Catalogue entry

N00313 A View of London Bridge before the Late Alterations engr. 1758

Oil on canvas 285×545 (11 1/4×21 1/2)
Presented by Robert Vernon to the National Gallery 1847; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919
PROVENANCE ...; Robert Vernon by 1847
ENGRAVING Line-engraving by P.C. Canot, pub. 25 February 1758, as a pair to ‘A View of Westminster Bridge...’ (after no.144, q.v.) ‘to be had at Mr. Scotts in Henrietta Street Covent Garden’
LITERATURE Vernon Heath, Recollections, 1892, p.348; Hilda F. Finberg, ‘Canaletto in England’, Walpole Society, IX, 1921, p.49; Kingzett 1982, pp.43–9, version J, p.48

The view is of Old London Bridge as it looked shortly before 1760, when the houses upon it were finally demolished. The bridge itself (London's only bridge until the opening of Westminster Bridge in 1750) was constructed about 1209; its twenty piers supported nineteen irregularly spaced arches. Building upon the bridge itself progressed erratically over the next 600 years, without any coherent planning and subject to recurring disasters, particularly fire. Reading from left to right, the buildings depicted on the bridge itself are a group of houses last rebuilt after the fire of 1725; the Great Stone Gateway (originally built in the thirteenth century, incorporating a drawbridge and portcullis and impregnable to human attack), also rebuilt after the fire of 1725; a group of houses with railed roof gardens, rebuilt in the seventeenth century; the drawbridge, once regularly raised to let tall-masted ships pass, already ‘ruynous’ by 1500, when Henry VII insisted on its being raised (apparently for the last time) for his royal barges, and permanently ‘fixed’ in 1722; Nonesuch House, an elaborately decorated building pre-fabricated in Holland, slotted into the site of the Old Drawbridge Gate in 1577 and by now in the last stages of decay; a group of seventeenth-century houses known as ‘The Middle’, also with railed roof gardens; the remains of the Chapel of St Thomas, partially demolished in the 1550s, converted into tenements and latterly the premises of the stationers Wright & Gill; the Waterworks (with the Water Tower) which supplied the City of London; and, most recent of all, the block of elegant shops designed by George Dance the Elder, built about 1745 and known as ‘The Piazza’ from its inner, colonnaded street frontage. Rising behind the bridge are the church spires of St Michael, Crooked Lane and St Magnus the Martyr, with a view of the monument between the masts of the ship on the right (a key to this view, based on a drawing evidently derived from Canot's 1758 engraving after Scott, is given in Peter Jackson, London Bridge, 1971, pp.56–7).

N00313, painted as a pendant to no.144 (q.v.), is one of eleven versions of a composition whose popularity evidently owed much to general nostalgia for the bridge as it had appeared in former centuries. It is the Tate Gallery version which was used for Canot's engraving, published in 1758 (see above). Details of the other versions, and of the drawings in Scott's studio sale of 1773 on which the composition was probably based, are given in Kingzett 1982. The picture entitled ‘View of London Bridge as in the year 1757’ which Scott exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1761 (99) was, Kingzett suggests, probably the version now in a private collection, Canada (fig.55 is Kingzett's version C).

Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988