Kew Bridge from Strand on the Green with the Bell and Crown Inn in the foreground
Kew Bridge from Strand on the Green with the Bell and Crown Inn in the foreground
Kew Bridge from Strand on the Green with the Bell and Crown Inn in the foreground

JOSEPH PAUL (c.1804-1887)

Kew Bridge from Strand on the Green with the Bell and Crown Inn in the foreground

c. 1804 to 1887 England

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The life of Joseph Paul, as well as his artistic career, earned him a reputation that enables one to say of him that he was a ‘bit of a character.’ He was a gifted artist who was associated with the “Greats” of the Norwich School but turned from producing his own works to painting pastiches of Constable, John Sell Cotman, John Crome and James Stark which were then passed off later as the by the original artists. It is alleged that he fell foul of the authorities and fled his native Norfolk for the obscurity of London in about 1830. A Mr Hinds of Yarmouth, who knew Paul, attested to his being a heavy drinker but also having a reputation as a singer. In addition to all this, he was married five times in his lifetime and managed to live until the age of eighty-three.

Joseph Paul’s father was Robert, a portrait painter who exhibited many works at the Norwich Society. It is not known who gave Joseph his artistic instruction apart from his father. The latter would have known the principle Norwich School artists so the son would have had close contact with their works giving him an opportunity to study them and the techniques employed. Harold Day, in his “The Norwich School of Painters” surmises that he had the closest association with George Vincent and Paul’s depiction of skies clearly derives from that artist although the overall palette and brushwork is more redolent of John Crome.

Paul had his own quite distinctive style which is apparent even in his imitations of other artists. He had a free brush technique and there is an exuberance about his work. He utilised red grounds which gave a warmth to foliage and trees and faint pink can be discerned in the skies and this results in a highly attractive effect. The figures clearly show the influence of Crome and they fit well into the overall picture, not drawing one’s eye from the composition as a whole.

The rare earliest works are of his native Norwich and these are followed by the paintings done in the popular Norwich School style, containing the standard features associated with the group of low horizons with distant fields, dykes wending their way to the horizon, churches, windmills and trees adding perspective and figures, often battling squally rain, on lanes with cart ruts.

In the “Walpole Society” vol.IX published in 1920/21, Mrs M H Finberg in her article ‘Canaletto in England” writes: “…being supposed to have been concerned in some crime, consequent on which he fled to London.” For whatever reason that he had to leave East Anglia, he went to London around 1830 and set about working on paintings with different influences to appeal to the new market. He made good versions of Canalettos, Samuel Scotts, Rembrandts and other old masters which were similar to the originals but with slight variances of his own. The London views of Scott and Canaletto are probably best known today with some highly attractive views on the Thames and around St James’s and not all were taken directly from original earlier paintings. Day speculates that he might have been working in this different style to avoid recognition and that after a while, having had considerable success, became emboldened enough to return to imitating the Norwich School.

Paul’s ability as a painter has sometimes been overshadowed by some of his works being passed off as by the masters in later years and obscures the fact that he was observant of his subject matter and could produce a work imbued with his own style. M H Grant, writing in his Dictionary of British Landscape Painters, says that “Paul had a genuine art of his own. Never forgetting that he was Norwich, from time to time he turned to a landscape of purely Norfolk scenery and manner, done in the quiet tones and careful brushmanship of the ‘School’….and these are excellent rural paintings,” and Day writes that “For many years Joseph Paul was regarded as a copyist, but his own landscapes have a vigorous charm which will merit him a place in the Norwich School.”

In London, he lived in St Pancras at 53 St William Street and his son John (op.1867-1886) was a horse and animal painter exhibiting at the Royal Society of British Painters.

The Norwich School of Painters – H A E Day
Dictionary of British Landscape Painters - M H Grant
Dictionary of Victorian Painters – Christopher Wood


Until the late 18th century, the only way to cross the Thames at Richmond was by ferry, a mode of transport which had probably been in use since the Norman Conquest although the first record of it is in 1439.

In the late Middle Ages, two boats formed the service with a large boat used to carry small carts and horses and a smaller skiff which was for people. The service was owned and controlled by the Crown since Henry VII had built a Place for himself nearby in 1497. There was another ferry service a little upstream at Twickenham but both ferry services suffered from the fact that the approach to the river was too steep to safely descend to the river and the waiting ferry if a wagon was heavily laden or large so these would have to make the long round journey to Kingston Bridge.

The demographic of the local expanding population began to change during the 18th century with increased wealth coming to the area and the ferries were unable to cope with the subsequent demands made upon it, particularly as they could not operate in turbulent weather conditions. A Richmond resident, William Windham, who had influential connections, managed to lobby Parliament in 1772 to get approval to construct a bridge over the river.

The Richmond Bridge Act was passed that year and plans to build a stone bridge – the original mooting of a wooden bridge having not won significant backing – were invited from interested parties. The commission eventually granted the contract to Kenton Couse and James Paine and some of the disappointed other contenders included Horace Walpole, “Capability” Brown and David Garrick. The cost of the construction could not be borne by the tax payer and instead had to be funded from tolls and the rates were fixed by the Act with a six horse-drawn coach being the most expensive at 2/6d and a pedestrian at ha’pence. The licensee of the ferry service was compensated for his loss.

Richmond locals had hoped that the bridge would be constructed a little downstream from the site of the ferry crossing as the approaches were relatively flat but this would mean passing through the Twickenham Park grounds of the Duchess of Newcastle and she refused permission so consequently it was constructed along the route of the ferry crossing.

The contract to actually build it was put out to tender and was won by Thomas Kerr in May 1774. It was three hundred feet long and almost twenty-five feet wide and was constructed from Portland stone with five elliptical arches of varying heights and the central arch having a width of sixty feet so that boats could pass through. The final cost was about £26,000 which also had to include compensation to land owners affected and the installation of toll houses in alcoves at each end designed in the Palladian style. Shares were sold at £100 each to pay for the construction with investors guaranteed a 4% return per annum on their investment.

On 23rd August 1774, construction began and it was open for pedestrians in September 1776; all other traffic had to wait until January the following year. It became a commercial success and in 1822, as it was operating at a profit, the toll for all wheeled transport was reduced to one penny and in 1859, the tolls were finally removed all together. The bridge was widened in 1937 but still maintained the original design and is now the oldest surviving Thames bridge.

Its design was widely praised, and it chimed with the espousal of the Thames as being an Arcadian idyll by such as Alexander Pope earlier in the century. It has been painted by many artists including J MW Turner, Johann Zoffany, William Marlow, John Constable, Thomas Rowlandson, Patrick Nasmyth, Thomas Christopher Hofland and John Lavery.

The Bell and Crown inn was licensed in 1787 and was acquired by the Chiswick brewers Fullers in 1814.

Height 49.70 cm (19.57 inches)
Width 61.00 cm (24.02 inches)
External Height 60.00 cm (23.62 inches)
External Width 71.50 cm (28.15 inches)
oil on canvas
John Bennett Fine Paintings

John Bennett Fine Paintings

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