London in Art

london eye
Our capital has been portrayed so many ways over the years, and yet we still can’t get enough.  It is no wonder that is has attracted so many artists to paint its river, buildings, winding alleyways, grand landmarks, people and magnificent skyline.
A few of our favourites..
Great Fire of London (Oil on panel)
This painting has been dated to 1666, although we do not know who the artist was. It depicts the fire on the night of 4th September 1666, the third night of the raging flames. The level of detail suggests an eyewitness to the actual event as it so carefully depicts the City as it is engulfed by flames and the chaos as people rush to the Thames with their belongings. We see them scrambling into boats while others load their possessions onto horses, ready to flee the city. The extent of the fire can be seen from The Tower of London, right across to London Bridge which appears to have been spared thus far.
A high level of detail brings the terror and chaos experienced by those witnessing the fire to life. The depiction of the fire at night emphasises the huge, towering flames as they rise high above the capital, casting an eerie light on those attempting to escape.
This painting currently hangs in the Museum of London Linbury Gallery.
London Seen Through an Arch of Westminster Bridge (Canaletto) 
A beautiful view across the Thames at dusk, framed by one of the arches of the new Westminster Bridge with St Paul’s Cathedral to the right. The symmetry and uniformity of the frame is broken only by a solitary bucket hanging on the right side of the fame. It provides the perfect point of interest and is a nod to the unfinished nature of the bridge at the time of painting. It is thought that this painting was commissioned by Sir Hugh Smithson who was one of the people responsible for supervising the building of the new bridge.
The architectural detail is quintessentially Canaletto, and reminiscent of his earlier paintings of Venice. The composition reflects this work too, with the large expanse of sky and central placement of The Thames echoing the canals of Venice.
Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge 
Painted in 1872-5. One of my own favourite paintings. The truly dramatic nature of this composition makes it stand out amongst others. Perhaps it is not instantly recognisable as London, but the structure of the old Battersea Bridge looms high over the Thames here and the Albert Bridge is just visible in the background. The eye is drawn to the fireworks above the Bridge and the remnants falling in gold down towards the Thames. It is said that Whistler preferred the calm of the Thames by night and would go out with oarsmen to sketch before returning to his studio to paint.
Painted in 1872-5. One of my own favourite paintings. The truly dramatic nature of this composition makes it stand out amongst others. Perhaps it is not instantly recognisable as London, but the structure of the old Battersea Bridge looms high over the Thames here and the Albert Bridge is just visible in the background. The eye is drawn to the fireworks above the Bridge and the remnants falling in gold down towards the Thames. It is said that Whistler preferred the calm of the Thames by night and would go out with oarsmen to sketch before returning to his studio to paint.
This painting is part of Tate’s permanent collection.
Cover Image: ‘London Eye’ by Lee McCarthy