Summary

This is probably identifiable as a painting sold by Samuel Scott at auction in April 1765 as 'A Morning, with a View of Cuckold's Point', together with 'Its Companion, a Sun Set, with a View of Nine Elms' (T01235) (quoted in Einberg and Egerton 1988, p.193).

As the original title indicates, the picture includes a view of Cuckold's Point, situated at a sharp bend in the river on the south bank of the Thames, close by the church of St Mary's, Rotherhithe. The wholesale reconfiguration of the Thames riverfront and the lack of comparative visual material of the period, mean that the identification of the present view as the picture sold by Scott in 1765 is not entirely secure. However, the cool grey light in the picture does indicate that this is a morning scene. In addition Scott has included, towards the right, just by the stairs leading to the river, a large post surmounted by a pair of horns. The post marked the site of Horn Fair, established in the Middle Ages, according to local folklore, by King John (1167?-1216) to compensate a local miller whose wife he had seduced. Horns were, of course, the traditional symbol of a cuckold.

Samuel Scott's pictures were seldom literal transcriptions of local topography. He habitually moved objects and omitted them for pictorial effect. At the same time he was a passionate observer of nature and made numerous outdoor sketches which were later incorporated into finished pictures. A pencil and grey wash drawing, which appears to be a study for the right hand side of the present picture, belongs to the Huntington Library and Art Gallery (Tate 1988, p.195, fig.51). A second study entitled 'Four Men Careening the Hull of a Boat with another Bringing Faggots for their Fire' (Einberg and Egerton 1988, p.195, fig.52) relates closely to the group of figures on the shore to the left of centre, who are caulking the boat with pitch heated over a fire.

It is not known exactly when Scott painted this picture, although he began to paint similar views upon acquiring a riverside home at Twickenham in 1749. Another version of this particular composition (private collection) was apparently purchased from Scott in 1761, suggesting that the Tate picture may have been made at around the same time.

The whereabouts of the present picture was unknown for over 160 years when it was sold by auction in 1927 as 'The Thames at Deptford', together with its pendant, then called 'The Thames at Battersea'. At that point the works were sold separately. The present work was presented to the National Gallery in 1944, and transferred to the Tate Gallery in 1953. The Tate Gallery purchased its pendant in 1970, reuniting the pair.

Further reading:
Richard Kingzett, 'A Catalogue of the Works of Samuel Scott', Walpole Society 1980-1982, vol. 48, 1982, pp.76-77, plate 27a
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth. British Painters born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery 1988, pp.193-6, reproduced in colour

Martin Postle
June 2001