Tuesday, 27 July 2010
A View of St Paul's
A View of St Paul's
© Teresa Kirkpatrick 2010
For the latest painting in my London series I've moved north of the river - just - to St Paul's Cathedral. It's quite a big deal moving from south to north, and vice versa - I was born north of the river and until a few years ago I'd always worked north of the river, too; it seemed strange to start crossing bridges to Bankside when I moved offices. The north end of the Millenium Bridge leads you across the hustle and bustle of Queen Victoria Street straight towards the south door of the cathedral, with its imposing columned portico. Sets of steps and a gentle slope lead enticingly towards the building: at the top of the slope the visitor is greeted by a small area of parkland before crossing St Paul's Churchyard (which is a street, despite the name) to the Cathedral itself.
It's frustratingly difficult, if not impossible, to get a complete view of the front or side of St Paul's; it's too big to fit into the camera frame, and there are no places to stand back and view the whole thing. The front (west) entrance is approached via Ludgate Hill, and I've spotted many a tourist risking life and limb in the traffic for that perfect shot which isn't going to happen. I used to curse the post-war town planners for hemming in St Paul's with surrounding buildings; and only discovered quite recently that the layout of this part of the City of London goes back to the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The fire itself only wreaked so much devastation because various aldermen were reluctant to let their houses be razed to the ground to make a firebreak; afterwards, Sir Christopher Wren drew up plans for a new City of piazzas approached by wide boulevards. But interested parties were at work again, and by the time he got round to putting his plans into action, the houses around St Paul's had started to be rebuilt and their owners wouldn't sell up. Londoners have always been cussed. The City fathers were uncomfortable with Wren's plans for the cathedral, particularly the dome, so he pretended to be building a different design, and by the time they noticed, it was too late (you can read more about this here).
The southerly approach to the Cathedral has a special character all its own. There's a café and a pub at the top of the steps to the left of my painting which will serve you breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. At quiet times skateboarders use the series of steps and the flat areas between them for practice. During the annual City of London Festival, a "play your own" piano is set up behind the bench in my painting, for passers by to entertain the crowds; many sit on the steps to listen as the area becomes an impromptu outdoor concert hall. And in December that slope leads you up to the St Paul's Christmas tree, decked out in silver, while fairy lights are hung in the trees round about.
The painting shows an ordinary sunny summer's afternoon; tourists and visitors from all over the world mingling with City types going about their business as the Cathedral looks on, unmoved and unmovable. That Wren knew a thing or two . . .