In July 1862, George du Maurier (1834-1896) said that Whistler was 'painting river pictures for the Greeks.' 1 These probably included Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge [YMSM 033], commissioned by Alexander Constantine Ionides (1810-1890), and The Last of Old Westminster [YMSM 039] and Battersea Reach [YMSM 045] bought by George John Cavafy (1805-1891), of G. J. Cavafy and Company.
However, it is not known what happened to Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach at the time of Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879, when in theory only unfinished or damaged works were left in his possession. It is possible that a friend or art dealer had it in temporary custody.
It is thought to have came into the possession of Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906) about 1889 in exchange for the much later Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water [YMSM 179], of about 1876.
The Coronios owned three paintings. A Girl by a Shelf [YMSM 048] was purchased directly from Whistler, possibly during the 1860s, but the artist wanted to improve it and took it to his studio, for a very long time. A fragment of a letter written by Aglaia Coronio indicates that she threatened to send someone for 'my beautiful picture.' 2 Whistler apologised, telling Mme Coronio that he had 'destroyed' the picture: 'I send herewith a picture to hang in the place of the one it was my misfortune so long ago to destroy.' 3 The Coronios disliked the dark nocturne that Whistler proposed as a substitute, Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water [YMSM 179], and Whistler offered to paint 'another Thames picture or landscape of any kind'. 4 In the end Mme Coronio accepted Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach as a substitute, but sold it after a few years.
Apparently a Glasgow art dealer, Lawrie (dates unknown), was interested in buying it. On 26 March David Croal Thomson (1855-1930), director of the Goupil Gallery explained
'Lawrie of Glasgow ... wanted to buy a picture by you - any one - for about that price [£450] - We do not think he had any special buyer & now he declares he is off it altogether. We quite understand the advantage to you & to ourselves of keeping up the prices & this has been our aim all along. At the same time if we sell to a dealer who will himself sell at a profit it could not be to the hurt of either. If Lawrie buys for £450 he wont sell under £600. We have put him on Mr Coronio's 'Chelsea Reach' & may be he will buy it, & it will be about the price down but nothing is settled.' 5
Whistler replied 'Mme Coronio. You ought certainly to ask 600. at least for her picture - I notice that it is one of the most readily accepted - and consequently it would be, I think, poor policy not to make of it a good point of comparison.' 6
It was finally bought by Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918), Chicago, for £450, as the Goupil Gallery reported: 'Mr Potter Palmer ... bought Mrs Coronio's picture Battersea Reach for £450 all expenses paid to Chicago. We pay Mrs Coronio £310 and the new frame and doing up the picture.' 7
In retrospect, Whistler was not very pleased. He wrote to his sister-in-law, Helen ('Nellie') Euphrosyne Whistler (1849-1917):
'[H]ow shockingly they have all behaved about my pictures - Madame Coronio you say is poor and excuses must be made for her - well thats all right - and you may tell her that I am pleased to know that I have been of that much service - They gave me 30 guineas for that picture, and have made ten times what they paid - Not a bad bit of dealing - though they were very grasping and wanted more and wrote a violent letter to Mr Thomson! - and Mr Thomson referred them to Goupils Solicitors - and so they climbed down and wrote an apology - very properly!' 8
In a review of the Royal Academy show in 1867, the art critic of the Manchester Guardian was impressed by the subtle and limited colours: 'Mr. Whistler shows us his aim and feeling as a colourist, employed on the grey reaches of suburban Thames and the craft about its margin or on its bosom; and the remarkable thing in the picture is its exquisite expression of true gradation and relief, by means of objects clothed entirely in tones of lighter or deeper grey.' 9 Clearly, opinions were divided. The Art Journal described it as 'chalky, indolent, and inimitable', while Frederick George Stephens (1828-1907) wrote that it was 'a rich and vigorous picture.' 10
Whistler himself told Lucas (Luke) Alexander Ionides (1837-1924), 'My pictures are pretty well hung at the Academy only on a crowded day cannot be seen because of the crinolines.' 11 By this he undoubtedly meant they were hung near the floor. After this it was not exhibited for many years.
At the time of Whistler's one man show at Goupil's in 1892, the manager, D. C. Thomson, enquired whether it should be included: 'Coronio. friend of Ionides - has a Whistler dated 1863. Battersea 19½ x 26½ inches. Barges sailing on the river. Shall we accept it & do you remember it well enough[.] It is in many respects very fine.' 13 It was hung in the Goupil show and scheduled for inclusion in the Goupil album but Whistler himself decided against it. Thomson complained, 'You may remember, in fact, that we really did want (& asked to have included) the Battersea Reach purchased by Mr Potter Palmer. You however decided against it even although it would have been of much commercial advantage to have had it included, & we had said to Mr Palmer we should ask you to include it.' 14
Although it was still owned by the Potter Palmers, the Art Institute of Chicago arranged for the loan of 'Battersea' to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1901.
After Whistler's death, it was hung in the Boston Whistler Memorial Exhibition of 1904, as seen in the photograph reproduced above.
9: 'The Exhibition at the Royal Academy: Second Notice,' Manchester Guardian, Manchester, 21 May 1867, p. 5. Quoted in Strother, Stephanie L., 'Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach', in Jay A. Clarke and Sarah Kelly Oehler, eds., Whistler Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, 2020 (cat. no. 7) URL.
10: 'The Royal Academy,' Art Journal, June 1867, p. 143. See also reviews in Illustrated Times, London, 11 May 1867, p. 11, and Illustrated London News, London, 11 May 1867, p. 22.
12: Echo, London, 20 May 1889, press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 10, p. 93.
Last updated: 5th June 2021 by Margaret