John McLeod


Beside my desk is a framed print of John Atkinson Grimshaw's painting Reflections on the Thames, Westminster (1880). I bought it three years ago at the Leeds City Art Gallery, where the painting is on display, and hung it underneath the skylight so that it might catch as much light as possible. Like his painting Whitby Harbour by Moonlight (1867) it is a night-time scene, with a dark landscape faintly illuminated by pin-pricks of light. From the vantage of the Embankment we look out over the Thames, with the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge in the distance. The scene is dimly lit by the moon which sheds a thin, peaceful glow reflected in the water. Light is also cast from the face of Big Ben, the lights of the Embankment, and the lamps on the bridge in the distance. To the right of the painting, on the Embankment, some figures are depicted walking. One, a woman, has stopped. She leans against the Embankment wall and gazes across the river to the faint light before her. Her face is turned away: we cannot read her expression or determine her age. We look over her shoulder at the Thames, the House, the moon, the faint light, the shadows. A dog stands impatiently beside her, watching the walkers instead. The woman's journey — who knows where she is from, or is going? — has been arrested by the scene, and we share her motionlessness and her gaze. Distinguishing her from the passers-by, her pause enables one to see the beauty of Victorian London at a moment of remarkable stillness. Suspended are the bustle, the crowds, the hurry, the dangers of the city: instead, in the company of a stranger, we see a London becalmed, the view almost a refuge from the industriousness of the Empire's heart.



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