Above: View on the beach at Rotherhithe at low tide. (Copyright remains the property of the artist).
Every now and again a view that I have not seen before comes along. This painting, by Bill Holkham, appears on the Internet. Rotherhithe is one of the hardest places to photograph on the Thames because all of its riverfront around the centre of the original village either faces due north or at a slight angle from north. This means that it is very hard to get a sunny view of the warehouses along the bank.
Of course, if you are an artist, that is no problem because if there is no ‘sunny side’ it is always possible to paint the scene as if there was. This is not quite the case in this painting but the colours have been carefully chosen so as to give the impression of a bright day at least, if not sunny.
So, where was it painted from and what does it show? It was clearly painted from the beach of the Thames on a low tide. Notice also the lighter resting on the beach due to the low tide. The view looks east at a point where St Mary’s church in Rotherhithe is situated (standing behind the visible warehouses in the painting). The old crane, now derelict, is still in its original place – at Hope Sufferance Wharf – on one of the warehouses that have now been converted into living accommodation. In the distance can be seen a taller warehouse, then a tall chimney and then an even taller warehouse. These two buildings and the chimney are the old Thames Tunnel Mills, now also converted into apartments.
The painting has an elegant touch to it, showing the grand old Victorian warehouses which, although they are no longer being used for the purpose for which they were built, they can easily outshine many of the modern developments that line the Thames today. The Victorians built with a sense of style that few modern architects seem to want to copy.