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  • Writer's picturedandelion

Dandelion Art – Week 11

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

Once a week we take a painting, or piece of sculpture, that interests us, tell you a bit about it and hope it sparks something with you and your families. We would love to hear your recommendations.


Over the next month, we have decided as a team to pick some of the pieces of art that we are most excited about seeing again when museums and galleries reopen their doors on 17th May.

Hammersmith Bridge on Boat Race Day by Walter Greaves

Tate Britain, c.1862

This is the most famous of Walter Greaves's paintings and much loved by Emily and her rowing-mad family who are lucky to live in a house looking out at The Thames a stone's throw from here.

Walter Greaves was a self-taught painter. Born in 1846 on Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, he was the son of a Chelsea boat builder and waterman who had been Turner's boatman. Greaves (initially trained as a shipwright and boatman) and his brother met Whistler in 1863 while introducing him to the sights of the River Thames. They became Whistler's studio assistants, pupils and close friends.

As a painter and etcher Greaves was mainly concerned with the London city and riverscape. 'Hammersmith Bridge on Boat Race Day' was painted when Greaves was sixteen in 1862. This beautifully naive painting celebrates the famous annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race. Every year since the race began in 1829 thousands of people have gathered on the banks of The Thames to watch this event, with Hammersmith Bridge being the approximate mid-point and a traditional viewing platform. Greaves's painting shows the bridge covered in spectators, with the chains occupied by precariously balanced revellers. Every inch of the bridge is covered by onlookers, soldiers, stall holders, policemen and entertainers. Greaves catches the colour, chaos and exubuerance of the urban scene magnificently.

In 1870 – not many years after this was painted – approximately 12,000 people gathered on the suspension bridge for the race giving rise to fears that the bridge wasn't strong enough to support the weight of heavy traffic. A new bridge designed by Joseph Bazalgette was opened in 1887 resting on the original piers depicted in this painting.

Ironically we've come full circle with the bridge closed again for repairs and no sign of it reopening any time soon!

When Tate Britain reopens you will find Greaves's bridge picture in 'Walk Through British Art: 1840'. It's high up and not very big – so look carefully for it.

Anya Waddington 19th April 2021


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