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5 famous London painters

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London has so many inspiring and colourful sights and characters dotted around its boroughs. So it is little wonder that the capital has been the birthplace of so many great painters.

Here is a little information about five of the best of them.

5. Anna Airy

An Aircraft Assembly Shop, Hendon, 1918

Anna Airy was born in 1882 in Greenwich. The early part of her career saw her produce oil and pastel paintings inspired by London’s criminal underworld. New subject matter, and a change of direction, presented itself during the First World War when she became a war artist.

Official recognition of her talent was given in 1918 when the Imperial War Museum gave her a brief to paint four depictions of typical scenes in munitions factories. Anna risked life and limb to paint her canvases on site in dangerous conditions. The paintings’ titles (such as ‘An Aircraft Assembly Shop, Hendon’) might not be terribly exciting but they do movingly show the bravery of the British war effort on the home front.

4. John Bratby

Baby in pram in garden’ by John Bratby
Baby in pram in garden’ by John Bratby


John Bratby was born in Wimbledon in 1928 and, like Anna Airey, trained at the Slade School of Fine Art. It was a Bratby painting of a kitchen sink which inspired an art critic to come up with the phrase ‘kitchen sink realism’ to describe how many young painters were depicting scenes of domestic banality in their paintings. Few but Bratby could paint scenes of domestic utensils, toilets and the like with such vivid and shocking brush strokes.

In 1958 his paintings found a prominent place in the The Horse’s Mouth, a film which starred Alec Guinness as an eccentric painter. Guinness’s role could easily have been inspired by Bratby; an artist who still has the power to shock 20 years after his death.

3. Thomas Girtin

'The White House at Chelsea’: Girtin’s most celebrated work
'The White House at Chelsea’: Girtin’s most celebrated work

Thomas Girtin was born in Southwark in 1775 but it was the scenery of the North (such as Northumberland, Scotland and Yorkshire) which featured in his earliest paintings. Girtin established fame and acclaim in the early part of his life which was just as well for tragically he did not live long – dying in his 27th year.

Shortly before his death he produced a phenomenal panorama of London, ‘the Eidometropolis’; a piece of work which was 18 feet high and 108 feet in circumference.

After his death his friend and rival J.M.W. Turner commented: “Had Tom Girtin lived I should have starved.”

2. William Hogarth

March of the Guards to Finchley by William Hogarth
March of the Guards to Finchley by William Hogarth

Born in London in 1697, the young Hogarth amused himself by sketching lively scenes of London street life. Thankfully, it was a habit he never really grew out of; he graduated to painting and printmaking and became equally adept at a variety of styles.

A series of six paintings entitled ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ sealed his reputation as a genius; they showed the miserable life-cycle of a country girl who becomes a prostitute. ‘A Rake’s Progress’ quickly followed; a series charting the profligate life of rich man’s son Tom Rakewell. This series was so popular that it gave a new meaning to the word ‘rake’ – Hogarth can claim to have changed the English language and the world of art long before he died in 1764.

1. Joseph Turner

A View of the Archbishop’s Palace, Lambeth’ by Joseph Turner
A View of the Archbishop’s Palace, Lambeth’ by Joseph Turner

Born in Covent Garden in 1775, Joseph Turner’s skill transformed artistic tastes within his lifetime and saw landscape painting become as credible as paintings of historical and biblical scenes.

Turner was just 15 when his watercolour painting of the Archbishop’s Palace in Lambeth was accepted for the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition.

Known as the painter of light, Turner’s last words were, appropriately enough, reported to be “the sun is God”. His work continues to be worshipped by successive generations of art lovers and much of it has found a permanent home in the Tate Museum in the city which inspired him so greatly.

James Christie writes for arts and crafts company Baker Ross. Click here to see their range of craft supplies.


Author: jonathan

Jonathan is a consummate Anglophile who launched Anglotopia.net in 2007 to channel his passion for Britain. Londontopia is its sister publication dedicated to everything London.

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