Historical Portraits Picture Archive

View of St James's Palace Gate with Pall Mall beyond 1796

Per Nordquist 

View of St James's Palace Gate with Pall Mall beyond, Per Nordquist
Oil on canvas
18th Century
26 x 38 ¼ inches 66 x 97.2 cm
Martyn Gregory, London
The fascination that views such as this exercise on the viewer is readily understood, and the impact of such a picture on a modern rather than an eighteenth century audience is further heightened by strangeness as well as the intended familiarity. This prospect, appreciated by contemporaries as a portrait of the city, is immediately recognisable as a view from Cleveland Terrace along the front of St James''s Palace to the western end of Pall Mall, whose buildings are visible in the distance. Superficially this view is unaltered, although a close inspection immediately reveals a host of differences effected over time, which makes this painting not only an engrossing snapshot of late eighteenth century London on a spring afternoon, as crammed with character and incident as a genre painting, but also an important document as a record of loss and change.

The private house in the foreground, for example, is now replaced by an early twentieth century building of similar mass and roofline now used as an embassy. The gable end of the house visible in the distance at the beginning of Pall Mall, known as Schomberg House, after the Williamite general the Duke of Schomberg who constructed it at the end of the seventeenth century, is now obscured by the mid-nineteenth century building of the United Oxford and Cambridge Clubhouse, although the house itself still stands. Until eight years before the painting of this picture Schomberg House had been the residence and studio of Thomas Gainsborough.

A comparison with the present prospect would also give rise to other, less explicable comparisons. Although eighteenth century London might seem more visually satisfying than its modern incarnation, it was also more cavalier in its treatment of important buildings. The projecting gable of the building in the immediate right foreground, from which a woman is shown leaning, perhaps accosting one of the soldiers below, obscures, and may to large part actually be built over, the great Henrician window of the Chapel Royal. This latter is now fully revealed and restored, and is one of the chief glories of the Palace when viewed from St. James''s. This painting demonstrates that the development of royal palaces in England during the long period of their use was more haphazard and utilitarian than the modern instinct for preservation. Were the spectator to be able to see around the façade of the palace and to the right, further changes would become apparent. The cut-through of Marlborough Road which enables the spectator to admire Inigo Jones's Queen's Chapel did not exist until the end of the next century. Instead there ran a wall which divided the courts of St. James's Palace and the Park from Pall Mall. Marlborough House, built by Wren for the Duchess of Marlborough and uniquely at the time permitted within the royal precincts of St. James''s Park, stands just beyond, and the low wall visible in the painting above the foreground trio may mark the entrance court.

The immediate source for this prospect is a drawing by Paul Sandby, which was published as a print in 1766. Certain significant changes have been made by the artist, as a result no doubt of personal taste, but also to reflect the passage of over thirty years. The soldiers guarding the gates of the Palace, for example, are dressed in uniforms of their date rather than the antiquated grenadiers' caps that Sandby depicts, and similar changes have been made to the staffage, producing different groups with different narratives.

Nordquist's training had been in landscape painting of this sort, and in his native Stockholm he had studied under the Swedish landscapist Elias Martin. Martin worked in London between 1768 and 1780, where he would have been familiar with the work of Paul and Thomas Sandby, and with their remarkable drawings of London, studies both of architecture and of the life of the city itself. When Martin was summoned back to Stockholm in 1780 by the King of Sweden it was in order to carry out a project comparable to the Sandby's work, a painted record of the appearance of old Stockholm. Unquestionably the example of the Sandbys would have been before him in this, and it is not surprising that their work should appear to have been influential with Nordquist his pupil.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.