The Opening of Waterloo Bridge John Constable Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Opening of Waterloo Bridge painting by John Constable is arguably one of the most celebrated paintings ever made by such an outstanding and celebrated artist. Measuring at seven feet in length, the canvas is the largest compared to his other paintings and portrays the opening of the Waterloo Bridge on the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1817.

This is usually an event with intense pomp and colour which John Constable attempted to initially capture through a sketch and eventually an incredible oil painting. Witnessing the public occasion from Whitehall Stairs, after moving from Suffolk to London, constable appears to have made a sketch of the events at that moment. However, the artist decided to portray the occasion, two years later, on a larger piece of canvas. The painting depicts Prince Regent at the Whitehall stairs ready to climb aboard the royal barge in order to sail to Waterloo Bridge for the official opening of the bridge which was constructed by John Rennie.

The picture also shows the prince in the company of the Lord Mayor of London in his barge. The view of the painting looks towards the north-east over the City with the river cutting across. The garden of Fife House is visible on the lower left foreground which used to be the Prime Minister's home with St Georges' flag flying high from the garden. Waterloo Bridge is brightly illustrated reaching Somerset House which is the home of the Royal Academy on the northern bank and Lambeth to the south. From a distance, St, Paul's Cathedral dome stands tall as the horizon is marked with which patches representing the prehistoric churches in the city of London.

The cloud of smoke at the centre of the bridge signifies a gun salute. John Constable once referred to this painting as "my Harlequin's jacket", procrastinated the idea of exhibiting the painting at the Royal Academy since 1821 and eventually presenting it at the academy thirteen years later after its inception. The painting which is based in the Tate art gallery museum, London offered constable a great opportunity to document such a significant historical event for future generations.