- Museum number
The Strand from the corner of Villiers Street; a row of houses and shop fronts, with names inscribed over the windows, at right a silversmith and jeweller, a crowd of figures and carts in the road. 1824
Watercolour, with pen and black ink; on two conjoined sheets
- Production date
Height: 218 millimetres
Width: 371 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Stainton 1985
Scharf was born in Bavaria and spent the early part of his career as a miniature painter, specialising during the Napoleonic Wars in portraying the officers of the contending armies. He served in the British Army at Waterloo and in 1816 settled in London. He had studied the new art of lithography before leaving his home-country and became well-known for precise illustrations of scientific and antiquarian subjects and for his views of London. In 1862 the British Museum purchased from his widow and their son, Sir George Scharf (1820-95), the first Director of the National Portrait Gallery, the huge collection ot studies of London life and topography from which the present drawings are taken. Scharf's detailed observation in these studies is that of a foreigner to whom everything is slightly unfamiliar: it bears out the truth of Madame de Staël's saying: "les etrangers sont une posterity contemporaine".
In 1862,0614.19 the row of small shops, one of which is on fire, at the west end of the Strand was to be replaced in 1830-2 by Nash's neo-classical 'Metropolitan Improvements'. The Colour-man (1862,0614.119) was a retailer of paints and artists' supplies. Since the mid-seventeenth century painters in oil had been able to buy their colours ready-prepared, but until about 1780 watercolourists had had to grind and wash their own pigments before blending them with gum arabic. The convenience of portable "water colours in Cakes", developed most successfully by Thomas and William Reeves, had made the medium conveniently available to thousands of amateurs as well as increasing its use among professional artists and leading to the development of watercolour as an artistic medium in its own right.
The laying of the water-main in Tottenham Court Road in 1834 (1862,0614.308) was part of a large-scale programme of improving the sanitation of the rapidly expanding city. Scharf has moved away from the minute recording of detail which was his major concern in the view of the Strand ten years earlier, using a broader style in an attempt to convey the smoky atmosphere and scratching the surface of the paper to indicate the sparks flying from the cauldron. The tradition of genre studies of working-class life is combined with a fascination with technological developments of the day; the spellbound onlookers share what must have been the feeling of the average Londoner and, no doubt, of Scharf himself.
Catalogue entry from J.Kierkuc-Bielinski, 'George Scharf', exh. Soane Museum, 2009 (no. 21):
This is one of several sketches Scharf produced of the Strand. This important street had a long history, having developed from a simple track (or strand) running parallel to the Thames during the Anglo-Saxon period. By the 1100s several important residences were located along the Strand, the most prominent being the Savoy Palace. By the sixteenth century the number of mansions increased to include amongst others such notable residences as Northumberland House and Somerset House. When Scharf drew this sketch in 1824, only these two mansions still stood and of these Somerset House had been totally remodelled by William Chambers to act as the seat of the Royal Academy, the Society of Antiquaries and the Admiralty. The Strand was now dominated by the smaller town houses, shops and coffee houses as shown in this view of its north side. Scharf has depicted a dramatic moment: Mr Martin the sausage maker’s shop caught fire on the 5 September 1824 and the firemen of the Sun Fire Office are attempting to extinguish the blaze. In the foreground, and in front of the crowd gathered to watch the conflagration, one of the men from the Office is shown in his distinctive red and gold uniform. The early ‘fire engine’ used to pump water through the hose to the first floor is clearly shown. Scharf has heightened the effects of the flames and smoke by scratching into the surface of the paper to describe the flying sparks. The view of this section of Strand documents how it appeared before a series of major improvements undertaken in the 1830s by Nash swept away the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings seen here. This sketch was one of a series Scharf produced of different parts of the old Strand and another sketch of this scene in the British Museum (1862,0614.20) shows the same view just after the fire. The crowds have dispersed and a lone fireman is rolling up the hose used to extinguish the blaze. Scharf notes in his journal that, in 1835, he returned once more to these earlier sketches of the old Strand, including this one, and touched them up in the hope of publishing a print through Ackermann’s based on the compositions. As he had no luck in creating interest in a print, the next day he tried to sell the drawings themselves returning to Ackermann’s and then going to a number of other dealers including Colhnaghi’s, ‘Mr. Marten’s at Messrs Boyes and Graves’ and Evans of Great Queen Street. He sadly records ‘…neither of whom bought any, saying they did not want to buy but sell drawings, or else that the subjects did not suit them; I felt of course much disappointed as I was much in want of money’.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1985 BM, British Landscape Watercolours 1600-1860, no.148a
1987 Apr-Aug, London, Museum of London, 'Londoners' Exhibition'
1992 Jun-Nov, Essen, Villa Hugel, London 1800-38, no. 161
2009 Mar-Jun, London, Sir John Soane Museum, George Scharf
2014 May-Oct, Hannover, Lower Saxony State Museum, 'Hanoverians'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number