c. 1616 – 1677
A View of the Thames at Westminster on The Lord Mayor’s Day
Thomas Wyck (or Wijck) was born near Haarlem and trained as an artist under his father. He journeyed to Italy in around 1640 where he absorbed the style of the Italian painters and produced copious drawings. On his return to Haarlem in 1642 he joined the Guild of St. Luke. Here he specialised in painting Italiante views of travellers resting by the roadside, often utilising Italian ruins he would have studied during his travels, as well as more typically northern genre scenes of tavern interiors and scholars' studies.
When Charles II took the English throne in 1660 after the Restoration, Wyck travelled to London and produced some spectacular views of the city, both before and after the Great Fire of 1666. It is not known with whom he studied, but it is assumed he knew well the work of Pieter van Laer, whose pseudonym (Il Bamboccio) led to the creation of a specific group of Netherlandish painters in Rome, of which Wyck was a member.
Wyck flitted between London and Haarlem during the 1660s before leaving London for good in or around 1673. Thomas trained his son Jan Wyck (1645 - 1702) who, perhaps thanks to his father's connections, had an extremely successful career in London enjoying the patronage of William III and his court.
With Westminster Abbey to the left and the old Palace of Whitehall on the right, Wyck's depiction of The Lord Mayor's Procession is a significant historical document. Wyck has recorded not only the pageantry, but also the spectacular atmosphere of the procession, with cannon salutes, trumpets blowing, and men shouting as the oarsmen pull their barges towards Westminster. Painted between 1663 to the mid-1770s, the precise dating of the scene is uncertain. The Great Fire of London in 1666 spared Westminster and during the reign of Charles II there was little change to the topography of this stretch of the river.
From 1453 until the middle of the 19th century The Lord Mayor's Procession took place on the Thames each year on 29th October. The newly elected mayor would receive his insignia of office at the Guildhall and then travel by water from the City to Westminster. Here he would swear loyalty to the monarch. His barge, sixty to eighty feet in length, would be elaborately decorated, with a canopy to protect him from the elements, and would proudly fly the flag of the City of London - a St. George's cross with a sword in the upper left quadrant. In the present picture The Lord Mayor's barge is likely the vessel leading the procession which is turning towards Westminster.
The Twelve Great London Livery Companies would make up the grandest part of the flotilla, each of the wealthiest Companies owning their own barge. Indeed, The Lord Mayor himself was always picked from among their number. Companies which have tentatively been identified in Wyck's picture are the Apothecaries with their blue flag and the god Apollo in gold (centre left), the Clothworkers with their sable chevron and gold ram (centre right) and the Vintners with their sable chevron and three barrels on a black background (right, behind the Clothworkers). Also visible in several places are the Royal Arms of England to salute the current monarch King Charles II (three gold lions on a red field).
The watermen - members of the Watermen's Company - used their small wherries much like taxis to provide the main source of transport on the Thames. They clutter Wyck's picture, likely conveying passengers who want a closer look at the festivities. The watermen were known to be a particularly uproarious and rude group. The playwright Thomas Middleton mentions them in his 1617 play 'A Faire Quarrell'. A character is asked if 'canon'-like speech is still in fashion and responds, "as long as there are watermen at Westminster Stairs!" Their boisterous temperament is on full display in Wyck's scene where two wherries appear to be brandishing oars at each other.
Amongst the topography shown, it is interesting to note the various riverside stairs Wyck has depicted. Now largely destroyed, the stairs were vital access points to and from the river in an age when the Thames was the quickest and often the safest way to travel in London.
The Westminster Stairs provided direct access to Westminster Hall and Abbey and extended down a wooden causeway to provide access even at low tide. These stairs were one of the busiest hubs of activity in London and were used by nobles, monarchs, and citizens alike.
The Privy Stairs were attached to the king and queen’s apartments at Whitehall. River access was necessary as the palace faced the Thames rather than the street. The stairs were used primarily by the monarch and by visiting foreign dignitaries and courtiers in order to gain access to the palace without needing to negotiate the streets of London.
Key to areas of interest:
1 – The Horseferry
2 – St. Stephen’s Chapel
3 – Westminster Hall
4 – Westminster Stairs
5 – Westminster Abbey
6 – Manchester House
7 – Derby House
8 – King’s Chambers
9 – Privy Stairs
10 – Queen’s Chambers
11 – Whitehall Palace
12 – Banqueting House
13 – Whitehall Stairs
A – Worshipful Company of Apothecaries
B – Possible barge of the new Lord Mayor
C – Possible barge of the new Lord Mayor
D – Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
E – Worshipful Company of Vintners
Willis Group Corporate Collection
Sold, Bonhams, The Willis Association Sale, 21 February 2008, lot 99;
Private collection, UK