In 1905, French painter André Derain was commissioned by his art dealer Ambroise Vollard to paint views of London. Derain set up his easel outdoors and went to work. The subject of this landscape, London Bridge, was one of several bridges built across the River Thames as part of a larger movement at the turn of the 19th century to modernize the city center with grand new architectural projects and public works. London Bridge is one of about 30 paintings Derain produced over his two-month stay, all depicting activity on or around the Thames.
It’s not surprising that Derain’s art dealer was interested in views of London. Nineteenth-century London saw a huge growth in population (from 1 million in 1800 to over 6 million a century later) as mechanical industry, especially the building of railways, took hold. Derain saw the changes and created a portrait of London that was radically different from anything done by previous painters of the city. The artist later recalled: “Fauvism was our ordeal by fire. . . It was the era of photography. This may have influenced us and played a part in our reaction against anything resembling a snapshot of life. No matter how far we moved away from things, it was never far enough. Colors became charges of dynamite.”