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A Refuge for Genius
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In Monet’s Footsteps
An American in London
Lesser-known, Home-grown
Self-guided walk - Part 1
Self-guided walk - Part 2
Self-guided walk - Part 3
Self-guided walk - Part 4
Self-guided walk - Part 5
Self-guided walk - Part 6
Self-guided walk - Part 7
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SISLEY by the Thames
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Part 4 – From Hungerford Bridge to Waterloo Bridge

If you are continuing your exploration from the previous picture [13] then walk to end of the footbridge and descend the stairs to Embankment underground station and then cross the road and go down to the Passenger Boat Pier. From here you will get almost the same view that the anonymous artist had who painted South Bank of the River Thames, between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges, c. 1870[14]. Again, the complete transformation of the opposite bank of the river is evident. The railway bridge on the right is the same but is now obscured by the addition of the distinctive white metal footbridge. As previously mentioned, the bridge at Waterloo is a more recent version. The substantial building topped by an impressive lion statue, in the centre of the picture, is the Lion Brewery. The Royal Festival Hall now occupies the site and the lion is now found watching over Westminster Bridge. The Shot Tower’s presence has now been replaced by a distant view of The Shard, the glass and steel creation of Renzo Piano, completed in 2012 and surely the ultimate monument, some would say folly, to the forces that shape our modern way of life. The rest of the south bank in this view is now home to other cultural venues including the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the National Theatre complex, all built in concrete, the material of choice of the late twentieth century.

Now cross back over the main road and enter the Victoria Embankment Gardens, a delightful oasis of relative peace and quiet with an opportunity for refreshment at the cafe in the grounds. If you keep walking east you will come to a statue of Robert Raikes and just behind that is the Savoy Hotel. This is about as close as you can get to where Monet painted Cleopatra’s Needle and Charing Cross Bridge, c. 1899. Although these can still be glimpsed through the trees, it is probable that his exact vantage point was his room on the sixth floor of the hotel. An addition to the scene that is very evident today is the London Eye and Monet would no doubt have enthusiastically embraced this impressive piece of engineering as a subject for his art.

Monet once again occupied rooms at the hotel in 1900 and 1901 but this time on the floor below, his previous suite being occupied by wounded soldiers from the Boer War. The artist was a creature of routine and after a hearty breakfast he would spend the morning working on views of Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge from the balcony of his room. Considerable research has been done to pinpoint the exact rooms that Monet occupied, but this is all academic really as they are all out of bounds unless you have several hundred pounds to occupy a room that may once have seen the great man at his easel. It is sufficient to know that from somewhere on the fifth floor he produced such masterpieces as Charing Cross Bridge, Overcast Day, 1900[15] and Waterloo Bridge, London, c. 1903[16]. Paintings from this extensive Thames series are now to be found galleries all around the world.

Exit the gardens and continue to Waterloo Bridge, ascending the rather smelly stairs to the bridge itself. It was from this upstream side of the bridge that Pissarro painted Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1890[17], looking back towards the Houses of Parliament. He would recognise much of what can be seen today but would have been surprised by the London Eye, an unmistakeable symbol of the twenty-first century. Other additions to the scene further upstream are the Millbank tower and St George Wharf Tower, a new residential skyscraper at Vauxhall. The distinctive outline of the neo-gothic No. 1 Whitehall Place, formerly the National Liberal Club is still to be seen on the right of the picture but the towers of Westminster Abbey are now slightly obscured by the Ministry of Defence buildings. It is interesting to compare Pissarro’s vision with that of André Derain’s Fauvist interpretation of the same scene painted in 1906–07 in Hungerford Bridge at Charing Cross[18]. Realistic representation and even the capture of atmosphere have been completely overwritten by this bold experiment in non-naturalistic colour. It was from this end of the bridge that Derain also looked down on the road below in Victoria Embankent, 1906–07.

The vistas, both upstream and downstream, from the centre of the bridge are truly stunning and you can almost hear Samuel Johnson whispering in your ear ... ‘No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ What he would make of the Gerkhin, the Shard and other such symbols of our age can only be speculated upon but the result is a skyline of architectural variety that must surely be unequaled anywhere in the world.

Before descending to the embankment at the far end of the bridge, pause to take in the view upriver towards Hungerford Bridge and you will again see the motif captured in another of Derain’s colourful compositions. This is called Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1906–07[19]. The picture is dominated by the railway bridge with tell-tale clouds of steam from trains making their way to and fro. Amongst the industrial buildings on the left is the Lion Brewery which has already cropped up in several paintings.

By clicking on most of the images you will be taken directly to the appropriate website to view the painting at a better resolution.