Southwark Bridge – not the most obviously glamorous or renowned London bridge – features beautifully in this painting.
Let us play a quick game. Take a minute – how much do you know about this bridge?
Did you recall its unusual green and yellow colours? Or did you know that it is not the first time a bridge has spanned the river in this spot. The old Southwark Bridge was there since 1819 when it had the widest cast-iron span in the world at the time. The press described it as ‘charming, graceful and even fairy-like’. Interestingly, the current bridge, opened in 1921, cuts through the original footprint of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as it spans the River Thames.
Maybe I have read too many Agatha Christie novels, but jewels and drama cross my mind while I look at this painting.
The rich colours hint at jewels.
The bridge’s turquoise. Amethyst purple on what looks like a grandfather clock on the left. Ruby lights run along the bridge wall and a square-cut ruby band forms a bracelet on the railway bridge behind Southwark Bridge itself.
The buildings sparkle with dark blue sapphires, and details are picked out in delicate gold filigree. Iron supports, with their crisscross structure, look delicate from a sufficient distance. It is hard to imagine how such apparently fragile structures have the strength to endure the stresses and strains loaded onto them. Yet the delicacy belies their great strength. In truth, rigid structures do not always last the longest, as many an engineering disaster will attest to. Sometimes, essential flexibility ensures resilient longevity.
But I digress. From this angle the bridge might appear solid. Yet, between the river-spanning arch and road conveying cars and people, a network of girders offers support and strength along with free passage to wind in inclement weather. All this is invisible to those disinclined to look.
And the drama?
Just look at that sky! Dusk brings drama in all kinds. Lights switching on in quick succession replace sunlight’s slow, steady fading. Some blink into being unnoticed, while others dazzle with sudden brilliance as rows of streetlights illuminate at once. It is a rich setting. Even the bridge lights suggest a candelabra on a royal table.
There is an energy in this piece. The blue shimmering scribbled lines quickly, almost carelessly, follow the bridge arch toward the amethyst clock tower. Towering in the backdrop, monumental structures almost appear to hover above the Southwark Bridge.
Although towers and rows are common city features, they tend to give a blocky appearance. Not here! We may be in a city, but these are not thoughtlessly placed office blocks. Creative thought is evident in the Gherkin, Walkie Talkie, Cheese Grater designs – and rightfully including Southwark Bridge.