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Greenwich Riddle

Engraved by John Rogers after George Bryant Campion, pub. 1830
Engraved by John Rogers after George Bryant Campion, pub. 1830

A good friend of mine from Brühl in Germany has just given me this picture, having come across it in an antique printshop in Cologne. It’s a view of Greenwich Hospital – later known as The Royal Hospital for Seamen – which was designed by Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712.  The hospital closed in 1869 and the building became the Royal Naval College in 1873.  This view is taken from Island Gardens on the south-east tip of the Isle of Dogs, which is very near to where I live – ah!

This is a steel-line engraving by John Rogers (c.1800-1882) from an original study by the English watercolour landscape painter George Bryant Campion (1795-1870) – who incidentally was Drawing Master at the Military Academy in nearby Woolwich.  I think the engraving was originally produced for the England’s Topographer series of Kent Views published in London from 1828 to 1831, although it may have also appeared in T. Allen’s Panorama of London (1830) and W. H. Ireland’s The Country of Kent (1832) – but I’m going to check that next time I’m in the British Library.

Anyway, besides all that – and the very intriguing question as to how it ended up in Cologne – is the mysterious juxtapositioning of four handwritten lines above the picture of Greenwich.

Greenwich Hospital 1830 cropped poemIn a slightly unsteady copperplate style, these words are written on the sheet of grey paper to which the print of Greenwich has been messily glued after removal from whatever publication it appeared in.  Has the whole been removed from  a nineteenth-century scrapbook?

The earliest record I can find of this epigram in print is in The New Foundling Hospital for Wit published in 1786, but it subsequently appears repeatedly in other collections of funnies, for example in Elegant Extracts (1816) and The Tickler (1819).   But what is the connection with Greenwich Hospital?  Here’s a scan of the whole page:

Greenwich Hospital 1830Could it be something recorded by a Greenwich Pensioner?  Suggestions on a postcard please!

The Eastenders that time forgot

The East London Group of ArtistsLast year David Buckman published his extensive research on the East London Group of Artists in his fascinating book From Bow to Biennale: Artists of the East London Group.  Now here’s the exhibition to accompany the book – and it’s a corker.

The East London Group of Artists were a very successful gang of painters which existed for over 10 years from the late 1920s.  In their day they were both an innovative and popular artistic movement – but they have subsequently (and very sadly) been passed over by art history.  In their heyday there were about 35 members of the group, mostly working class, realist painters who progressed to phenomenal critical acclaim by chronicling life in east London between the World Wars.

Harold Steggles, Old Ford Rd, c.1932
Harold Steggles, Old Ford Rd, c.1932

The majority of them came from humble beginnings, but their artistic talent was to flourish under the mentorship of Slade School of Fine Arts trained artist John Cooper, and the Camden Town Group member, Walter Sickert.  Their success led to artists from the group representing Britain, alongside such luminaries as Barbara Hepworth and Gilbert Spencer, at the 1936 Venice Biennale.  This is the first time their pictures have been displayed publicly for over a generation.

Sunday Morning Farringdon Rd (c.1929) by Cecil Osborne
Sunday Morning Farringdon Rd (c.1929) by Cecil Osborne

Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with this part of London, but I found these paintings of eerily empty streets both haunting and poignant.  The paintings convey a tender affection for the area and recognise beauty in the urban milieu.  Reminding me of Edward Hopper’s American townscapes – although these artists are unlikely to have been aware of their US contemporary – this exhibition of coolly atmospheric paintings is well worth a visit.

‘The East End Group of Artists: From Bow to Biennale c. 1928-1936’ is currently showing at the Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ, until 13 July, open Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm.  It’s totally free and there’s an excellent independent café attached.

I’ll be talking about the East London Group of Artists and discussing this exhibition on the Serendipitous Compendium hosted by John Stanford broadcast on Radio Crackle on Sunday 25 May.

The Great Dutch Ship Robbery

Stern carving from the Royal Charles, c. 1660

This is possibly one of the most intriguing exhibits (for me) in the whole of the Rijksmuseum’s collection.  These arms of Charles II once adorned the stern transom, or ‘counter’, of the English flagship  the Royal Charles.  During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch bombarded then captured Sheerness before sailing up the Thames to Gravesend, then up the Medway to Chatham where they burned three of the British navy’s most important ships and other vessels before towing away the Unity and the Royal Charles to the Netherlands where they were broken up.   The counter decoration from the Royal Charles was preserved  to commemorate this remarkable Dutch triumph and the worst defeat in the Royal Navy’s history – and here it is in all its glory some 350+ years later.

Nearby hangs this painting by Willem Schellinks which depicts the extraordinary Dutch naval coup taking place.

Willem Schellinks
Willem Schellinks, The burning of the English fleet near Chatham, June 1667, during the second Anglo-Dutch war (1667-1678)

And this alternative take on it by Jan Van Leyden

Jan Van Leyden, The Dutch burning English ships during the Raid on the Medway, 20 June 1667 (c.1667-69)
Jan Van Leyden, The Dutch burning English ships during the Raid on the Medway, 20 June 1667 (c.1667-69)

I feel a paper coming on…