Paintings of the Week: the Thames

Houses of Parliament, Sunset, by Claude Monet

This week all the paintings I feature, by various artists, are of the River Thames.

I remember when I first came to London from University, and a gang of us stood at the bank of the Thames, and looked at the light display on the roof of the Hayward Gallery, and it was well…magic.  Venice has the same effect on me; so does Paris; but it’s the combination of water and city that = magic.

Edinburgh is the one exception; there’s  a furrow through the city where the river ought to be, but there isn’t one; and it’s the castle on the hilltop that makes the city magic.   

Years ago I had a conversation with an Indian man living in my street who talked of a region in India which locals believed was haunted; or, more accurately, it was as if the place itself had a soul.  And I certainly feel that often; that’s why I love certain places, which create in me certain particular moods. 

My first radio play Gin and Rum was about a man obsessed with London who could actually hear and see the ghosts of those who had died in the streets of London; he had an extraordinary memory for facts, but he didn’t just remember history, he felt it.

I’m not quite as bonkers as that; but I do believe cities have souls.   And London’s soul is best felt along the river Thames.

Several of the paintings below (and above) are by Turner, Whistler or Monet.  These artists connect in complex ways. When Monet visited London in 1870-1 he visited Whistler in his studio, and saw some of the great works of Turner (who died in 1851) at the National Gallery. 

Like Turner (who once allegedly had himself tied to the mast of a ship at sea in order to paint the effects of wind and water) Monet took pride in braving physical dangers to paint ‘en plein air’.  Ironically, though, it was the London smog which was most injurious to the health of artists; and it was the smog too which helped created the astonishing sunsets which Monet painted. Even taking into account Monet’s impressionist technique, London simply doesn’t look like that now.

Also featured are Canaletto, who loved London almost as much as Venice, and Fauvist Andre Derain.

A View of His Majesty's Dock Yard at Woolwich by John Clevely the Younger

Brown and Silver, Old Battersea Bridge by James McNeill Whistler

Somerset House from the Thames by Edward Dayes

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament by J.M.W. Turner

The Thames Estuary by Philip Wilson Steer

London Seen Through the Arches of Westminster Bridge by Canaletto

Nocturne in Blue and Silver by James McNeill Whistler

Old Battersea Bridge by James McNeill Whistler

Houses of Parliament, Effect of Sunlight in Fog by Claude Monet (subtly different to the top one!)

The Thames and the City of London from Richmond House by Canaletto

The Burning of the House of Lord and Commons by J.M.W. Turner (more flames than the Burning of Parliament, above)

The Pool of London by Andre Derain

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