvellous gigantic Cuneo Painting brings back my memories of the last days of steam at Waterloo.

    Cuneo’s trademark mouse is in the painting too – if you look hard enough at the original!

  2. I would love to know my current whereabouts of the Cuneo Waterloo painting, which I was unable to see when it was at York. Although not normally credited, my father worked as Cuneo’s assistant on the painting, and indeed can actually be seen walking across the concourse with his easel under his arm! Can anyone help?

  3. Thanks Joe. The Terence Cuneo painting of Waterloo is on show at the National Railway Museum, in their Station Hall. Great to hear your connection to the work! Thanks and best wishes, David Rooney.

  4. If you are interested in the work of Helen McKie, there are two pencil and wash sketches in Bonhams Bury St Edmunds sale on 15th July. One on a fast train the other war time lot no 374 they are in with a lot of other bits and should have been list alone. regards Christina

  5. The Helen McKie ‘war’ and ‘peace’ posters are wonderful, and contain enough detail to keep one coming back to them time and again.
    At the Watercolours + Works on Paper Fair, 3-6 February 2011, at the Science Musuem, we will be showing the two original poster-size watercolours, as well as nearly 20 of the sketches McKie did at Waterloo during the war.
    Entry to this exhibition, generously loaned by the NRM, is free.

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