The scenery and landscapes of London has long been the muse of artists who were born in or moved to the city to hone their craft. Some of the most famous cityscape paintings in the world are of scenes from London, either the iconic sights that people will instantly recognise or documentary of life of the normal folk of the capital going about their business.
Some very famous artists have lived and worked in London, many of whom have chosen to make studies of the city as part of their art. The places and people of London have proved to be very inspiring for some very well-known painters whose works depicting the city and its life have been celebrated by galleries and critics.
Although most widely known for his oil paintings, JMW Turner was one of the greatest masters of watercolour landscapes. Of these, a number were painted of views of London and his great use of light showed the city as having a wonderful glow.
In 1881, Turner published an etching of a view of London from Greenwich from which most will recognise some of the most noticeable landmarks. The domed roof of St Pauls and spires of Westminster Abbey can be seen over Greenwich Park and put into context the ways in which the city has changed in the past 130 years. From this work, he went on to paint a number of studies of London architecture, including landscapes of a number of the Thames bridges and a dramatic, almost impressionist-style landscape of a fire at the House of Lords.
A number of Turner’s London landscapes are in the collection at the Tate Britain gallery in Millbank.
Several years after Turner started to use impressions of light and shade in ways the realists that came before him would have frowned upon, Monet brought impressionism to the London landscape with a vengeance. His oil painting of the Thames below Westminster is a masterpiece of using light and silhouette to bring a feeling of dawn over the river.
The painting, along with others of Monet’s works, is at the National Gallery near Trafalgar Square.
A much more contemporary painter but no less influenced by the landscape of London, Virtue takes impressionism to the point of abstraction and produces complex monochrome works that leave the viewer with an impression of the city unlike any other.
Rather than giving his works titles Virtue chooses to number his paintings, leaving the viewer even freer to place whatever interpretation on the piece they wish. Described by the National Gallery as “[riding] the fine line between impressionism and figuration,” Virtue draws on the work of Turner and Monet in the creation of his own works.
While there are some more abstract paintings in his portfolio, there are some paintings that are unmistakeably London and will be recognisable to anyone who looks.
Virtue was an associate artist at the National Gallery between 2003 and 2005, and a number of his works can still be found amongst the collection.
There are many paintings by some of the old masters of the London landscape that will still strike a chord with the modern visitor to the city. However, London continues to be a muse for many artists visiting or living in the city and inspires creative minds to invent new and interesting perspectives on the way the architecture impacts on its people.