London is one of the best cities in the world to see famous art. From the small, local galleries to the grand rooms of The National Gallery and the Tate Britain, London is an art lover's dream. And while London's galleries now house some of the world's most famous paintings, London itself has also been a muse to many artists.
From the Parliament Buildings to scenes along the Thames, the city has been depicted again and again through artists' eyes, their brushstrokes attempting to capture some of the magic of London. From Monet to Canaletto, here are some of the most famous paintings of London. Whether you're an aspiring artist yourself or can just appreciate their work, make sure to follow in these artists' footsteps on your next holiday to London!
The Most Famous Paintings of London
Houses of Parliament by Claude Monet (1899-1901)
Perhaps the most famous name on this list, it's only fitting to start with Claude Monet. Though many associate Monet's work with his Impressionist paintings of France - his renderings of lily pads at his home in Giverny spring to mind - Monet spent a lot of time in London throughout his life and produced a series of oil paintings of the Houses of Parliament.
Though he first painted London in 1870, it is his portrayals of London in the early 1900s that is especially well-known. Monet often painted from his hotel on the South Bank in the morning, favouring the view toward Waterloo Bridge. Later in the afternoon and into the evening, he focused on the changing light along the Thames and toward the Houses of Parliament. He was fascinated by the colours of the evening sky from his view of Westminster Bridge, and today these paintings represent some of his most spectacular work.
Where to see these paintings: The Houses of Parliament series by Monet can be found in museums and private collections all over the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
Charing Cross Bridge by Camille Pissarro (1890)
Like Monet, Camille Pissarro found himself in London in the early 1870s due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in France, his home. It was in London that he met Monet; they were impressed with the works of British painters John Constable and J. M. W. Turner, who both believed in painting in the open air as opposed to a studio.
This may have influenced Pissarro's later work when he returned to London in 1890, creating ten paintings of Central London, including Charing Cross Bridge. Though the vantage point looks very different today, one can only imagine Pissarro setting up his easel on the banks of the Thames to paint this famous piece.
Where to see this painting: At the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Piccadilly Circus by George Hyde Pownall (c. 1910)
Born in Nottinghamshire, George Hyde Pownall became known for his paintings of London's streets, including views of Piccadilly Circus, The Haymarket, Leicester Square, and Westminster Bridge and the Parliament Buildings.
Because he was painting a bit later than Impressionists like Monet and Pissarro, Pownall witnessed a time in London when both horse-drawn carriages and motor vehicles shared the streets. As London was still lit by gas lanterns, his paintings often depicted warm, ethereal scenes of London in the evening.
Where to see this painting: Many of Pownall's pieces are in private collections, although a few are in The Cowen Gallery of the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.
The Thames and the City by Canaletto (1746-47)
Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, was an Italian painter who found just as much inspiration in London as he did in Venice and Rome. He lived in England from 1746 to 1755, producing many paintings of London, including ones of Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, The Thames, and the newly completed Westminster Bridge.
While you won't find the London Eye or the Shard in any of Canaletto's paintings, his work is a rare - and fascinating - glimpse into what life was like in London in the 1700s.
Where to see this painting: Many of Canaletto's works are in the Royal Collection Trust, although you can see some of his paintings in the National Gallery, the Museum of London, the National Maritime Museum, and the Wallace Collection.
View of London showing St Paul's and Canon Street Station from Southwark Bridge by John Crowther (1880s)
While John Crowther's name may not be as recognisable as some others on this list, he was a very important figure in the Victorian art world. Working in watercolours, he was commissioned by Charles Chadwyck-Healey, a prominent lawyer and baronet in London, to paint the streets and architecture of Victorian London.
Over more than a decade in the 1880s and 1890s, he produced 440 works of London, therefore creating one of the most accurate collections of what London looked like in that time. Many of the buildings and streets that were the subjects of his work have since been destroyed, meaning his work represents a visual time capsule of Victorian London.
Where to see this painting: A collection of Crowther's work was donated to the London Metropolitan Archives.
The Terrace of the Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich by James Tissot (c. 1878)
Another French painter, Jacques Joseph Tissot (often referred to as James Tissot) became very well-known for his paintings in London, particularly his portraiture of women. He often captured the fashionable world of high society around the city, painting in the open air but also from his studio at his home in St. John's Wood. His work showcases what it might have been like to be in the upper classes of London in the late 1800s.
Where to see this painting: Tissot's work can be found in galleries around the world, including the Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Gallery of Canada.
Charing Cross Bridge by André Derain (1906)
Another fan of setting up his easel outdoors, André Derain was commissioned by his art dealer, Ambroise Vollard, to paint what he saw in London. His scenes from 1905 represent the art style Fauvism, a dramatic contrast to the Impressionists before him; "les Fauves" is translated to "wild beasts" in French, and artists such as Derain and Henri Matisse favoured strong and radical colours in place of realistic views.
Because of this, Derain's 30 paintings of London are wonderfully evocative in a unique way... it's not every day you get to see what the Thames would look like if it were yellow, or what the Parliament Buildings would look like painted green.
Where to find this painting: At the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London by J. M. W. Turner (1841)
Though this is definitely not one of J. M. W. Turner's most famous works, this list would be incomplete without one of Britain's most lauded and beloved artists. Turner was known for his landscape paintings, often capturing the English countryside as well as scenes of maritime life and battles.
His watercolours of the Tower of London were found in a sketchbook, and they are believed to document the catastrophic fire that broke out at the Tower of London on the 30th of October, 1841.
Where to find this painting: This particular piece is found in the Tate Britain. You can find other work by Turner in galleries around the world, most notably in the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
There's no doubt about it: London is a city that inspires. From the artists on this list to the artists painting London today, it continues to be a muse. This list only touches on some of the famous works of the city; James Pollard, John Collet, George Vicat Cole, Giuseppe de Nittis, and David Cox are also known for their paintings of London, and recent UK artists to note include Lubaina Himid, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Rachel Whiteread.
One thing is for sure: London will continue to be the subject of many artists for years to come.