During the summer, I was commissioned to paint the White Cross riverside pub in Richmond upon Thames.
It is a stout and impressive London brick building, constructed in the early 19th century as a watering hole for locals, and those taking the pleasure steamers up and down the river between London and Hampton Court.
There is still a jetty out front, so I assume it serves much the same purpose today as it did all those year ago.
The name derives from the old Franciscan Friary which used to be situated on the same site. The Friary is long gone now as it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1534
About Richmond upon Thames
Richmond upon Thames situated to the west of London, sits neatly between two large landscaped parks. Richmond Park, and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.
On the western side, is the slow meandering river which stretches out into the Thames valley.
It is hard to believe that this is the same river that passes under Tower Bridge in the heart of London just a few miles upriver.
This proximity to the centre of the city, coupled with the beautiful surrounding parkland, makes this one of the most sort after and expensive places to live in the UK. Everywhere is expensive to buy and you need very serious money to get a river view.
The leisurely pace of the river seems to be reflected into the community. There is no hustle and bustle in Richmond. Things just seem to glide by.
Painting of the White Cross
On arrival from the train, I made my way down to the river in search of the pub. It was pretty easy to find. It was right on the river just as I was told.
I sat on a slipway looking east and did a quick watercolour painting of a side view. It seemed OK though wasn’t quite the right angle for me, I couldn’t see the pub well enough, besides the tide was moving in and I was in danger of getting a soaking.
A few hundred meters to the west, there is a stone bridge spanning the river. I had a far better view from here though still not quite right, not to mention that it was too far away.
I glanced over the other side of the bridge. Below me on the bank I saw a sign ‘Boats for Hire’. Right! I’ll hire a boat I muttered to myself.
I put my dilemma to the fella hiring the rowing boats. He was very helpful and suggested that I row out opposite the pub then tie up to one of the posts fixed to the riverbed. Sounded like a good plan so I paid my fee.
Since the French impressionism movement came along, it has been a fantasy of many artists to paint from a rowing boat on a long summer’s day. I am not one of those artists.
I have no idea on how to row a boat properly. It is one of those things that looks easy from the riverbank though doing it oneself is a totally different matter.
I needed to get out on the river, row under the bridge, then a few more hundred yards to where I thought I needed to be.
I gingerly clambered in, and began to row. I hit problems right away. One oar or other wouldn’t go in the water deep enough so I kept turning all over the place. Added to that, I was facing the wrong way so I couldn’t see where I was going. The result being that I somehow managed to hit the bridge with a thump.
Above me on the bridge and on the bank an audience began to gather. People were pausing to watch my antics, sniggering between themselves as a blundered across the water.
I finally came to the post and tied up the boat. I could not work on a large painting in these conditions so I decided to do a sketchbook version first, and then work it up larger in the studio.
Painting from a boat is really tricky, every time you adjust your position it moves from side to side. That is not the worst of it. When another boat passed the whole thing tips wildly from side to side forcing me to hold on whilst swearing loudly.
I had the added problem with the tide. The boat kept swinging down river so the pub would slide out of view. What was in front was now over my right shoulder. I struggled through with the initial watercolour and got what I needed though boats are not for me.
While I struggled back to the boat hire jetty, I mused that my dad did 25 years in the Royal Navy. He will be spinning in his grave if he could see me.
That said, I took my initial ideas back to the studio and worked them up to a final painting. I was rather pleased with it all in the end.
Once delivered, I discovered that the client wanted the painting as a memento of her late husband. The White Cross was where they first dated when they were young.
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