Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf

Provenance

  • Date unknown: bought from the artist by Gerald Potter (1829-1908), London;
  • 1894/1895: sold through David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) and the Goupil Gallery, London;
  • 1895/1900: bought by Peter A. B. Widener (1834-1915), Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania;
  • 1915: inherited from the Estate of P. A. B. Widener by Joseph E. Widener (1872-1943), Elkins Park, PA;
  • 1942: given by him to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

According to Whistler it was bought by John Gerald Potter from Whistler for £30, or no more than £40 (which suggests a fairly early purchase, possibly in the mid-late 1870s), and Potter was asking £400 for it in Paris in 1894. 1 In 1892 it was listed by Whistler as 'Chelsea Barges', in Potter's collection. 2 By 1893, Whistler was apparently under the impression that Potter was thinking of selling, and wrote to D. C. Thomson, 'You had better tell me all about the Potter business - I do hope the things will be bought here - I want nothing to remain in England - Scotland is another thing.' 3 Thomson took some of Potter's pictures to Glasgow, but this was not, apparently, a very successful expedition. Whistler complained:

'I hear that things are "very bad" in Glasgow! How did you get on? And why do you always drag about these pictures of Potters?? Why? Why? Why!!!

It annoys me very much to think that works of that distinction should be hawked in this persistent way from one end of the land to the other!' 4

When Potter asked £400 for the painting in 1894, Whistler erupted in fury:

'Now what right have you to one penny of this money? … As a typical British Art Patron - one who ... refused to pay for the frames I had made for the works themselves, it is your right … So that I make the fortune of or add to the wealth of a people who have done their best to impoverish me.' 5

It is not always clear which picture is under discussion. However, Thomson mentioned the possibility of sending 'the upright 'Battersea Reach' to New York in July 1894. 6 According to Whistler, Potter wanted to sell 'a small grey Chelsea' or 'Grey Note' for £400, and had sold it by August 1895 for between £200 and £300. 7 Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf was acquired at some time between 1895 and 1900 by Peter A. B. Widener (1834-1915) of Ashbourne, near Philadelphia. 8 It passed to his estate and was given by Joseph E. Widener (1872-1943) to the National Gallery of Art in 1942.

Exhibitions

  • 1875: Possibly Eleventh Exhibition of the Society of French Artists, Deschamps Gallery, London, 1875 (cat. no. 80) as 'Chelsea Reach – Harmony in Grey'.
  • 1882: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 Goupil, 1892 (cat. no. 35) as 'Grey and Silver. Chelsea Wharf'.
  • 1892: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 Goupil, 1892 (cat. no. 35) as 'Grey and Silver. Chelsea Wharf'.
  • 1905: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 69) as 'Shipping on the Thames' and, in deluxe edition, 'Grey and Silver, Chelsea Wharf'.

It is not at all certain that this was the painting exhibited at Deschamps' Gallery in 1875. Press coverage was sparse and descriptions vague: the Globe asserted that the painting was 'indefinite in form', and the London Daily News saw in it 'only a sketch … a mere ghost of a picture … filled with mist.' 9 The Examiner was a little more helpful: 'Mr. Whistler has sent "Chelsea Reach – Harmony in Grey," painted with a drier brush than we have yet known him use, but admirably suited to produce his effect.' 10 The Glasgow Herald was almost alone in seeing it as a 'finished picture'. 11 These reviews present difficulties in identifying the picture on exhibition, for their descriptions are inconsistent: it could certainly be described as a 'sketch' painted with a 'drier brush', but it is not 'filled with mist', nor is it, by the usual standards of 1875, 'finished'. The 'drier brush' paintings containing 'mist' include Chelsea in Ice [YMSM 053] and Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses [YMSM 055] but one feels that the conspicuous ice in the one, and figures in the other, would have been noticed by the art critics.

It was listed by Whistler as 'Chelsea Barges' for inclusion in his retrospective at Goupil's in 1892. 12 It was shown at Goupil's, and Whistler immediately suggested it should be borrowed for the 6th Internationale Kunst-Austellung, Munich; in fact Potter agreed to lend it to exhibitions in both Paris (for the 2nd Exhibition of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts) and Munich.. 13 However, arrangements were not finalised in time and the painting was returned to Potter. 14

Notes:

1: Whistler to Potter, [January/February 1894], GUW #13346.

2: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

3: [20 July 1893], GUW #08254.

4: [10 December 1893], GUW #08287.

5: Whistler to Potter, [January/February 1894], GUW #13346.

6: 26 July 1894, GUW #05810.

7: Whistler to A. Ionides, [15 August 1895], GUW #02364.

8: Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Collection of P. A. B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia, 2 vols. Paris, 1885-1900: vol. 1, 1885, p. 115.

9: 'The Society of French Artists', Globe, London, 16 November 1875, p. 6, added that there was also another painting, ex catalogue. 'Society of French Artists', London Daily News, London, 19 November 1875, p. 3.

10: 'Art. The Society of French Artists', The Examiner, London, 20 November 1875.

11: 'Our London Correspondence. … French Artists', Glasgow Herald, Glasgow, 16 November 1875, p. 5.

12: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

13: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [1/8 April 1892], GUW #08210. J. C. Potter to Whistler, 21 April 1892, GUW #05007.

14: W. Marchant to Whistler, 29 April 1892, GUW #05733.

Last updated: 22nd December 2020 by Margaret