When The Railway Station was exhibited in London, 21,150 visitors paid to see it during its seven week exhibition.
An engraving of The Railway Station by Francis Holl was published in an edition of more than 3,000 (1866)
Tony Judt notes the social significance of train stations in the 19th-century:
"As the design of the station made quite explicit, railways were never just functional. They were about travel as pleasure, travel as adventure, travel as the archetypical modern experience. Patrons and clients were not supposed to just buy a ticket and go; they were meant to linger and imagine and dream....That is why stations were designed, often quite deliberately, on the model of cathedrals, with their spaces and facilities divided into naves, apses, side chapels, and ancillary offices and rituals. As the locus classicus for such winks and nods to neo-ecclesiastical monumentalism, see St Pancras Station (1868) in London. Stations had restaurants, shops, personal services. They were for many decades the preferred site of a city's primary postal and telegraph offices. And above all, they were the ideal space in which to advertise themselves."
Tony Judt, "The Glory of the Rails," The New York Review of Books, vol. LVII, no. 20, (23 December 2010-12 January 2011): 61.
Frith explained why – before painting Railway Station - he avoided scenes of modern life:
“I don’t think the station at Paddington can be called Picturesque, nor can the clothes of the ordinary traveller be said to offer much attraction to the painter – in short, the difficulties of the subject were very great, and many were the warnings of my friends that I should only be courting failure if I persevered in trying to paint that which was in no sense pictorial.”
Quoted in Shearer West, Fin de Siecle. Art and Society in an Age of Uncertainty (London: Bloomsbury, 1993), 55.
According to Andrea Korda Frith was a savvy entrepreneur:
“Frith chose to exhibit his…blockbuster work, The Railway Station (1862), at a commercial gallery and drew 21,150 people into the gallery over the course of seven weeks.”
Andrea Korda, “’The Streets as Art Galleries’: Hubert Herkomer, William Powell Frith, and the Artistic Advertisement,”Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 11/1 (Spring 2012).
Similar works by other artists
James Tissot, Waiting for the Train, 1871-73 (Dunedin Public Art Gallery)
Karl Karger, Arrival of a Train at the Northwest Railway Station in Vienna, 1875 (Belvedere Museum, Vienna)
George Earl, Going North, Kings’s Cross Station, London, 1893 (National Railway Museum, York)
George Earl, Perth Station, Coming South, 1895 (National Railway Museum)