The concept for this painting came from a walk through London on a bleak January morning. It was one of those mornings which was intensely cold with that very thin yellow light that just seems to make things feel colder still.
Part of the walk took in Battersea Bridge. I had a mind to draw the house boats which huddle together on the North bank of the Thames in Chelsea. I arrived early as I wanted to catch the house boats with their lights still on. As it turned out I needn’t have ventured out early as today would never be fully light.
I crossed the bridge from the Battersea side and made my way across, leaning over the railing occasionally to see if I could get an angle on the scene. At this point I was not keen at all. The view just didn’t feel right and the Easterly wind down the Thames was stinging. I pressed on.
About halfway across I noticed a man on the opposite side. He was dressed in a suit and had a brief case as if going to work, although he had a dog with him. He’d paused beneath a street light and was looking out towards Albert Bridge with the Battersea Power Station beyond.
What initially struck me was that (unlike me and his dog) he seemed oblivious to the cold. The second thing I noticed was that he was completely still. He was just looking out.
It made a compelling scene. Despite the weather I took out my sketch book and began to draw.
I had to be quick, so I sketched in the outline of him and brought in the ornate street lights which had just been switched off.
Next, I drew in Albert Bridge. In the painting it is much closer than in real life. I also made more of the chimneys of Battersea Power station. It’s what I do!
The drawing took me about ten minutes. I couldn’t go on any longer as my fingers were about to snap off. I stuffed my sketchbook in by bag and made my way north. He however was still there when I left, not moved an inch. When I neared the Chelsea end, I looked back and he was gone.
Another London story we will never know. I hope he was ok.
I didn’t draw the boats in the end, seeking-out a warm café with hot tea and a bacon sandwiches instead. I was happy, however, as I felt I had the bones of a studio painting.
A bit about Albert Bridge
Albert Bridge was built by Rowland Mason Ordish in 1873 and is arguably London’s most elegant bridge, being a magnet for artists ever since.
It is also arguably one of London’s most troublesome bridges as, due to the design and build, it has proved to be structurally unsound. In the past it was nicknamed “The Trembling Lady” as it rattled about when large numbers of people walked across it and soldiers had to break step rather than march for fear of damage.
Over the intervening years it has had to be strengthened a number of times the last being in 2011 when the repairs took twice as long as the estimated.
Interestingly, in 1973, there was a proposal by John Betjeman and Sybil Thorndike to turn the bridge into a pedestrianised park. A fine idea although the London traffic had other ideas.