A View of the Tower of London, Supposed on his Majesty's Birthday

A View of the Tower of London, Supposed on his Majesty's Birthday

1771
Samuel Scott
Oil on canvas
39 3/4 x 76 inches (101 x 193 cm)

This is the only painting Samuel Scott exhibited at the Royal Academy, shown there in the year before his death. The view is taken from the south bank of the Thames, looking across to the Tower of London. Immediately to the left of the mast in the foreground is the Monument to the Great Fire of London, and to its left, St. Paul’s Cathedral. The vessel in the foreground is a Dutch galliot, about to take on a cargo that includes barrels, bales, and jars. The naval frigate moored alongside the Tower fires a salute in recognition of the king’s birthday, likewise acknowledged by the Royal Standard flown from the White Tower. The image thus realizes a vision of London, and by extension of Britain, suggested in Scott’s riverine sketches: a confluence of church, state, crown, and commerce. The part of the river shown here is the Pool of London, the area below London Bridge, lined with wharves and quays, where all cargo entering the Port of London was unloaded and inspected. The density of shipping in the Pool became a potent image of the volume and extent of British commerce throughout the eighteenth century. The Pool’s inadequacy for the volume of commerce led at the turn of the nineteenth century to construction of the West and East India Docks, which drastically reduced the time it took to discharge cargo and enabled ships to make more trading voyages within a given season.

B1976.7.147
signed and dated 1771
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection