This early 18th-century view of Covent Garden looks east, from the portico of St. Paul's Church towards Russell Street. The view is compressed, bringing all the buildings of Covent Garden closer together and making the market place seem smaller than it is.
The painting is inscribed with the monogram 'FVA' on a wheelbarrow, to the left of the composition. Two other views of Covent Garden by Frans van Aken or his brother, Joseph, are known to survive: one in the Museum of London collection and another in a private collection. This is the only signed example.
The sundial column (seen here in the centre of the square) was paid for by wealthy residents of Covent Garden and erected in 1668. It was removed in 1790. Tom King's notorious coffee house is the wooden building depicted to the right of the work. The coffee house is also seen, along with the drunken revellers who frequented it, in Hogarth's painting ‘Four Times of the Day: Morning’ (National Trust). However, Hogarth wrongly placed the wooden structure directly in front of St Paul’s Church.
Joseph van Aken is first known to have practised in Antwerp, where he was probably born. In about 1720 he moved to London with his brothers, Arnold and Alexander, also painters. In London Aken initially produced conversation pieces and crowd scenes, before later specialising in painting drapery for portrait painters, including Hudson and Ramsay. He was so successful in this role that he was able to purchase works by other artists, such as Rembrandt’s ‘Entombment’ and three models by Michael Rysbrack. In 1748, Aken visited the leading painters of Paris, Flanders and the northern Netherlands during a trip with several fellow artists, including Hudson and Cheere. He died in London the following year, leaving a wife but no children.
Inscribed with the monogram 'FVA' on wheelbarrow to the left of the composition.
With Sidney Hand Galleries, London, by 1920; with Vicars Brothers, London, by 1930; by whom sold through Christie's, London, 12 July 1946 (Lot 129), for £283.10.0; from which sale purchased by ‘Mrs. Gladstone’; collection of Mrs. W. M. Gladstone; by whose executors, sold through Christie's, London, on 16 March 1976 (Lot 150); from which sale purchased by Leger Galleries, London; from whom purchased by the Department of the Environment in 1977
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