Jacob Knyff: Chiswick from the River, Corney House (with Church of St Nicholas), 1676-80

Chiswick from the River. Oil on canvas. This is the earliest known view of Chiswick and a London garden showing the grounds of Old Corney House. St Nicholas parish church is shown surrounded by 16th century houses and Chiswick Eyot with some larger Tudor houses on waterfront beyond. Chariot is on the left. Two fishermen drag nets. On river there is a fishing boat and a barge laden with merchandise. Another craft sails by and on the right a barge bears the City Corporation arms and fires a salute.

“Chiswick from the River. Oil on canvas. This is the earliest known view of Chiswick and a London garden showing the grounds of Old Corney House. St Nicholas parish church is shown surrounded by 16th century houses and Chiswick Eyot with some larger Tudor houses on the waterfront beyond. Two fishermen drag nets. On the river there is a fishing boat and a barge laden with merchandise. Another craft sails by and on the right a barge bears the City Corporation arms and fires a salute.” (London Museum)

The church of St Nicholas stands in Church Street, near the River. St Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors and fishermen and since at least the 16th century there was a ferry crossing at this site, the only means of crossing the river Thames at the time (Kew Bridge was built in 1749, Chiswick Bridge in 1933). This is the site of one of the oldest Christian churches in Chiswick, and earliest records date back to 1181. The entire church was rebuilt in 1882-84, mostly at the expense of Henry Smith of the nearby Fuller, Smith and Turner brewery, though the tower mainly dates from the early 15th century. Notable tombs in the church graveyard, which was Chiswick’s only burial ground for many years, include those of artists William Hogarth and J.M.Whistler, actor David Garrick, Frederick Hitch VC, hero of Rorke’s Drift, Italian poet Ugo Foscolo. Oliver Cromwell’s daughters, Lady Mary Fauconberg who lived at Sutton Court, and Lady Frances Russell, both of whom are buried at St Nicholas, are said to haunt the churchyard.

Jacob Knyff or Knijff (1639-1681) is the older brother of Leonard Knyff. Born in Harlem in 1681, he was a Dutch landscape and marine painter of whom little is known.

Corney House was built by the Bishop of Rochester and then passed to the well-connected Russell family. In 1602 Queen Elizabeth visited Sir William Russell there. His son, Francis, 4th Earl of Bedford built the wall between the churchyard and the house in an effort to keep pigs out of his garden. In 1659 Francis’s son sold the house to one William Gomeldon and the Russells moved a few doors down, to Bedford House on Chiswick Mall.

At some point by 1705 the Corney House shown in this painting was demolished and a new one built. Visitors to the new house describe the view from the garden across the river, over the high ground of Barnes Common, to the tower of Barnes Church. To the left could just be seen “a small part of the village of Hammersmith, backed by the high woody grounds of Holland House, near Kensington… On the other side of the river, and nearly opposite Corney House, is Hutchins’ farm, a delightful object screened with trees, and whose pastures, covered with cattle, spread before it in a gentle descent of water. The old house (1), the one painted by Jacob Knyff, must have had a similar view.

Today the area is a housing development known as Corney Reach, on Corney Road.

Acknowledgment: London Museum. Jacob Knyff, 1676-80. Museum of London image no. 000857

(1) http://www.panoramaofthethames.com/1829/guide/corney-house; Dianne Duggan, “The Russells of Corney House”, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 9 (2000), http://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/publications/the-journal/journal-9-2000/the-russells-of-corney-house/

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