David Roberts made his considerable reputation as a painter of Scottish landscapes and the beauty-spots of Europe, where he travelled extensively. In 1860 he determined to paint a monumental view of London, telling a friend in December that year that he had ‘long thought that the river Thames and London itself was as good, if not better, than many things we go to other countries to look for.’
(James Ballantine, The Life of David Roberts, R.A.,
1866) He was inspired by a desire to record the character of the city from the river before Joseph Bazalgette’s building work on the Victoria Embankment began to ‘change it from its present state, and which will totally alter its present appearance.’
(letter to a friend, 10 June 1861, National Library of Scotland). Roberts also recognised that scenes of London had become popular following the success of J.M.W. Turner’s pictures of the city. The impetus to begin work on the project was the death of Roberts’ friend and the architect of the Palace of Westminster, Sir Charles Barry, with whom Roberts had discussed the idea. During the months of July and August 1860 Roberts often walked the river-side path making copious sketches and during the following summer and the summer of 1863 he returned to the locations that he had decided gave the best vantages and began work on a series of twelve paintings. He had the financial support of the wealthy civil engineer Charles Lucas who agreed to buy all of the finished pictures. Four of the completed oils were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1862 and two more in 1863. Roberts died in 1864, leaving the series incomplete but the pictures that resulted from this ambitious project are a remarkable testament to the magnificence of the city and to Roberts’ skill. Lucas’ grandsons presented The New Palace of Westminster from the River
of 1861 (exhibited at the Academy in 1862) and A Relic of the Past – St Pauls from Blackfriars
of 1862 (exhibited at the Academy that year) to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.
View from Waterloo Bridge, Embracing St. Pauls, Somerset House and Temple was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1862 where it was described as the sixth in the series of London views. A smaller, related version of St. Pauls and Somerset House from Waterloo Bridge was sold in these rooms (30 November 2000, lot 150) whilst St. Paul's from the Thames, Looking West exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1863, depicts the view from the opposite riverbank looking in the opposite direction (sold in these rooms, 25 November 2004, lot 301).