The South East Prospect of Westminster Bridge

  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Government Art Collection

    The print is wrongly titled ‘The South East Prospect of Westminster Bridge’. It in fact shows the north prospect of the bridge, with vessels and passengers on the River Thames. Also included is a key to the buildings and the vessels.

    A vast of array of boats, of numerous different shapes and sizes, are dotted throughout the waters of the River Thames. The composition is dissected horizontally by the old Westminster Bridge, which is reflected in the calm, glassy water below. The recognisable buildings of Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall are seen to the right of the bridge and the former building of the House of Commons, labelled ‘E’, is behind, in roughly the same location as the current building.

    There had been proposals to construct a bridge across the River Thames at Westminster as far back as the Restoration period of 1660 to 1700, but it was not until 1738 that an engineer, Charles Labelye, was appointed to bring the project to fruition. Westminster Bridge was opened in 1750 and was, after London Bridge, only the second masonry structure to cross the Thames. The present cast-iron bridge was constructed over a century later, between 1854 and 1862.

  • About the artist
    Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) was born in Venice, the son of a scenery painter. He probably trained under his father and assisted his father in Venice and later Rome, before returning to Venice to join the Venetian painter’s guild. His early works were mainly ‘capricci’, sold locally. During the 1720s he began painting Venetian views and met his foremost patron; Englishman Joseph Smith. Smith lived on the Grand Canal and built up the most important collection of Canaletto’s work. It was sold to George III in 1762 and remains in the Royal Collection. Canaletto moved to London in 1746, living in Soho for ten years. In 1763, after returning to Venice, he was elected to the Venetian Academy and appointed head of the Collegio dei Pittori.
    Benjamin Cole was from a well-known family of engravers. He began his career engraving maps and trade cards. His earliest architectural works are thought to be his series of English and Welsh cathedrals, published in 1715. These prints were incorporated into a series of ‘Prospects’, published by John Overton in the 1720s. Cole also engraved plates for ‘Views of the Several Parts of the Palace or Castle of Versailles’ (1725) for Overton. In 1736 Cole and William Henry Toms engraved the plates for architect Nicholas Hawksmoor’s ‘A Short Historical Account of London Bridge’. However, Cole more commonly engraved portraits and decorative subjects, such as bookplates, after works by contemporary artists.
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  • Details
    The South East Prospect of Westminster Bridge
    Coloured engraving
    Purchased from Parker Gallery, September 1961
    GAC number