London in Pictures

We’ve rounded up some poignant images artists have created of the capital over the last few hundred years.

We may not notice it on a day-to-day basis as we walk past a tower block or sit on a park bench, but some of London’s simplest scenes can be transformed into the most thought-provoking with the right brushstrokes. We’ve rounded up some poignant images artists have created of the capital over the last few hundred years, but rather than focus on specific places or monuments, these works depict contrasting aspects of the city, from the daily grind to pretty landscapes, social issues to fashion movements.

William Hogarth – Gin Lane, 1750
Hogarth created this infamous drawing for a campaign to restrict the sales of gin. At the time the spirit could be cheaply distilled by anyone who had a bathtub (sometimes using toxic substances in the process) and its low price meant abuse was rampant. The tawdry scene depicted in Hogarth’s work is set in Bloomsbury, featuring characters who have seemingly lost their lives to the drink. For maximum impact, Hogarth drew a semi-naked woman too drunk to realise her baby is about to fall to its death, a baby impaled on a stick, and a hungry child struggling to steal a bone off a dog. The campaign was successful - in 1751 the Gin Act was passed, which placed restrictions on where gin could be produced, leading to an increase in quality and a reduction in consumption.

Turner – The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 1835
One of the most influential British painters, J.M.W. Turner was labelled “the painter of light” due to his penchant for brilliant sunsets and vivid skies. In The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons he pits fire against moonlight resulting in a dramatic play on light; the buildings themselves are quite secondary. Turner witnessed the fire from a boat on the Thames but he also walked through the distressed crowds who had gathered to watch the disaster, hence the addition of swarms of people at the bottom of the painting. Yet despite the subject matter, the painting manages to be beautiful rather than tragic.

Claude Monet – Hyde Park, 1871
The scenes most favoured by Monet during his stay in London were the Houses of Parliament, the mist surrounding Westminster Bridge and the Thames, but he also found time to paint Hyde Park, in simple yet realistic depictions of green grass, pathways and well-to-do strollers. The French Impressionist was an expert at creating serene, aesthetically pleasing images, and his portrayals of London’s most famous park were no exception.
Andre Derain – Waterloo Bridge, 1906-7
In 1906 Derain travelled to London with the intention of producing a series of paintings of the city to rival Monet’s. His colourful, almost cartoon-like images are a stark contradiction to the Impressionist’s dreamy works, with some art critics likening his use of colour to psychedelia pre-dated by 50 years. The technique employed in Waterloo Bridge is pointillism, with shimmering golds and greens for the sky and water. The overall result is energetic and cheerful, a portrait of a city in constant movement.

Walter Sickert – Mornington Crescent, c 1912
Walter Sickert’s most famous paintings are his gritty Camden Town Nudes, however he also painted other scenes from his local neighbourhood, usually focusing on the mundane day-to-day activities of Camden’s local inhabitants. Mornington Crescent is crudely painted, with thick brushstrokes outlining a street in the area he chose to call home. He also did numerous paintings of one of his favourite haunts, the Old Bedford Music Hall on Camden High Street, and local hostels for the poor.

David Hockney – Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1970-1
The subjects of this artwork are fashion designers Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, whose collections epitomised swinging 60s London – Birtwell’s colourful, romantic prints were perfect for the ‘flower power’ era. The couple were close friends of Hockney’s, who began work on this portrait shortly after they married. Although based on a snapshot, Mr and Mrs Clark modelled on several occasions at the artist’s studio, and Hockney repainted Ossie’s head a dozen times till he was satisfied with the result. This iconic painting is one of Hockney’s best known works, and ranked 5th in BBC Radio 4’s Greatest Painting in Britain poll in 2005.
Leon Kossof – Outside Kilburn Underground, Spring, 1976
Kossof’s take on the daily commute is a bleak one, with thick, harsh brushstrokes and muted greys illustrating the isolation of London’s tube travellers. Faces are sad and each character has a distinctive outline, suggesting their disassociation from fellow passengers. Throughout his career Kossoff, who was born in the East End to Jewish parents, painted the grimier side of London, showing urban suffering and repression.

Lucian Freud – Leigh under the Skylight, 1994
From the 1950s onwards Lucian Freud focussed his attention on nude portraits. At first many of his models were anonymous, however in later years he would have artists, models and members of the aristocracy pose for him. His portrait of Leigh Bowery, the performance artist known for his outrageous costumes and for launching the nightclub Taboo, is both disarming and hugely expressive. Here the man at the centre of 80s London’s alternative fashion and art scenes stands on top of a table, emphasising his huge form, stripped bare of outlandish make up and clothing, drawing the viewer into him. The thick brushstrokes and exaggeration of flesh are typical of Freud’s work.

Sonia Boyce – Untitled (Kiss), 1995
Boyce’s print shows a white male kissing a black female, raising questions regarding interracial relationships in 90s London. Is it surprising, shocking, cause for celebration, or does it incite no reaction at all? Boyce, a Londoner of Caribbean descent, uses racial issues as a recurring theme in her work.


Author: Leila Hawkins