Tower Bridge Museum Review Essay

London's Tower Bridge is one of the most recognizable bridges in the world. Its Victorian Gothic style stems from a law that forced the designers to create a structure that would be in harmony with the nearby Tower of London.

Bridge History

Tower Bridge

Plans for the Tower Bridge were devised around 1876 when the east of London became extremely crowded and a bridge across the Thames in that area of the city seemed a necessity. It would take another eight years - and lots of discussions about the design - before construction of the bridge started.

The bridge, designed by city architect Horace Jones in collaboration with John Wolfe Barry, would eventually be completed in 1894. Five contractors and nearly 450 workers were involved in the construction of the 265 meter long bridge. It took 11,000 tons of steel to build the framework. At the time many people disliked its Victorian Gothic design, but over time the bridge became one of London's most famous symbols.


Mechanics

Tower bridge raising

The proximity of the harbor and its location in the direction of the sea required for the bridge to allow the passage of large vessels. Hence the decision to create a moveable bridge which can be opened to accommodate boat traffic. The mechanism to open the bridge is hidden in the two towers. Until 1976, when the mechanism became electrified, steam power was used to pump water into hydraulic accumulators which powered the engines.

Each deck is more than 30 meters wide and can be opened to an angle of 83 degrees. When opened the bridge has a clearance of almost 45 meters. It used to open almost fifty times a day but nowadays it is only raised about one thousand times a year. Bridge lifts are pre-scheduled (for cruise ships, etc) so visitors can check the bridge's website to find out when it will rise and lower.


Visiting the Bridge

Tower Bridge at night

Taking photographs of the Tower bridge is a favorite London tourist activity, but you can also go inside the bridge, where you'll have a magnificent view over London from the walkway between the two bridge towers.

Inside the bridge is the Tower bridge Exhibition, a display area that encompasses the walkway and the two famous towers where you can observe the Victorian engine room. Visitors can learn about the history of the bridge via photos, films, and other media.

In 2014 glass floors were installed in the walkways, giving visitors another, unusual view from the bridge. The 11 meter (36 ft) long glass floors, more than 40 meters above the river, allow you to observe the traffic over the Tower Bridge from above. It is particularly fascinating to see the bridge open and close below your feet.


> More Tickets & Tours

In 1905, French painter André Derain was commissioned by his art dealer Ambroise Vollard to paint views of London. Derain set up his easel outdoors and went to work. The subject of this landscape, London Bridge, was one of several bridges built across the River Thames as part of a larger movement at the turn of the 19th century to modernize the city center with grand new architectural projects and public works. London Bridge is one of about 30 paintings Derain produced over his two-month stay, all depicting activity on or around the Thames.

London Bridge
ca. 1870-ca. 1890
Albumen print.
A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library
Accession Number: 15/5/3090.01026

It’s not surprising that Derain’s art dealer was interested in views of London. Nineteenth-century London saw a huge growth in population (from 1 million in 1800 to over 6 million a century later) as mechanical industry, especially the building of railways, took hold. Derain saw the changes and created a portrait of London that was radically different from anything done by previous painters of the city. The artist later recalled: “Fauvism was our ordeal by fire. . . It was the era of photography. This may have influenced us and played a part in our reaction against anything resembling a snapshot of life. No matter how far we moved away from things, it was never far enough. Colors became charges of dynamite.”1

Duthuit, George. The Fauvist Painters. (New York, NY : Wittenborn, Schultz, 1950), 29.

André Derain, January 1906, quoted in Judi Freeman, The Fauve Landscape (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990), 85.

One who applies paint to canvas, wood, paper, or another support to produce a picture.

Glossary

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

Glossary

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

Glossary

A River Runs Through It
At the time Derain painted this image, the wide River Thames played an essential role in London’s industrial activity. The waterway served as an artery uniting the city along its length, as a connector to the British canal system, and as a linkage to the Port of London, where goods could be transported for international trade. Today, the river remains a major tourist attraction.

A Calm Beauty
Despite London’s intense activity, Derain sought to create images of calm and tranquility. The year he made this painting, he wrote a letter to fellow painter Henri Matisse, saying: “I sincerely believe that we ought to aim for calm. . . . This calm is something of which we can be certain. Beauty, then, ought to be an aspiration towards this calm.”2

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