'For me, this is one of the great paintings of London – even if it doesn’t look directly at the city.'

 

Thames Painting: The Estuary, 1994–5, by Michael Andrews (1928–95), 7ft by 5½ft, The St John Wilson Trust, Pallant House, Chichester, West Sussex

Thames Painting: The Estuary, 1994–5, by Michael Andrews (1928–95), 7ft by 5½ft, The St John Wilson Trust, Pallant House, Chichester, West Sussex

Thomas Marks says:

‘For me, this is one of the great paintings of London – even if it doesn’t look directly at the city, but dwells on its edges, with such a powerful sense of our vulnerability in the face of vast, unknown things. The miniature scale of the figures, the mystery of their horizon, and the coarse, damaged shore on which they stand–every time I see it, this painting never fails to move me ’

Thomas Marks is editor of the international art magazine Apollo

John McEwen on Thames Painting: The Estuary

Michael Andrews was born in Norwich, where his father worked for Norwich Union. Before national service in Egypt, he attended Saturday-morning classes at Norwich School of Art and, on demob, entered the Slade. One of his teachers, Lawrence Gowing, later wrote: ‘I remember wondering if this lanky, diffident young man could possibly explore the oddness of these perceptions of his.’

On graduation, he won a Rome scholarship. With Eduardo Paolozzi, he acted in Together, a film by fellow Slade graduate Lorenza Mazzetti, which represented Britain at the Cannes Film Festival.

On his return, he taught art at the Slade and elsewhere and had his first commercial gallery exhibition, at Helen Lessore’s Beaux Arts Gallery. She often sent him money he wasn’t owed, once writing to him: ‘I hate to think of you living on Nescafé and Woodbines.’ He stopped teaching in 1966, when he joined the Marlborough Gallery.

Andrews proved true to his odd perceptions. Over the years, he painted pictures of ballooning, seaside piers, tropical fish and deer stalking. They took a long time to finish, being large but with meticulous details.

He captured the ‘flow and flux of things’, ‘disappearance and reappearance’, encouraged by making paint ‘do more things than you thought it would’, sometimes by blowing it hither and thither across the canvas with a hair-dryer.

The ‘ethos’ or spirit of a landscape became his final preoccupation. In 1992, he moved to a flat overlooking the Thames and determined to paint the tidal changes. Two years later, he underwent a cancer operation. The Estuary was his last painting.