Completed British 20th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects 29 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

Completed, Outcome

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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.

The original question about where the painting's view was taken from has been confidently answered as 53 or 54 Redcliffe Road, Chelsea, thanks to the careful biographical and topographical research of several contributors. I therefore propose that we close this discussion.

It should be noted that further research on this discussion has also narrowed down the dates in which the painting is likely to have been made, from about October 1938 to about 1975, during which time McDowall and his wife were living on Radcliffe Road. The most likely dates can be further refined to between about October 1938 and September 1939 (when McDowall lived at No.54), or between about October 1949 and about 1975 (when he lived at no.53). (From about September 1939 to about October 1949 he was living at no. 38, but it is possible he may have had access to the viewpoint up until the house was bombed during the Blitz, and after it was rebuilt.) It has further been suggested that the view may have been made before the London Blitz, in which case the view is likely to have been made from number 54 between about October 1938 and September 1939. Given the autumnal setting (as described in the title), October-November 1938 seems most likely.

Having said this, even though the painting has the character of being painted directly from its subject, it is possible that it was painted after a sketch or photograph, so it is also possible that the view was recorded as a sketch, photograph or study during the dates discussed, and painted at a later date.

Thank you to all the contributors, with a special mention to Osmund for his great topographical and biographical research. The information contained in this discussion adds much to the biography of William McDowall and his wife Vivette E. (née Violet Edith Cunnington).

Osmund Bullock,

If you can give me a day or two to draw it together, I now have good evidence that the view must be post-war, and thus certainly painted from the rear of no. 53.

Osmund Bullock,

I now have firm evidence that the painting under discussion was painted post-war, as the great tower of St Stephen's Hospital (there was a smaller one further east along the building) is shown without its distinctive central spire. See attached views of it 'with' and 'without'.

Although I've not found information on exactly when it (and a room below it) was removed, I have narrowed it down substantially: in April 1947 it was still in place, while a postcard dating from c.1950-55 shows it gone. As well as many nearby hits, St Stephen’s itself suffered severe bomb damage in both 1940 & 1941; it seems likely this had compromised the stability of the structure, and it was thought safer to take it down.

The April 1947 date comes from a series of aerial photos taken then that clearly show the spire in place (I attach two of them). The postcard image (also attached) is sadly very low-res, but the cars (and the lack of them) suggest early 1950s to me, or even before, as do (less certainly) what I think may be one or two women crossing the road in the centre – her/their outline (if such it is) is distinctly ‘New Look’ fashion, i.e. late 1947 to early/mid-50s. And analysis of cards for sale on eBay show that the typeface on the postcard (by Skilton of Wimbledon) is the same as on other London ones by them posted between 1950 & 1955 – Skilton used different lettering from 1956.

Osmund Bullock,

Anyway, our picture was therefore without doubt painted after 1947. This coincides with the earliest known post-war record of the McDowalls’ whereabouts, the 1947 Electoral register (qualifying date ?Nov 1946), when William & Vivette (registered as ‘Ninette’) first appear on the roll at 53 Redcliffe Rd; and there they stayed until c.1975. [I mistakenly said previously the 1950 register was the first]. At what point during the 1947-1975 span it was painted, we do not know. But being as McDowall exhibited what is likely this work ('Chelsea Rooftops in Autumn') at the Ipswich Art Club in 1977, I tend to favour the latter end. Either way the view is definitely that from the rear of no. 53.

Where they were during the war we also do not know. In the 1945 &1946; elec. rolls nos 52-57 have nobody registered at all, and nor do nos 33-39 – certainly because they were uninhabitable from bomb damage. My guess is that the McDowalls were indeed bombed out when living at no. 38 (their address in Sep 1939), and went to stay with friends or relations, very possibly outside London. Late 40s rebuilding slowly improved matters, but Streetview shows nos 37 & 38 had to be largely or completely rebuilt. When no. 53 – next door to their previous home at no. 54 – became habitable again, they would doubtless have heard, and thus moved in as some of its first post-war residents.

Osmund Bullock,

Also worth pointing out to the Collection these extra details for three other McDowall works that they hold:

1. ‘London Rooftops’ – This painting is a sort of companion piece to the one under discussion – it is a snow-covered view from the rear of no. 53 Redcliffe Rd again, but looking roughly SSE down the line of the back gardens towards the junction of Fulham Rd & Seymour Place. I’m attaching a very wiggly Google Earth 3D image of approx. the same view, though the viewpoint is higher. Also attached is a crop of a 1951 Ordnance Survey map apparently based on data from 1949/50. I’ve marked this up to show the line-of-sight spread for both ‘London Rooftops’ (purple) and ‘Autumn in Chelsea’ (in green), together with other details including (outlined in orange) ruins and cleared bombsites still not rebuilt at that time. I’ve also marked my childhood home nearby, which is why I was able to identify the building as St Stephen’s with such certainty.

2. ‘Driftwood’ – If this title was given to it by the Collection, they may be interested to see this smaller version titled ‘Iona’, sold at auction in March 2005 – . Comparison (to scale) attached.

3. ‘Vivette’ (1942) is of course McDowall’s wife, Violet Edith née Cunnington (1915-1989**) –

[**Kieran, I think your eye must have slipped down a couple of entries in the Probate Index – Violet Edith McDowall died at Woodbridge on 24/2/1989, not 11/12/1988.]