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Throughout history London has served as an important place for artists to carve out their careers, as well as offering respite from conflict overseas. Thanks to the hundreds of plaques dotted around the city it is easy to trace the many places that these individuals used to live and work.
It would be easy to miss this porcelain plaque on the busy streets of Soho, as nowadays it sits above a Polpo restaurant. The acclaimed Venetian painter Canaletto lived here during a brief sojourn in London, in order to reach his British patrons who couldn’t travel to Venice, due to the War of Austrian Succession. During this time he painted several views from the Thames.
A stone’s throw from some of London’s greatest museums you will find a Kensington mansion steeped in history. Millais House is named after its most famed resident, the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais, where he lived with his wife Effie and their eight children. Almost a century later it became home to Francis Bacon, who acquired the ground floor and used the billiard room as a studio. Until recently it became the headquarters for the Art Fund, a charity dedicated to helping museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections.
John Constable loved to visit the then-rural area of Hampstead. Between 1819 and 1826 he would take his family to visit every summer, before moving there permanently a year later. He loved being around nature, as well as being able to escape the bustle of the city, where he maintained a studio. His later works often take the surrounding landscape as their subject and he even created several sketches of the property.
The Bloomsbury area is peppered with blue plaques dedicated to the life and work of the Bloomsbury Group, but this property remained significant as it was more that just a residence, it was the site of the groundbreaking Omega Workshops where Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell produced furnishing, textiles, wallpaper and other designs based on their modern principles. The premises consisted of public showrooms and artist studios.
The painter lodged here from 1873 to 1874, and nearby Isabel Street has been transformed into a thoroughfare now called Van Gogh Walk to commemorate his time in the city. He was only 19 on his arrival, working for an art dealer in Covent Garden and relishing the walk to work across the Thames. However his life in the house apparently grew unbearable after he became smitten with his landlady’s daughter, Eugenie. In 2014, Art Angel commissioned Dutch artist Saskia Olde Wolbers to create an immersive video installation in the building.
The surrealist photographer lived in Hampstead with her husband, the artist, critic and poet Roland Penrose. The couple often hosted the art world elite, including Picasso and Ernst, among others. Despite her illustrious career as a model, photojournalist and surrealist Miller’s legacy was all but forgotten until her son uncovered a sizeable archive following her death. She has since been repositioned as one of the most important photographers of her age.
The Danish-French Impressionist stayed in London for a year, taking refuge from the Franco-Prussian war with his family. During his stay Pissarro created several paintings of the surrounding properties, many of which have been acquired for UK collections, including the National Gallery.
Although he was undoubtedly a polymath (he was a painter, photographer, writer and designer) Nash is best known for his astounding modernist depictions of war, where he married mystical landscapes with disturbing images of battle and its aftermath. He first took up residence in King’s Cross at the outbreak of the first world conflict and remained there until the mid 1930s.
The Sussex-born painter and designer was another artists who was officially commissioned to produce images of conflict, a calling that ultimately led to his death in 1942. He lived in this riverside property for around four years.
This small square plaque commemorates not one but three great artists: Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Pre-Raphaelite trio lived in rented rooms despite their ‘dampens and decrepitude’ for several years. The property is one of the few houses in the area to survive the Blitz.