Painted in 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, this painting by Cosmo Clark takes the church of St Clement Danes as its subject. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and completed in 1682, the church occupies a site on the Strand next to the Royal Courts of Justice. The original site of the church is believed to date back to the ninth century, with a range of possible theories as to its connection to the Danes. During that period, when ‘Danelaw’ governed half of England, a Danish community was based nearby in the settlement of Aldwych, when they built a wooden place of worship on the site of the present church. St Clement, because of his association as the patron saint of mariners, reflected the Danes as a seafaring people. After Alfred the Great drove the Danes from London, on his orders the church was converted to Christianity.
With a distinctive tower and belfry, St Clement Dane is the church that is famously associated with the nursery rhyme, the tune of which it rings out daily:
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St Clement
In 1958, the church was re-consecrated as the official place of remembrance for all those who have died in service of the Royal Air Force.
John Cosmo Clark CBE, was a graduate of Goldsmiths College of Art. He fought in both World Wars and was awarded a Military Cross in 1918. He served as Deputy Chief Camouflage Officer for the Air Ministry in 1939. His paintings are characterised by the depiction of everyday activities such as street scenes and cafes, many of which were painted at night. One of Clark’s friends recounted how he would attach small battery-powered lamps to his canvases while painting in the dark. His wife, Jean Clark, was also an accomplished painter, and in 1983 a joint retrospective exhibition of their work was held at the Bankside Gallery in London.
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