Watercolour views of the Thames are being shown as part of the Gainsborough to Turner exhibition.
Edward Dayes (1763-1804): Somerset House from the Thames 1788; Graphite, pen and ink, watercolour and bodycolour on paper, 49.2 x 64.1 cm; Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery
To understand how the building was intended to meet the river you need to look in the exhibition at Edward Dayes' Somerset House from the Thames 1788. This is painted from a point below the present Waterloo Bridge showing a wide river with choppy waters.
Shelter for the rowing boat heading north from the south bank is through the Somerset House archway although on calmer days you could tied up at one of the Venetian style mooring posts along the front.
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802); Peterborough Cathedral from the West Front, c.1795; Watercolour over pencil , 40.7 x 27.1 cm; Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery
The other is his magnificent Peterborough Cathedral where he captures the soaring height of the west front whilst still including minor detail such a sundial.
Next to the Dayes' painting is a quote from Daniel Defoe who describes the Thames in London as "the most beautiful river in Europe". This is the river known to Girtin who would have crossed at London Bridge.
Samuel Atkins' Pool of London below London Bridge c1770 shows the downstream side of the bridge with St Magnus Church and the Monument in the City.
This is a rare opportunity to see this little-known but important collection of around 80 views not shown in London for almost forty years.
• Gainsborough to Turner: Watercolours from the Spooner Collection is at Somerset House daily (except 25 & 26 December) 10am-6pm until Sunday 12 February; admission £5 (conc £4).
• At the Courtauld Institute, also at Somerset House, is an exhibition of work by AndrĂ© Derain who was fascinated by the river and Tower Bridge. The twelve paintings include Waterloo Bridge 1906 showing the South Bank's shot tower and barges below Southwark Bridge. Daily 10am-6pm (except 25 & 26 December) until Sunday 22 January; £5 (conc £4; Mon 10am-2pm all tickets free).
• Joint Somerset House collection ticket – any two collections: £8 (conc £7) which allows you to see the main Courtauld collection or the Gilbert Collection on the same day.