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London: Westminster Bridge (The Thames, Westminster Bridge under Construction)
Philadelphia Museum of Art: The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
London: Westminster Bridge (The Thames, Westminster Bridge under Construction)
Oil on canvas
81.6 x 137.2 cm
32 1/8 x 54 in.
The view is from the right of Parliament Stairs along the Westminster side of the Thames, looking north along the river. On the left is St John's Smith Square, Westminster and Westminster Hall beyond, separated from the Thames by Cotton and Speaker's Gardens. St Paul's Cathedral appears in the distance opposite.
London, BI 1847 (100), lent Revd. H. Palmer
Robert Palmer (d.1787); by descent to 1916; John Howard; McFadden collection, Philadelphia; Philadelphia Museum, 1928
Signed and dated: R. Wilson | 1745
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[1] Samuel Scott (c.1702-1772), The Building of Westminster Bridge, c.1742, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven and numerous other versions
[2] Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768) Westminster Bridge, with the Lord Mayor's Procession on the Thames, 1747, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven
When Wilson painted the picture he was still working principally as a portrait painter. However, his attention to the broad sweep of scenery surrounding the bridge and sensitive rendition of light show his profound interest in landscape long before he went to Italy in 1750. The work may be seen as a typical product of the English rococo style, with continental roots, including the compositional formula of a Venetian veduta, plus a pair of elegant foreground figures, in the manner of François Gravelot (1699-1773), a Parisian draughtsman and engraver who worked in London between 1733 and 1746. Gravelot played a major pedagogic role at the St Martin's Lane Academy, where Wilson is reported to have been in regular attendance. The long narrow shape of this painting suggests that it may have been intended originally as an overmantel. In comparison with P10 this work shows the bridge with an additional arch. The five arches towards the right still retain their wooden centering.
C. Labelye, Description of Westminster Bridge, 1751; Roberts, Connoisseur, January 1919, pp. 6-7, repr.; WGC, p. 180 pl. 44a; Solkin 1982, pp. 146-47 under cat. 5
The building of the bridge, though much resisted by vested interests such as the City merchants and Thames watermen, greatly increased the convenience of travelling within the metropolis, especially between the north and south banks and Westminster and the City.The architect, Charles Labelye, named the 20 July 1746 as the date when the last arch was keyed, making the bridge passable for pedestrians and horses (Description of Westminster Bridge, p. 75). Evidence of the continuing function of the watermen at this date, however, is obvious from the boats plying the river. By the mid-19th century, the bridge was subsiding badly and becoming expensive to maintain. The current bridge was designed by Thomas Page and opened in 1862.
Constable noted that the signature lay in the original paint film but that the date might have been repainted or reinforced. In 1982, Solkin noted that the painting was much damaged.