British 20th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects 22 Can we establish from where this view over Chelsea was painted?

Autumn in Chelsea
Topic: Subject or sitter

The exact location can be pinpointed by the churches. Middle left is St Luke's.

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Jacob Simon,

I have not checked out the landmarks. But could it have been painted from 38 Redcliffe Road where the artist was living at the time of the 1939 England and Wales Register?

Helen Mason,


I think possibly this view is from St Luke’s Street or certainly one of the little roads that run off Cale Street towards St Luke’s Church.

Probably painted from an upper floor looking South West towards the Church.

Hope this helps.....

Malcolm Fowles,

Today St Lukes Chelsea does not look like the left hand church. However, in the Blitz it lost its east end, where the stubby spire is painted, so it is a pity we have no date. The west tower now is a finer thing than in the painting. Perhaps the artist didn't care about correct architecture, but how certain are you of the identification?

If the church is St Lukes, then this was not painted from 38 Redcliffe Road, which is some way to the west. This view is looking roughly SSW, i.e. from NNE. Google Earth reveals some similar rooftops in that direction, for example in Walton Street. However the many newer buildings and their layout between there and the church suggest extensive post-war rebuilding. This does not bode well for an answer.

The church on the right is also a mystery, seen from the same viewpoint. Perhaps another war casualty.

Osmund Bullock,

That's not, I think, St Luke's Church, which has a far taller, more attenuated tower; and at no time in its history has it had another, roofed tower at or near the other end.

I am pretty sure that the dominant building is the old St Stephen's Hospital on the south side of Fulham Road (which closed in 1989 and was demolished to make way for the current Chelsea & Westminster on the same site in the early 90s). See attached 1 &2.

The tower on the right is probably the Church of Our Lady of Seven Dolours and St. Mary's Priory on the other (north) side of Fulham Road a little further along - better known as the Servite Catholic Church. Attached 3 & 4.

This does indeed seem to be the view looking roughly SW from an upper window at the back of 53 Redcliffe Road (on the west side of the street), the address given by McDowall when exhibiting works at the RA in both 1952 & 1970.

William Thuillier,

As the view is of the north side of St.Luke's it must be taken from one of the streets off Cale St., perhaps Ixworth Place.
William Thuillier

I have asked London Group Leader Tom Ardill if he is able to provide a Group Leader recommendation based on the evidence provided by Osmund on 18 March last year.

Osmund Bullock,

Well, I'm still lurking. I did quite a lot of work on this last year, pinning down McDowall's movements before and after the War, and preparing maps and other images which I think clarify and strengthen the case for St Stephen's Hospital as the dominant background building. As usual I failed to pull it all together at the time...but can't bear to see it all go to waste now. So I'll be posting some more over the next few days.

It looks like Osmund has figured it out. The comparative images of St Stephen's Hospital and the church make a very good match in my eyes, and I would say that the google earth view matches closely with very similar rooftops. I recommend closing the discussion, unless Osmund or anyone else would like to add any final pieces of information first.

Jacob Simon,

So can this discussion now be closed based on Thomas Ardill's recommendation?

Kieran Owens,

Osmund is, once again, spot on. The two dominant buildings are now-demolished St. Stephen's Hospital (letf) and Church of Our Lady of Seven Dolours (right). See the attached images from Google maps. The red line travels from the back of No. 53 to Church of Our Lady of Seven Dolours, crossing over those distinctively sloping roofs of the houses on Seymour Walk. Additions to the upper floors of some of that street's buildings, along with some artistic licence, could explain the slight differences between the painting on the modern line.

See also:

Very clear. Unless someone can produce more specific dates for McDowall being at Redcliffe Road before 1952 and after 1970 the following might do as a location summary for 'more information' purposes:

'The view is roughly south-west from an upper rear window of 53 Redcliffe Road, Kensington, which was the artist's RA exhibiting address in 1952 and then 1970 (his only two appearances there). It overlooks the backs of houses on the east side of Seymour Walk and the large building to left is St Stephen's Hospital, on the south side of Fulham Road (dem. 1989 and replaced by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital). The church tower at far right is Our Lady of the Seven Dolours (the Servite Catholic Church), on the north side further down.'

The only thing unclear is possible date-span since we don't know when McDowall began living at Redcliffe Road or if still there when he died in 1983 (1952 and 1970 were his only RA appearances).

Jacob Simon,

Electoral registers on Ancestry show McDowall at no.54 in 1939 and at no.53 from 1947 until 1965. Later registers may not have been digitised.

Jacob Simon,

Phone books on Ancestry show McDowall at no.53 in 1971 and 1974.

1947 to at least 1970 then, but perhaps not otherwise dateable unless there something in the provenance re: exhibition/ ownership. Presumably in Scotland now because a Scot rather than for subject (gift/ bequest purchase?)

Kieran Owens,

William McDowall died on the 19th March 1983 at 14a, Old Barrack Road, Woodbridge, Suffolk, and his wife Violet Edith died at the same address on the 11th December 1988.

Buckman (see the Art UK profile) implies a move to Suffolk by 1977: 'Eventually he settled in Suffolk and was a member of Ipswich Art Club, showing mainly landscapes done in Britain and abroad from 1977 until he died' so it looks like some point in the 1947-77 slot, which includes possible appearances at (again acc. Buckman) 'ROI, RSA, RBA and Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts'.

Osmund Bullock,

Hah! Well, I worked feverishly on this yesterday and last night intending to produce – finally – my detailed evidence, but most of that has now been covered by Jacob and especially Kieran, whose splendid aerial view is far more useful and impressive than my selection of marked-up maps, etc. I will post them shortly anyway as so much went into them, and they do tell at least one extra story about bombing that is interesting (if not strictly relevant). And there are also a few further points that *are* relevant biographically...if somebody doesn’t beat me to it while I’m writing it all up.

Osmund Bullock,

William McDowall, an eldest child, was born not in Essex (as wrongly given on the Suffolk Artists website - they have the wrong man), but at Girvan in South Ayrshire, where he also spent at least the earlier part of his childhood. See attached 1 & 2. This is about 20 miles down the coast from Ayr, and explains why his entire public oeuvre is at Rozelle House – I would guess McDowall or his widow gave/left all the paintings to them, though there’s no hint of that in the Art UK entries.

McDowall’s mother was from Edinburgh, and though I’ve not researched the family’s movements, he was both educated and later (1932-5) trained in the city - see his biog (based on Buckman) on Art UK. By late 1938 he was in London, and married Violet (‘Vivette’) Cunnington at Kensington in the last quarter of the year. The (?)newly-weds had moved into the 1st Floor flat at 54 Redcliffe Road by October 1938 (the date the 1939 Electoral Register info was gathered), but by Sep 1939 (the National Register) had moved up the road – fortuitously, as it turned out – to no. 38, where they were among a remarkable group of nine artists who lived at nos. 35-39. Attached 3.

At some point during the Blitz nos. 54-56 Redcliffe Road were completely destroyed by a bomb – attached 4 – though it was rather ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’, as (possibly at the same time) no. 38 was also seriously damaged by another one. We don’t, and may never know whether or not they were actually ‘bombed out’, as Oct 1949 (1950 Electoral Reg) is the next we see of them, by which time they had moved back down the road to seemingly the top floor at no.53 – also seriously damaged, this had been repaired by then (unlike its neighbours at 54-56, replaced by a block of flats in the 1950s). It was there they remained until at least the mid-1970s, and it was there that this view was undoubtedly taken, possibly from the flat roof to the back extension visible today.

Osmund Bullock,

Jacob has shown (telephone directory) that they were still in London as late as 1974, but unfortunately L - R London directories from 1975 are missing from Ancestry’s (1880-1984) collection. They do, though, have several other helpful ones, and putting them together we can get much closer to our answer:

1974 Dec London (L - R) – William McDowall at 53 Redcliffe Rd, SW10.
1975 Jan Colchester Area – no listing for any McDowall.
1976 Mar Colchester Area – W. McDowall at 14a Old Barrack Rd, Woodbridge (& listed there till 1984).
1976 Jun London (L - R) – no listing for W(illiam) McDowall in Kensington & Chelsea, or elsewhere in Inner London.

Allowing at least a couple of months for the time between data gathering and publication, this implies that the McDowalls moved to Suffolk between the tail end of 1974 and the very beginning of 1976 – in all probability during 1975. The mention of 1977 in the Art UK biog from Buckman refers to when he exhibited, not when he moved, and this is supported by Suffolk Artists, which records his exhibit of 'Chelsea Rooftops in Autumn' (very likely our painting) at Ipswich Art Club in 1977, as well as four other works (not listed) in 1978, and four more (mainly European landscapes) in 1980. Further support for his presence there by 1976 is given by another work in Rozelle’s collection dated that year: They title it as just ‘Village Church’, but that looks very much like St Mary’s, Woodbridge to me.

Kieran Owens,

The absence from this painting's view of any flat-roofed Seymour Walk building, from the selected few that are shown as sitting under the possible sightline, and that were, reckoning from LCC's map, bomb damaged during the war, might suggest that the painting was executed from either No. 53 or No 54 sometime before the blitzkrieg was unleashed.

1 attachment
Chris Pain 01,

Further to the discussion of William McDowall, I must point out that ArtUK has erroneously attributed at least one work by McDowall to William McDowell (1888-1950), a painter who specialised in depicting big ships and who also appears to have been resident in Kensington in the 1940s.
In particular "Old Wharf, Chelsea" is clearly not is the style of McDowell and closer to that of McDowall. More importantly the signature is identical to the one above, with a lower case "Celtic" d after the Mc and a clear "a" in the last syllable rather than an "e". McDowell, on the other hand, signs his paintings with a capital D.
I'd also posit that "Female Nude", albeit unsigned, is more likely to be the work of McDowall rather than that of McDowell.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

jpg, png, pdf, doc, xls (max 6MB)
Drop your files here
Attach a file Start uploading

Sign in

By signing in you agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes our use of cookies.