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The Art of JAMA
September 1, 2015

GasometersCyril E. Power

JAMA. 2015;314(9):860-861. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.11951

Gasometers, also called gas holders, were large tanks for storing coal gas and maintaining pressure in distribution lines. In Great Britain, gas holders were common features of the industrial landscape before natural gas became the primary source of fuel for powering streetlights and heating homes. They were often constructed at the sites of gasworks, which manufactured coal gas by carbonizing coal. Although many gas holders are still standing, most are no longer in use.

Some gas holders were enclosed in steel cages called guide frames, as seen in Gasometers, a monotype print by the British architect and printmaker Cyril E. Power (1872-1951). In this image, the gas holder is the red cylinder in the lower right corner. Gas holders were designed so that the upper part of the tank nested in the lower part and expanded vertically to accommodate increases in pressure. The height of the guide frames in this picture indicates the maximum height of expansion. Power, whose first career was architecture, composed many images of mechanical structures such as escalators, metal staircases, and the tubular passages of London’s underground transportation system. The energy and speed of mid-20th-century urban environments appealed to him, as did linear forms that took up space, such as cylinders and spirals. In this respect his work is reminiscent of an early 20th-century British group of artists called the Vorticists (The Art of JAMA, April 9, 2014).

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