I was commissioned to paint this picture of Merton College in Oxford. An ideal piece for me really as I always enjoy the fussy details of street scenes like this.
A bit about Oxford
I visit Oxford occasionally and it’s easy to forget how old many of these streets are, possibly because these fine buildings now tend to sit among twenty-first century franchises such as Starbucks and McDonalds with streams of modern cars passing by.
The history of Oxford as a center of learning goes back centuries really taking-off in 1167. It was at this time that Henry II had a string of arguments with Thomas Becket and the king promptly banned students from being educated at the University of Paris. Oxford flourished from then on. Becket sadly did not as three years later he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.
A bit about Merton College
On my research I discovered that Merton College was founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, Lord Chancellor, and Bishop of Rochester. That really is an unbelievably long time ago.
Merton claims to be the oldest college in Oxford, which I can certainly believe though this is disputed by Balliol College and University College. Whatever the truth, it’s quite incredible that an educational establishment can exist for such a long time and still be in the same place and have the same name.
The oldest college buildings go back to 1277 and much has been added to since over the centuries.
The most noticeable structure you can see in the painting is the tower of the College Chapel, dedicated to St Mary and St John the Baptist. This is known as the Great Tower and was completed in 1450.
Whilst discussing this painting with the client he requested a few Merton rugby players walking down the street. I added those and I thought a tweed clad scholar with a Merton scarf might be a good edition too. Thankfully the client approved.
I have looked up the pervious members of Merton. A few notables are TS Elliot, and JRR Tolkien and I can see how Merton may have inspired Lord of the Rings.
Added to that we have Roger Bannister, who ran the first sub-four-minute mile, and finally Liz Truss, who was the UK Prime Minister for about five minutes or so.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed painting Merton College and learning a bit more about the history of Oxford. I must go back soon.