The painting shows the New Palace of Westminster towards the end of construction c.1857-8.
Victoria Tower is still under construction in the painting, the scaffolding clearly evident, and the clock tower is missing the clock faces. Victoria Tower was Barry’s intended crowning glory for the building and was the high point of the construction as far as he was concerned; indeed it was the tallest secular tower in the world when it was finished. The painting is of immense value to the Works of Art collection as it is the only one showing this stage of work.
Viscount Falkland, Chairman of the House of Lords Works of Art Committee said;
‘We were particularly delighted to be able to add this painting to our collection in this the 150th anniversary year of the completion of Victoria Tower, the home of the Parliamentary Archives.
Topographical works form an important part of the Works of Art Collection and as well as documenting the development of the Palace this painting also shows the group of buildings which occupied the site where Black Rod’s Garden and Victoria Tower Gardens are now situated. The boats with russet coloured sails are ‘Humber sloops’ which delivered the Anston stone used for the Palace from the quarry in Yorkshire via the Chesterfield canal, the Humber estuary and down the east coast to the Thames. They delivered the stone to the Thames Bank workshop situated just beyond what is shown in this painting, where the carver and sculptor, John Thomas produced the decorative and carved stone work which was so central to Charles Barry’s New Palace of Westminster. The artist has also captured the transition from sail to steam – a steam boat is clearing visible on the pier adjacent to Lambeth Palace.’
The artist, Henry Pether came from a family of artists generally known for their moonlight views. Henry is recognised as being the most talented artist of the family, his works showing good composition and attention to detail. His subjects concentrated on water views of Venice and the Thames.
This painting also shows the old Westminster Bridge, designed by the Swiss architect Charles Labelye, completed in 1750. Westminster Bridge was the first bridge to cross the stretch of river between London Bridge in the City and Putney Bridge and it facilitated the development of the south side of the river. However by the time of this picture the bridge was failing and the scaffolding is evident where it is being demolished to make way for the new bridge designed by Thomas Page and opened in 1862. Page’s bridge, which still stands, has gothic detailing by Charles Barry demonstrating how the New Palace influenced it environs, and is now the oldest of the central London bridges.
The scene also shows the river bank prior to the Thames Bank Improvement Scheme of the 1860s so the Palace still sits at the water’s edge which provided the artist with a striking and picturesque view. On the opposite bank the newly restored Lambeth Palace is clearly visible and in the background the smoking chimney is evidence of the industrialisation of west Lambeth.
Within a few years, Victoria Tower was completed, the embankments built and the new bridge finished, dramatically changing this view to the one recognised today.