London Life and the March of Modernity

Aldwych, 1924, by Robert Polhill Bevan (1865–1925)

Aldwych (1924) by Robert Polhill Bevan, 1865–1925, BritishYale Center for British Art

Robert Bevan painted scenes of working London in the early twentieth century. Aldwych crescent had been built in 1904 to open up the Strand area to traffic, decimating a number of popular theatres and markets.

Bevan depicts the grandiose architecture with a modern simplicity. The construction of Australia House (left) in 1918 and Clement House (right) in 1910 signaled the new bureaucratic function of the area built to serve Britain's colonial empire.

Anchoring the composition is a statue of William Gladstone, a liberal politician and four-time Prime Minister of Britain (1865 to 1894). He advocated for low taxes, free markets and freedom of choice.

Below, a cabby allows his horse to drink from the trough. Cab-driving was a precarious profession with little security. Bevan juxtaposes the humble figure with the heroic monument to Gladstone.

The motorized bus exiting the scene on the left points to the cabby's uncertain future, prefiguring the replacement of horse cabs with motor vehicles. The bus is an early model of the iconic 'double-decker' still visible on the streets of London today.

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