Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Frozen Thames - looking like the Arctic

It's been snowing here in London - so I thought I'd have a look at the pictures of Frost Fairs on the Thames.  The first one had me unpicking the trail of the story behind the painting both in terms of content and who painted it.

Here's the first one - it's a painting of The Frozen Thames, Looking Eastwards towards Old London Bridge, London - painted in 1677 by a painter I'd not heard of before - Abraham Hondius (1625–1691).

The Frozen Thames, Looking Eastwards towards Old London Bridge, London (1677)  by Abraham Hondius (1625–1691)
The Frozen Thames, Looking Eastwards towards Old London Bridge, London (1677) 
by Abraham Hondius
Oil on canvas, 107.8 x 175.6 cm
Museum of London
Abraham Hondius [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The really interesting thing about this painting is that, according to the websites which have details about when the Thames froze, it didn't freeze on 1677!  In fact, it hadn't frozen for some years prior to this.

I'm wondering whether this painting is an imaginary interpretation of what the River Thames would look like if it froze.  This would account for why it looks so much like the Arctic(!) in his painting Arctic Adventure - also painted in 1677 (see below).  This latter painting is in the Fitzwilliam Museum.  Guess which painting I think was finished first!

Arctic Adventure 1677 Abraham Hondius
Arctic Adventure (1677) Abraham Hondius
Oil on canvas, 55.4 x 84.7 cm
Fiztwilliam Museum
Hondius was a Dutch Golden Age artist who was noted for his portrayals of animals.  He moved to London in 1666 so this painting may very well have been a way of him bringing his work to the attention of collectors in London.

What's not obvious from the painting is the degree of devastation on one bank of the Thames at the time.  This is the year after the Great Fire of London and part of the City of London was wiped out (see an old map in the British Library of the impact of the Great Fire)

I'm very bothered by the church in the background.  In shape it looks like the old St Paul's Cathedral which had burnt down the previous year in Fire - but if the painting is looking east then it's on the wrong side of the Thames.  However if it's looking FROM the east then it makes sense and by definition must then be totally imaginary as the Cathedral no longer existed in 1667.

The Old St Paul's Cathedral in flames
The only church which was just beyond London Bridge at the time was St Thomas Church which now houses The Old Operating Theatre Museum - and which is totally the wrong shape.  (I should know - I used to work in the offices next door to it!)

You can watch a slideshow of 14 more paintings by Hondius on the Your Paintings website

These are the Museums and Art Galleries where you can see paintings by Hondius

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