This painting of Pulteney Bridge is available to buy here.
As I now live in Somerset, I thought I would do a local painting or two. I often visit the ancient town of Bath. This spot has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age, however, it was developed into a city and shrine by the Romans in AD 60. They were intrigued by the cities hot springs and named the town Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”).
The Romans worshiped at these waters for 300 years or more, and once they went back home, the Christians carried on. During the 17th Century, in the age of enlightenment, claims were made for the curative properties of the waters and Bath was developed as a spa town. This coincided with big money coming in from the Atlantic trade routes so Bath became a wealthy, elegant, Georgian idyll right out of a Jane Austin book. In fact, Jane Austin did indeed live here.
As a bit of a project, I thought I would paint the two main bridges in the city. Though of course they serve the same purpose over the same river they are both very different in their own way.
Pulteney Bridge painting
The bridge was designed by Robert Adam and was completed in 1774. It was named after Frances Pulteney, wife of William Johnstone who was a lawyer and MP.
It has changed a fair bit over the years through re designs and repairing flood damage, though it is still one of only four bridges in the world that have shops on them.
I decided to work it as a flat view from the centre of the bridge which features the shops with the larger temple like structure as a visual punctuation in the middle. I say it was in the middle though as I worked, I discovered that it is not quite the middle. The building sits slightly to the right. Very odd for the symmetry obsessed Georgians. I asked a few locals why it was off centre and no one knew that it was. Maybe only I know?
I really enjoyed painting and I shuffled up and down the road all day and took loo breaks in the ice cream shops with pistachio and chocolate cones for company.
North Parade Bridge painting
There are two main bridges in Bath and the slightly lesser known one is North Parade Bridge. Although it looks early Georgian, it was in fact built in the very last year of the Georgian period in 1836 by William Tierney Clark. Another surprise is that it is built as a single iron span across the Avon.
This remained iron until 1936 when the bridge was refaced with Ashlar Stone as it would more like ‘Bath’. Personally, I would prefer the iron bridge but stone it is.
At one end, there is a spiral staircase, and at the other, there is another lodge that used to contain the toll collector from the days when you had to pay to cross.
There are also two decorative lamps mounted on the original parapet walls and I made a point to put them into the painting.
On the other side of the river, there is another spiral staircase to the bank that always seems to smell of urine, and further down the road there are two much larger lodges sitting opposite each other.
When I decided to paint the bridge, I gave no thought to the fact that if I stood on the bridge, I could not paint it. I would just have a busy road.
OK, so I padded down the urine stairs, and found myself on the lower bank next to a playing field. It was like another world. Very leafy, cool drifting water and in front of me the elegant arc of the bridges span stretched away in front of me. Aside from the rumble of traffic above, I could have been in the country.
This delicate arc is what I decided to make the focus of my painting, and carefully planned it all out so it would slip carefully into the water in front of me.
The middle distance was a bit of an issue though, it just looked too open. This, however, was solved by a series of chugging narrow boats which moved up and down as I worked.
I was pretty pleased by my painting in the end and sold it soon after.
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