A Bridge with a View

Come rain or shine, the panorama from the West Walkway is one of the main attractions of Tower Bridge. Countless photographs are taken from it every single day. A huge number of artists have taken the views as their inspiration.

William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931) portrayed Tower Bridge on its opening day, 30 June 1894. In 1902, William Alister Macdonald (1860-1956) memorialised the Pool of London in a watercolour of same name. Decades later, in 1940, Charles Pears (1873-1958) painted Tower Bridge during the Second World War in Pool of London during Dockland Air Raids. Nigerian-born artist Uzo Egonu (1931-1996) rendered the landmark in Tower Bridge (1969), a bold composition that merged abstraction with a cyclical, bird’s eye perspective.  

Uzo Egonu Tower Bridge Guildhall Art GalleryUzo Egonu, Tower Bridge, 1969 ©Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

Many other artists captured the Bridge and the views of the Thames. Names like Eve Kirk (1900-1969), James Page-Roberts (b. 1925), Frank Brangwyn (1867-1856), Christopher R. W. Nevinson (1889-1946), Martin Parr (b. 1952) and Hanna Moon (b. 1988).  These painters and photographers offer fascinating testimonies of the changing face of London. They make us travel in time and realise that the history of this city stretches back much further than the Victorian era to Roman times. London is where the old and the new meet, side by side.

To immortalise the very same views in 2022, we have commissioned English artist Melissa Scott-Miller to paint what she sees from the West Walkway. A Bridge with A View is a celebration of London and an ode to this vibrant city. The project takes place throughout the summer, and will include public workshops and family activities. Visitors to the attraction will be able to observe Melissa painting during their visit and see how the artwork progresses.

Melissa Scott-Miller

About Melissa Scott-Miller

A sea of red bricks, a night-time view from a window, a cultivated garden with lush greenery in Islington, narrowboats floating on a canal in autumn. London is the playground of painter Melissa Scott-Miller

Melissa was born in London in 1959 and lives in Islington. She comes from a family of artists and, in 1977, started her studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, part of University College London (UCL). Following her time at The Slade, Melissa worked on a commission in Munich and exhibited in New York, where she also lived for a year.

In 1999, Melissa was elected a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters (RP), and won the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize in 2008 with the oil on canvas Islington Kids. In 2009, she joined the New English Art Club (NEAC) and, in 2018, the Royal Society of British Arts (RBA). Oher awards include the Elizabeth Greenshield Foundation Scholarship, the Lucy Morrison Memorial Prize at the Royal Over-Seas League, Leighton House’s Lord Leighton Prize, and the second place at the South Bank Picture Show.

Over the past 30 years, Melissa’s paintings have been shown in many group exhibitions in galleries such as Mark Jason Gallery, the Mall Galleries and, on 17 occasions, at Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. A seasoned artist, she is also a tutor, teaching at the Royal Drawing School and at Heatherley School of Art. 

Portrait of Melissa Scott-Miller in her studio ©Tower Bridge

We have visited Melissa’s studio in Islington to learn more about her artistic process.

How did you start painting?

My parents were artists, and my brother is an artist as well. They often took us to museums and galleries like Tate when we were children, and I always liked to draw and paint. So, when I left school, I went to the Slade School of Art - my brother was also studying there. I was very lucky, I had very good tutors and people like Lucien Freud (1922-2011) came in for lectures. My main tutor was Jeffery Camp (1923-2020), who was fantastic.

I carried on painting when I left The Slade. I’ve always painted views of London, and I like actually to go outside and paint what is in front of me. I find it quite difficult to paint from photographs. Then, when I had my daughter, I asked if I could paint in the [primary] school she was in. It had a very good view. This led me to go on and paint the views from different schools. I got quite a lot of commissioned to do so, and often would stay a bit longer to do [other paintings] for myself. 

I do portraits and self-portraits as well but I often put them in the background of buildings.
 

Melissa Scott-Miller's Islington KidsIslington Kids, 2008 ©Melissa Scott-Miller

Who are the artists that influenced your style? 

I like Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), who was an English artist.  And [Pieter] Bruegel the Elder’s paintings – they are some of my favourites, like Hunters in the Snow (1585) -, and 17th and 18th century Dutch Genre paintings. There is an artist called Carel Weight (1908-1997), who was a London artist, and I was very influenced by him. Actually, Van Gogh (1853-1890) feels like my absolute hero. 

Contemporary artists I quite like are Lucien Freud, the views he did, and John Wonnacott (b. 1940), who was another artist who taught me at Slade. Anthony Green (b. 1939) and, of course, as I said, Jeffery Camp was my main tutor.

When did you start tutoring?

When I left The Slade, I just painted. I had some commissions and I spent a year in Munich because I was commissioned to paint there. I also did show some paintings in the Acquavella Galleries in New York, where I lived for a year as well.

So, at first, I did try to live just off selling my paintings. I was able to do it but then, when I had my daughter, who is now 31, I started to do a bit of teaching. I have done teaching part-time since then, and for the last 12 years I have taught at the Royal Drawing School.

How is the experience of going from painting to teaching? What do your pupils bring back to your work as an artist?

It is really nice mixing with young artists, and those who are new to painting, just starting out and enthusiastic. It makes you look at your own work in a different light. It is interesting to see people’s interpretations [of it]. I have got out a lot of teaching, and I do really enjoy it. 
 

Melissa Scott-Miller's NewableView of flats and cathedral in Westminster, 2012 ©Melissa Scott-Miller

How did you get involved with A Bridge with a View project?

It was lucky chance really. Dirk Bennett [Tower Bridge’s Exhibition Development Manager] approached the Heatherley School of Fine Art, where I teach, asking if there would be anybody interested. When I read the briefing about A Bridge with a View, I thought it was exactly what I do! 

I like to be outside painting and I don’t mind people watching me, I’ve got used to that because I’ve been doing it for years now. Also, I like to paint big views. I’ve only painted the Thames a few times – generally I painted a lot of buildings, so I feel it is slightly more of a challenge because I will have to do a lot of sky and water as well. 

It is a fantastic view; I am really going to enjoy it, particularly the detail parts and trying to capture the different light. I like the fact that I can be there as much as I want to.

What does this project mean to you as a Londoner?

I do love the history of London, and I did once do a painting of the Bridge. It is so interesting to learn about its history, to see the engines in the Engine Rooms, the stories of the people who worked there, the way boats used to be so important, the functioning of the Bridge, and so on. It will end up informing my painting. 

I have lived in London for 62 years, and I’ve got these memories of learning about it in school. I remember being taken on a school trip, it stays with you. Also, how amazing are the City’s skyscrapers? I did once do a painting in a building in the City, to see things from the outer point of view is so interesting. I sometimes take my students to draw or paint by the river. In fact, we were in Hays Galleria the other day, drawing the Bridge and the boats around the Thames.

Written by Carla Valois Lobo

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