Painting Streatham Common

No doubt you have looked westward from Streatham Common to view the expanse of the Wandle Valley and the misty shapes of the North Downs beyond. Look more closely and you can see the heights of Wimbledon Common.  It was these fine panoramic view that attracted many artists to the Common during 19th century.

One artist of note was David Cox (1783-1859) who was widely acclaimed for his work as a landscape artist during the Victorian period and today his works command high prices in the art market. He lived in Streatham Hill and the nature of the contrasting landscape encouraged him to paint a number of views of Streatham, particularly of Streatham Common and the immediate area. 

One of his close friends was William Stone Ellis, who lived on the south side of the common. During the 1850s, Cox spent most Sundays at his house, painting local views. In 1851 he completed ‘A Field With Groups Of Trees,’ on the Common which at the time was considered to be thye epitome of English scenery. Other painters such as Peter de Wint, P. Nasmyth and A. Clark have also left their interpretations of the common. 

One artist in particular would have placed the common on the stage of world art - Vincent Van Gogh. One day in April 1875, while on the common, he made a drawing of the view and commented, ‘a large grassy plain with oak trees and gorse. It had been raining overnight; the ground was soaked and the young spring grass was fresh and green’. Unfortunately the drawing has long disappeared. 

Today, the attraction still holds artist and photographers, finding creative inspiration on the Common.

This is an edited version of an article that was first published in Common Knowledge, the newsletter of the Friends of Streatham Common. Information about the Friends can be found at www.streathamcommon.org

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