Steam? One of the most studied periods in history was the so-called Industrial Revolution, and steam had a lot to do with that. It hit England in the early 1800's and much of Europe only a little later in the century. Sociologically, it's hard to overstate the impact this coming of the machine had on daily life. Like most drastic changes, it had both positive and negative effects for the citizens of every society it touched. Most of all though, it gave birth to a permanent "middle" class.
And how did the Industrial Revolution effect painting and painters? Well, among other things, it brought a new clientele to the painting market and a new awareness of the daily lives of those who now, thanks to the machine age, could afford the time and money to collect art. Artists like Gustave Courbet devoted a lifetime to portraying these people, and in so doing opened up a new avenue of subject matter, portraying peasants, workers, merchants, and other contemporary individuals in a serious spirit.
|The Stone Breakers, 1849, Gustave Courbet|