T01929 THE OUTSKIRTS OF LONDON: A VIEW LOOKING TOWARDS QUEEN SQUARE 1785–6?
Inscribed verso in pencil ‘varnishd. with Sizes/16 Decr. 1785’
Oil on paper, 9 7/16×13 (24×33)
Purchased from Ian Fleming-Williams (Grant-in-Aid) 1974
Coll: The artist, by descent to Elphinstone Farrer; Mrs. Elphinstone Farrer, sold Christie's, 2 July 1954 (222, with ‘A Hilly Landscape, with a Church’), bt. Colnaghi, by whom sold to Ian Fleming-Williams October 1954
Exh: Marble Hill House, 1970 (77, repr.)
Jones returned to England in November 1783, after seven years in Italy. For the next six years he lived chiefly in London, accepting the fact that ‘my professional Career was at an End, for excepting a few Commissions from three or four friends, whatever I have done in the walk of Art since, has been for my own Amusement-’ (ed. A.P.O[ppé], Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Walpole Society, XXXII, 1951, p.141). He retired to the family estate at Pencerrig in Wales in 1789.
The impromptu character of T01929 itself suggests that the view was painted ‘for my own Amusement’; it remained in the artist's collection during his lifetime, and in the collection of his descendants until (with 34 others in gouache or oils) it was sold at Christie's in 1954. In Italy Jones had developed the habit of making sketches in oil on paper of buildings seen from the windows or rooftops of his lodgings; in Naples in May 1782, for instance, he records that his window ‘looked into a Small Garden, and over a part of the Suburbs’, offering a view of churches, convents, houses and hills, ‘all of which Objects, I did not omit making finished
Studies of in Oil upon primed paper’ (Memoirs, op. cit. p.111). T01929 shows Jones adapting this practice to the London climate. That ‘idiosyncratic, fastidious colour-dusty blue, silver grey, touches of ochre and dark green foliage’ which Ralph Edwards notes in Jones's Italian views (Introduction, Marble Hill House exhibition, catalogue, p.9) still distinguishes T01929, though now the colours are muted, and lack the telling contrasts offered by the sharp fall of Italian light.
We are indebted to Nicholas Cooper, National Monuments Record, for identifying this as a view looking towards Queen Square, Bloomsbury. The artist's viewpoint is apparently the vicinity of Bedford Way, Russell Square, looking east. The middle distance offers, on the right of the centre, an oblique view of both sides of the northern end of Queen Square, with the trees of the square gardens between them. A glimpse of the gardens of Great Ormond Street leads on the left to a more distant view of houses in Lamb's Conduit Street, on the left of the centre, with an avenue of trees leading to the Foundling Hospital (out of sigpt on the left). The two spires in the distance on the left are those of the parish churches of St. Leonard, Shoreditch and St. Luke, Old Street; the squat church tower crowned with a turret is that of St. James, Clerkenwell, as it appeared before rebuilding began in 1788.
Queen Square was fully built by 1720. It remained open to the north until almost the the end of the eighteenth century, as Jones shows it, and as Edward Dayes depicted it in his view looking up Queen Square from the south, dated 1786 (watercolour, coll. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon; engraved by Robert Pollard, published 1789). Fanny Burney, whose father Dr Charles Burney occupied 39 Queen Square from 1770 to 1774, praised their ‘delightful prospect of Hamstead and Hygate’ in a letter of 16 November 1770 (ed. A.R. Ellis, The Early Diary of Frances Burney, 1768–1778, 1, 1907, p.104), and years later, recalled their then unobstructed view ‘of the hills, ever verdant and smiling, of Hampstead and Highgate’ (Madame d'Arblay, Memoirs of Doctor Burney, 1, 1832, p.289). That Queen Square and its neighbourhood were still, in the late eighteenth century, regarded as on the outskirts of London is evidenced by Fanny Burney's remarks on her family's move in 1774 to St. Martin's Street: by comparison with Queen Square ‘an odious street-but well situated, and very nearly in the centre of the town’, much more convenient both for ‘business’ and for ‘facilitating fashionable and literary intercourse’ (Early Diary, I, p.313; Memoirs, loc. cit.).
Development around Queen Square began in 1785, when the governors of the Foundling Hospital which owned the neighbouring land began to sell it to builders. Local residents brought a Chancery action to restrain building: unsuccessfully, for the expansion of London could not be halted (Hugh Phillips, Mid-Georgian London, 1964, pp.209, 293–4). The workman in the brick-earth or gravel pit in the foreground of Jones's view perhaps offers a hint that development of the site is imminent.
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978