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

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Nocturne: Chelsea

Nocturne: Chelsea dates from 1881. 1

The lithographer Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) described an incident when he was a student in London about 1881,

'I shall never forget a lesson which he [Whistler] gave me one evening. We had left the studio when it was quite dusk, and were walking along the road by the gardens of Chelsea Hospital, when he suddenly stopped, and pointed to a group of buildings in the distance, an old public house at the corner of a road, with windows and shops showing golden lights through the gathering mist of twilight, said, "Look!" As he did not seem to have anything to sketch or make notes on, I offered him my note-book; "No, no, be quiet," was the answer; and after a long pause, he turned and walked back a few yards; then, with his back to the scene at which I was looking, he said, "Now, see if I have learned it," and repeated a full description of the scene even as one might repeat a poem one had learned by heart ... In a few days I was at the studio again, and there on the easel was the realisation of the picture ... I ... made a memory sketch of his painting ... I have never seen the picture since.' 2

Nocturne: Chelsea, The Hunterian
Nocturne: Chelsea, The Hunterian
T. R. Way, Nocturne: Chelsea, from Way 1912
T. R. Way, Nocturne: Chelsea, from Way 1912

Way reproduces his 'memory sketch' beside a pen drawing by Whistler for Nocturne: Chelsea [YMSM 235], likewise known as Nocturne: Chelsea [M.0860], which was then (1912) in the possession of Whistler's sister-in-law, Helen ('Nellie') Euphrosyne Whistler (1849-1917), and is now in the Hunterian, University of Glasgow.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 235).

2: Way 1912 [more], pp. 67-68, drawings repr. f.p. 68.

Last updated: 9th November 2019 by Margaret