Mr. O'Connor has never done a better easel picture than his Ludgate: Evening'. It is a capital rendering of the scene.' (Art Journal, 1887, p.248)
The picture was painted from the north side of Fleet Street, looking towards the Wren church of St Martin's and the front portico and towering dome of St Paul's. The verticality of the church spires and the four-storey shops is broken by the wrought-iron Ludgate Viaduct, across which is travelling a passenger train that has just left Ludgate Hill station on the London, Chatham and Dover line, leaving a trail of blue steam in its wake. The viaduct had been opened on the 24 March 1874 and can therefore be seen as a symbol of modernity and industry, which along with the shops, gas-lamps and advertisements, contrast with the venerable nobility of St Martin's and St Paul's. Victorian London was a city of contrasts and progress, the beating heart of the British Empire and O'Connor has captured this with his dramatic image of the bustle of modern life presided over by the grandeur of its past in the form of one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe.
Beneath Ludgate Viaduct is a plethora of horse-drawn vehicles; hired two-wheelers and hansoms, wagons laden with produce from the nearby markets of Smithfield and Spitalfield and a quintet of omnibuses with every seat on the upper-deck taken by businessmen in tops and bowlers and a few ladies making their way home with their shopping. The sunlight is still strong but evening is drawing in and the buildings are casting the road into shadow. Fleet Street was most famous for its newspaper offices. The evening journals are being sold on the pavements by street-vendors and in the lower right corner two sellers are refilling a newspaper stand at the corner of Bride Lane. The hoardings on the corner of the building feature advertisements for F.T. Baker, gun-maker to Queen Victoria. On the sides of the omnibus are playbills for Henry Irving's production at the Lyceum theatre of Faust which had opened in 1885, the actor-manager's greatest commercial achievement which filled the Lyceum for two consecutive seasons. The theatrical world was very familiar to O'Connor who had been the principal scene-painter at Drury Lane and Haymarket from 1863-1878.
O'Connor was born in Ireland and worked in Belfast and Dublin where he painted theatrical scenery before moving to London in 1848 and continuing in the same profession. His scenery painting gave him the ability to convey perspective and capture the drama of a scene and this lent itself well to topographic painting, the first example of which O'Connor painted in 1855. He began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1857 from various London addresses; he was living at Abercorn Place in St John's Wood when Ludgate, Evening was exhibited. The catalogue for the Royal Academy exhibition of 1887 included a quote beneath Ludgate, Evening from Comus by Milton 'Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot. Which men call earth'.
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