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Painterly Armchair Travels – London Landmarks Edition

Canaletto, St. Paul's Cathedral, 1754, detail, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT

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Painterly Armchair Travels – London Landmarks Edition

Since everybody seemed to enjoy visiting Paris through paintings, why not take a look at London? Just like Paris, London is a popular destination for artists and tourists alike, and it’s full of iconic places to see. Let’s enjoy ten London landmarks through artists’ eyes. How many do you recognize?

Big Ben

Big Ben London Landmarks

George Hyde Pownall, Big Ben over Westminster Bridge, date unknown, private collection

Big Ben is probably London’s most recognizable icon. Even in the foggy background of this painting, there’s no mistaking it. Big Ben is Parliament’s official clock tower, and it’s actually called the Elizabeth Tower. We’ll talk about the Houses of Parliament a little later on. Artist George Hyde Pownall was known for gorgeous and atmospheric scenes of London landmarks like this one.

The British Museum

British Museum London Landmarks

Vilhelm Hammershoi, From the British Museum, Winter, 1906, Fuglsang Kunstmuseum, Toreby, Denmark

If you love art (and I assume you do if you’re reading this), you can’t miss the British Museum. There, you can see treasures from across world history, like the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles. In this painting, Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi shows the museum’s 1823-52 Neoclassical building as though he was approaching it along the street. Hammershoi liked muted colors and stark compositions, and he used both to great effect in capturing this celebrated British institution.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace London Landmarks

British school, The Christening Procession of the Prince of Wales Leaving Buckingham Palace, London, 1841-5, Museum of London, UK

Thanks to the recent Royal Wedding, Buckingham Palace is certainly among the most popular London landmarks. The Palace has been the site of such royal festivities since 1837, when Queen Victoria made it her official home. Parts of the structure are more than a century older than that, though they were heavily remodeled right before Queen Victoria’s time. This painting, by an anonymous British artist, depicts a key moment from those early years of royal residence – the Christening of Victoria’s eldest son, the future King Edward VIII.

The Houses of Parliament

London Landmarks Houses of Parliament

David Roberts, The Houses of Parliament from Millbank, London, 1861, Museum of London, UK

The Houses of Parliament (also known as the Palace of Westminster) are obviously important to the British government, but they’re also significant to architectural history. After a fire destroyed the entire complex that used to be on the site, Gothic Revival proponent Sir Charles Barry designed this beautiful structure with help from the even-better-known Gothic Revival proponent A.W.N. Pugin. The building was just finished at the time of this painting. The artist, David Roberts, painted several views of the Houses of Parliament and other structures along the Thames River. He claimed that his goal was to record London for posterity before industry altered it irreparably.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park London Landmarks

Girolamo Pieri Pecci Ballati Nerli, Elegant Figures, Rotten Row, Hyde Park, London, date unknown, private collection

Every fashionable city needs at least one fashionable park, and London’s Hyde Park certainly fits the bill. In this painting, well-dressed Londoners frequent Rotten Row, a tree-lined avenue inside Hyde Park. It’s a strange name for a lovely-looking place, and you can read about why it might have gotten that title here. Even more interesting, though, is artist Girolamo Pieri Pecci Ballati Nerli. (Talk about a name!) Nerli was a well-traveled Italian aristocrat best known for works he painted in Australia and New Zealand. Like his better-known contemporary Giovanni Boldoini, he was part of the quasi-Impressionist Italian art group the Macchiaioli.

Pall Mall

Pall Mall and St. James Street London Landmarks

John Atkinson Grimshaw, London, Pall Mall; and Saint James Street, c. 1880-9, private collection

The London street of Pall Mall, located in the Saint James section of the city, has long been associated with art, intellect, and leisure. It looks absolutely beautiful bathed in the golden evening light as seen in this painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw. The artist, an English native, was a skilled landscape painter particularly drawn to nighttime lighting and atmospheric effects. This painting is a wonderful example of his style, which is dreamlike, romantic, and unforgettable.

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus London Landmarks

Arthur Hacker, Flare and Flutter: Piccadilly Circus at Night, 1912, Brighton and Hove Museums & Art Galleries, UK

Piccadilly Circus is one of London’s main districts for shopping, clubs, and entertainment. It’s in the West End, which is home to London’s most important theatres. This painting has a semi-abstracted, modernist feel that’s unusual for traditional classicist Arthur Hacker. However, it manages to beautifully capture the bright lights and movement of the area. Through the haze, it’s still easy to make out the lines of taxis and crowds of people pouring into the area for a night at the theatre.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul's London Landmarks

Canaletto, St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1754, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT

When most people think of the painter Canaletto, it’s Italy rather than England that comes to mind. There’s a good reason for that. Canaletto was an eighteenth-century Venetian painter, and he’s still well-known today for his precise representations of Italian landscapes and architecture. But in some cases, he applied this same style to London landmarks instead. St. Paul’s Cathedral is almost certainly the most famous church in London. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built from 1675-1708.

The Tower of London

Tower of London London Landmarks

Albert Goodwin, The Tower of London 1897, Lancaster Maritime Museum, Lancaster, UK

The Tower of London is known as the site of some gruesome events, but doesn’t it look pretty here? The artist, Albert Goodwin, was an English landscape painter who studied with the Pre-Raphaelites and was most prolific in watercolors. His oil paintings are much rarer, but this one still shows his preferred blue color palette. Goodwin is said to have been influenced by Turner, and that’s very evident here.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square London Landmarks

George F. Carline, Armistice Night, Trafalgar Square, 1918, Government Art Collection, London

Trafalgar Square is an important public square in London. It was named for the famous Napoleonic Naval battle of Trafalgar, in which Admiral Horatio Nelson was the hero. That big column you see in the middle of the image supports of the statue of Nelson. However, that’s not the only patriotic thing going on here. The scene depicts celebrations that took place on the night of November 11, 1918, to celebrate the Armistice – the official end of World War One. I love how a few scattered fireworks light up the otherwise-dim evening sky in the upper half of the painting. As a bonus, several other London landmarks are visible on the skyline. How many can you identify?

Find out more:

Alexandra believes that enjoying the art of the past is the closest she can get to time travel, only much safer. When she’s not being an art historian, she can usually be found ice skating and dancing. Visit her at ascholarlyskater.com.

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