Martin had an abiding interest in the Thames, having devoted much time and energy to a scheme for Improving the Air and Water of the Metropolis in the 1830s (see W. Feaver, The Art of John Martin, 1975, p. 122 ff). He hoped to create a tideless reach of water from below the Tower of London in order to create 'a beautiful calm sheet of water navigable at all times up to Teddington' (ibid., p. 123). His vision of a planned urban riverside broken up with 'terraces and beautiful gardens' was declared impracticable for inner London and never became a reality. Regular visits to the genuinely calm and clean stretch of river at Richmond and beyond may have gone some way to assuage his disappointment.
In 1851 Martin exhibited at the Royal Academy a watercolour The Banks of the Thames opposite Pope's Villa, a view looking west towards the site of the poet's famous riverside retreat (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). In the Yale picture Martin depicts Lady Howe's Villa and the Tudor style lodge that had been built on the site of Pope's Villa. The present watercolour is of similar proportions and size, and is probably a work of the mid-1840s. Although Pope's Villa had gone, much to the disgust of J.M.W. Turner and others, parts of the garden and the famous grotto remained and the area retained a particular magic for poets and painters alike. In the present somewhat idealised view Martin has shown the river banks lined with large classical villas, well spaced along the water and surrounded by rich vegetation. Whereas the walking figures in the Yale watercolour are recognisably contemporary, the reclining pair in ours are generalised in appearance. An equivalent comparison may be made between Martin's fully-titled View, Near Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Park, exhibited at the R.A. in 1851 , Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Scene in a Forest - Twilight, exhibited in 1852 (Fitzwilliam Museum), two woodland scenes of varying degrees of idealisation.