Trafalgar Square 1879

February 27 2015

The Flower Seller

Enjoyable (especially the plinth) early Clausen, painted when he was 26 or 27: The Flower Seller, private collection; the plinth supports an equestrian statue of Charles I by Hubert Le Sueur; they have been there since 1678; George Clausen’s memorial service would take place in 1944 in the church in the background, St Martin-in-the-Fields, James Gibbs, 1722-24

5 Responses to “Trafalgar Square 1879”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    This was the first of a series of London street scenes somewhat in this style, featuring the same woman in black, or someone like her, that Clausen painted between 1879 and 1881. (There is a reprise in an 1883 watercolour called Flora.)

    The paving around the Charles I monument is no longer elegantly radial. The statue in the middle distance is another equestrian piece, seen head-on: George IV by Francis Legatt Chantrey, placed there in 1844 and still in situ.

    Several Clausens have been bought for the nation under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest, which is still active.

    The National Gallery, just visible in the left background, had undergone its remodelling by Edward Middleton Barry between 1872 and ’76.

    The building next to St Martin is on a site now occupied by South Africa House, which was opened in 1933 and replaced a derelict hotel. Perhaps the two figures on the right, who look a bit like tourists, are staying in it. Clausen was painting the scene at the time of the Anglo-Zulu War (Disraeli was at no 10).

    The yellow flowers are primroses, the darker ones probably pansies (or polyanthuses). We are therefore in early spring, perhaps March, which would make Clausen 26. The girl is barefoot, but not in rags: there may be some sentimentality there. Primroses are woodland flowers, but a description of flower girls (some of whom were also prostitutes) in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor suggests that the girl had bought them at Covent Garden nearby. See also Pygmalion.

    The woman is carrying what can only be a rolled-up newspaper or journal, which she had presumably bought from a vendor on the street. Carrying it like that would, I suppose, have been thought unladylike by Victorians: this is, I think, the young Clausen being deliberately uncompromising in his depiction of “modern life”, as he would be, a few years later, in his earliest depictions of rural life.

    Helmets had replaced top hats in police uniforms in 1864. Leather gloves had been issued in 1868 to help police seize dogs.

    The carriage on the left, with the driver at the back, is a hansom.

    Trafalgar Square had had gas lighting since 1815. The lamps here are presumably gas. Gas then was manufactured from coal. The nearer lamp’s horizontal projection (from which something is hanging) is to support ladders.

    The first London streets lit with electric arc lamps were Holborn Viaduct and the Thames Embankment in 1878. The first street in the world to be lit by an incandescent lightbulb may have been Mosley Street, in Newcastle upon Tyne, a month or so before Clausen painted this scene.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    A nursery rhyme and a street cry mention the statue of Charles I. See:

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Not in the picture: Charles Barry’s fountains, 1845. Nelson’s Column, by William Railton, completed in 1843. The four lions, although part of the original design, were added in 1867.

    Clausen came out of copyright on December 31 2014. In a small way, he was still providing for his family at the age of 162.

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