Landscape and Architectural Engraver
View from Chalk Farm, by Thomas Clark, dated 1824
This water-colour by Thomas Clark shows the rural nature of Camden Town at this time. Thomas Clark was a landscape and architectural engraver who lived at 42 Pratt Street, Camden Town, when the houses were, still surrounded by fields. It must have been a good place for an artist to live, on the edge of the country, yet within walking distance of the galleries and print shops of the City and West End. There was a similar colony of artists in Lisson Grove at the time, also next to open fields.
Clark is better known for his steel engravings of other people's work than for his own watercolours. He was awarded the Large Silver Medal of the Society of Arts for his engraving of Chichester Cross, in 1831, and he engraved for any number of books of travel - 'Views of the Rhine', etc.1 Nevertheless, his watercolour landscapes are quite common.2 At one time he was even confused with Constable, but so much is known about Constable today that experts can separate them quite easily. Everything in Constable relates to something else, so that a particular feature - perhaps a cart, or a boat - can normally be traced back through other drawings and paintings, to a tiny sketchbook of years earlier. There is no such history to the pieces of Clark's watercolours. They are direct studies, often rather empty compared with Constable. They can be thought of as Clark's notebooks and all the more valuable topographically.
This one is called 'From Chalk Farm' and indeed the lower slopes of Haverstock Hill, just above the present Chalk Farm Station, must have been Clark's nearest vantage point. From there in 1824, with the Canal only a few years old and the railway still in the future, he could have watched the new fringes of London being built in Bloomsbury and Regent's Park.
In the centre of the picture is a domed building, but may not be St Paul's as there are no towers. It could be The Coliseum on the site of the present Coliseum Terrace in Regent’s Park. This was designed by Decimus Burton to house an enormous panorama which had been drawn by Thomas Horner from the dome of St Paul's. The panorama venture was never a financial success and the building was demolished in 1875. However, the dates do not quite match. The Colosseum did not open until 1829, while this drawing is dated 1824. Perhaps the drawing was dated later from memory. However, the shape is very like of the dome St Paul’s, so perhaps Clark simply forgot to draw the towers. In any case the picture shows how rural Chalk Farm, Camden Town and Euston Road were in those days, before the railways arrived.3
Old Chalk Farm in 1730
Camden Town from the Hampstead Road, Marylebone, 1780
- Dictionary of Steel Engravers, by Basil Hunnisett, 1980.
- Dictionary of Watercolour Painters, by Mallalieu.
- I am grateful to Mr Goodman of Xanthus, Fine Art Dealers, for permission to print the picture.