PortCities London

Picturing the 18th-century port

The working river in art

Joseph Farington

View of Greenwich from Deptford Yard.
View full size imageView of Greenwich from Deptford Yard. © NMM

The appeal and interest of the commercial Thames as a pictorial subject for a wider audience meant that many other artists produced images of the Pool of London and the dockyards in the late 18th century.

These included artists such as Joseph Farington, who was, like Samuel Scott, not part of the dockyard community. His A view of Greenwich from Deptford Yard does not depict the launch of a vessel, but instead selects a viewpoint to provide the finest view of Greenwich in the distance.

The work is much more concerned to represent the wider importance and prestige of British maritime power.

Robert Dodd

A New Book of Shipping.
View full size imageA New Book of Shipping. © NMM

Dock-based artists, such as Robert Dodd, also continued to produce river and shipping subjects for a more specialized audience. But they clearly were more widely popular as well.

Dodd’s engraving for the title page of A New Book of Shipping, published in 1787, shows a ship on the stocks -very similar to John Cleveley the elder’s paintings. Yet, the location is not identified, suggesting that the artist did not wish to restrict the relevance of the work to a local audience.

Growing public interest

Perhaps most significant in terms of the broad appeal of the Thames and the Port of London as a pictorial subject in the late 18th century is the fact that both of these works were produced for books. This demonstrated a clear understanding that there existed a growing public interest in their subjects.

Dodd’s print was for a book on shipping. Farington’s was made for the impressive volume, published by John Boydell, A History of the River Thames (1792-4), in which it was just one of many topographical views of Thames scenery.

Shipping in the Pool of London.
View full size imageShipping in the Pool of London. © NMM
The Port of London therefore developed as an increasingly important subject for visual imagery in the 18th century, and into the 19th. The Cleveley family of artists was central to the development of this appeal to a growing and varied audience.  

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