Tower Bridge as a muse

An iconic landmark. An engineering marvel. A symbol of London. Tower Bridge is indeed all of that, but also a muse, a source of inspiration to many artists.

Discover how Tower Bridge has been depicted in art through the decades, from the 1890s to today.

Sir Horace Jones pen and ink drawing

1894: A new bridge

The pressure for a new river crossing downstream from London Bridge was growing by the early 1870s. In 1872, a bill was put before Parliament. Four years later, in 1876, a string of petitions presented to the City of London Corporation led to the establishment of a ‘Special Bridge or Subway Committee’. The Committee decided in favour of a new bridge close to the Tower of London, and a public competition was launched.

Many renowned architects and engineers submitted their proposals, such as Sir Joseph Bazalgette and Rowland Mason Ordish. It wasn’t until 1884, however, that Sir Horace Jones (1819-1887), the City Architect and Surveyor, in collaboration with Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918), offered the chosen design for Tower Bridge.

Pen-and-ink drawing by Sir Horace Jones, 1884 © London Metropolitan Archives, City of London

Painting by William-Wyllie, Opening of Tower Bridge

Since opening in 1894, the ironclad structure, covered by Portland stone, has played a starring role in hundreds of artworks.

William Lionel Wyllie attended Tower Bridge’s opening ceremony on 30 June 1894 and immortalised the festivities in an impressive oil on canvas. He rendered the landmark in etchings and watercolours, and produced a number of studies of the Thames that included commercial barges and imposing armoured cruisers.

William Lionel Wyllie, 'The Opening of Tower Bridge’,1894-95 © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

Tower Bridge, London c.1905 Frank Brangwyn (1867–1956) Oil on canvas H 64 x W 77 cm City of London Corporation

Sir Frank William Brangwyn (1867-1856) was a jack-of-all-trades. He was a painter, draughtsman, lithographer, ceramist, woodcutter, book illustrator and furniture designer, although he became best known for gigantic murals.

In 1928, Brangwyn was commissioned by the House of Lords to produce a series of large panels celebrating the British Empire and the Dominions. Years before, however, Brangwyn painted ‘Tower Bridge’ (c. 1905), an oil on canvas that shows barges and dockworkers on the Thames, its bank looking west, and Tower Bridge presiding over them in the background. 

Sir Frank Brangwyn, 'Tower Bridge, London', c.1905 © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

William Alister Macdonald

Scottish artist William Alister Macdonald (1860-1956) was living in London in the 1880s and specialising in painting scenes of the City and the Thames. In 1902, before travelling extensively through Europe, he celebrated the Pool of London in a watercolour of the same name. 

In 1942, Macdonald's 'Watercolours of Old London' was published. The title was based in his 1936 one-man exhibition at the Arlington Galleries in Bond Street, which was organised by his wife, the miniaturist Lucy Winifred Macdonald. 

William Alister Macdonald, 'The Pool of London from Cherry Garden Pier ', 1902 © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

Pool of London during Dockland Air Raids, Charles Pears

1914-1945: The war years

Landscaper painters Christopher R. W. Nevinson (1889-1946), a Futurist influenced by the Cubism movement, and Charles Pears (1873-1958), renowned marine and naval painter, are among the established artists that immortalised Tower Bridge at this time. 

Nevinson painted the greyish ‘View on the Thames (Tower Bridge from the Pool of London)' in around 1930, and Pears created ‘Pool of London during the Dockland Air Raids’ in 1940. 

'The Pool of London during Dockland Air Raids, 1940', Charles Pears © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

©TfL from the London Transport Museum collection

1950s and 1960s: An artistic approach

Household name John Minton brought a more Cubist approach to his depiction of Tower Bridge.

Minton first became known for his scenes of urban decay, which embodied the crude reality of post-war Britain. He captured the moody atmosphere of the cranes and wharves of the Port of London, with sailors working on boats or pairs of dockers moving boxes around the riverbank.

In 1951, Minton was commissioned by the London Transport Museum to create ‘London’s river’, a gouache painting designed to promote day trips to the Thames. There, Tower Bridge is featured standing tall in the background, the crowning glory of a peaceful view.

'London's river', by John Minton, 1951 © TfL, detail of a poster from the London Transport Museum collection

Julian Trevelyan, trained as an artist in Paris and became a confirmed Surrealist. He worked alongside Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Max Ernst, and in 1936 exhibited at the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Gardens, alongside leading figures such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and André Breton. Trevelyan portrayed Tower Bridge many times, mostly using etching and aquatint or lithograph on paper. The most famous of these artworks is straightforwardly entitled ‘Tower Bridge’ (1968).

RAF pilot turned medical student and then artist and set designer James Page-Roberts (b. 1925), painted the brilliantly non-pictorial ‘Self-portrayed with Tower Bridge’ in 1965. He enmeshed his own figure with the outlines of the Thames. Steam and smoke became hair, a whistle morphed into a hand and a marker buoy into a nose. The bold composition dissolved water, sky, quays and wharves. Page-Roberts developed his artistic style with such intensity that it is difficult to fathom the same brushes painted the almost bland ‘Tower Bridge’ (1954) and the avant-garde ‘Tower Bridge and Ship Offloading into Three Barges in the Upper Pool, London’ (1964). 

Uzo Egonu Tower Bridge - Guildhall Art Gallery

Right: Uzo Egonu, 'Tower Bridge', 1969. Left: Phyllis Nunn, 'The Pool of London', c. 1965 © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

Nigerian-born artist Uzo Egonu (1931-1996) painted ‘Tower Bridge’ in 1969, a bold composition that merged abstraction with a cyclical, bird’s eye perspective. 

How about Phyllis Nunn’s coarse-style, rusty-coloured ‘Pool of London’ (c. 1965)? Her painting shows Tower Bridge presiding over the working river with a barge and numerous outlines of cranes in the Lower and Upper Pool. Little is known about Nunn. 'The Pool of London' is one of her only three identified paintings, alongside another landscape, 'The Fountain in Villefranche', and a still life 'Mackerel on a Plate' (both undated). She is the only woman artist from the Guildhall Art Gallery’s collection to have painted the Docklands.

1980s to modern times

Tower Bridge kept inspiring artists in the 1980s, 1990sn and onwards. Just look at ‘The Spirit of London’ (1981), by Judith Evans (b. 1949) and Arthur Watson (b. 1946). Or ‘Forever Imagical Tower Bridge’ (2014), a special commission by Mentor Chico (b 1963) to the Guildhall Art Gallery.


udith Evans and Arthur Watson (b. 1949, b. 1946), The Spirit of London, 1981, oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.jpg

Left: Judith Evans and Arthur Watson, 'The Spirit of London', 1981, © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London. Right: Mentor Chico, ‘Forever Imagical Tower Bridge’, 2014 © Mentor Chico

‘The Spirit of London’ was based on the paintings of the Tower of Babel (c. 1563) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569). Evans and Watson stated they aimed to ‘depict the City, destroying and recreating itself at the same time and continuously in flux and chaos’.

Chico, born in Ecuador and settled in London since 1997, said of ‘Forever Imagical Tower Bridge’: ‘My intention was to juxtapose two distinct architectural styles – the historical and the contemporary. The City buildings challenge traditional rules, shapes and laws of gravity and use new construction materials. The picture is 60% reality and 40% my artistic personality’.

Chris Orr Black Dog at Tower Bridge (2009)Chris Orr, 'Black Dog at Tower Bridge, 2009, © Chris Orr

Mixed media arttist by Chris Orr (b. 1943) incorporates subjective and emotional narratives from his own experience, portraying London as a city that engenders contradiction, and setting Tower Bridge ‘as the gateway to London’. ‘London’s Dreaming’ (2001) and ‘Black Dog at Tower Bridge’ (2009) are stunning examples of the motif.

Melissa Scott-Miller Tower Bridge

Melissa Scott-Miller, 'Tower Bridge', 2022. The painting is part of the 'A Bridge with a View' project © Melissa Scott-Miller/Tower Bridge

A muse in many forms and guises, Tower Bridge shines bright like the diamond it has been since June 1894, when the Prince of Wales first opened its bascules. The starring role of the ‘Wonder Bridge’, however, is intertwined with the Thames itself. From every viewpoint, these two entities complement each other, making us travel in time, evoking all types of memories. 

The subject matter of the Tower Bridge and the Thames are a gift to the artist, and a joy to the eyes of the passer-by. It is easy to understand why a multitude of painters found themselves mesmerised by such a view.

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