Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge was commissioned in 1859 and completed by 1865.
1859: Whistler was commissioned by Alexander Constantine Ionides (1810-1890) to paint Old Battersea Bridge after the Royal Academy show of 1859. 1 However, it is not clear exactly when Whistler started to paint it.
1861: An X-ray of Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge shows that it was painted over a self-portrait, which may have dated from 1861 or 1862, judging from Whistler's appearance.
1862: In July, George du Maurier (1834-1896) said that Whistler was 'painting river pictures for the Greeks'. 2 The 'Greeks' included the Ionides family, George John Cavafy (1805-1891), George Coronio (1831-1895) and his wife Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906).
The 'river pictures' included The Last of Old Westminster [YMSM 039], which is dated '1862', and others could have been Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge and Battersea Reach [YMSM 045]. Later in 1862 Whistler mentioned commissions that he hoped to complete before the Royal Academy exhibition in the following year. 3 He may have worked on Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge over the winter of 1862-1863.
1863: To the Royal Academy of Arts Whistler sent The Last of Old Westminster [YMSM 039], which in subject and technique might be considered a pair with Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge, but the latter was not submitted. Another Thames subject, Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach [YMSM 046], although signed '1863', was not exhibited until 1867. Whistler may also have been working on Battersea Reach [YMSM 045], which was sold at some time to George John Cavafy.
1864: Recent paintings were mentioned by Whistler to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904):
'J'ai fait aussi deux petits tableaux de la Tamise - un vieux pont, et un effet de brouillard - Je les ai trouvé bien au moment où je les ai terminé mais maintenant ils ne me plaisent pas beaucoup.' 4 Translation: 'I have also done two little pictures of the Thames - an old bridge, and an effect of fog - I thought they were all right when I finished them but now I am not satisfied with them.'
Neither Battersea Reach at 50.8 x 76.2 cm, Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach at 50.9 x 68.6 cm, Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses [YMSM 055] at 51.3 x 76.5 cm, nor Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge, at 63.5 x 76.2 cm, are particularly 'petit'. Chelsea in Ice [YMSM 053] (44.7 x 61.0 cm) is a good candidate for the 'effet de brouillard', and Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge undoubtedly shows 'un vieux pont'.
Yet another possible date for Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge is suggested by a review of the 1865 Royal Academy exhibition in the Fortnightly Review, which states: 'one seems to be looking back right into last November, through a little square in the Academy walls.’ 5 Now this might simply imply that the grey skies of Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge look like a cold November day, but it might also reflect inside knowledge that the picture was being painted in November 1864.
6: 97th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1865 (cat. no. 343).
Last updated: 19th December 2020 by Margaret