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

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Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey


It was exhibited in Whistler's one-man show 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 11) and bought by H. S. Theobald, who was almost certainly the collector described by Whistler as having bought several paintings after the exhibition. He wrote to Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929):

'I must know the whereabouts of every one of my little pictures -

You promised that you would give me the address of each one by referring to the catalogues -

Then again, you must arrange with the man who bought the lot that remained over after the exhibition of the "Flesh color & grey", to let his collection go with me to America.' 1

It was certainly bought from H. S. Theobald by C. L. Freer in August 1902, for $500.


  • 1884: Probably 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 11) as 'Chelsea; yellow and grey'.
  • 1887: Possibly Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 208) as 'Rose et Brun: Les Boutiques de Chelsea'.
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 3) as 'Chelsea Shops'
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art

In 1884 Chelsea: Yellow and Grey [YMSM 247], was described in the Sporting Gazette as 'a newspaper shop. He calls it "Chelsea Yellow and Grey." Why? I cannot say. It is neither yellow nor grey. It is, however, a precious little gem.' 2 In the painting, there is a newspaper shop in the centre of this row of shops, and the dominant colours on this shop are pale yellow and grey. The Daily News described it more vaguely as 'one of Mr. Whistler's rapid, suggestive studies of low-browed houses, shops, and the picturesque of drabs, yellows, dirty bricks, and dropping plaster'. 3 Although this could be applied to other shop-fronts such as Street in Old Chelsea [YMSM 249], it applies strongly to Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey.

The Kensington News was, on the whole, unfavourable towards Whistler's work, and in this particular case the critic commented: 'I should think the marionettes are rather often in the streets of Chelsea from the figures that appear in (11) "Chelsea: yellow and grey". ' 4 The tiny figures are indeed depicted with a few expressive brushstrokes, but since they are only seen in the distance, this treatment appears consistent with that of the shop-fronts.

H. S. Theobald was a generous lender and it is quite possible that he also lent it to other shows. In 1887, Whistler asked him to lend some paintings for an exhibition in Paris:

' I am sending some pictures and drawings of mine to a very swell exhibition in Paris - and I am most anxious to borrow from you some 14 or 15 of the little things of mine you have on the staircase and in your dining room, that I may exhibit them at the same time -' 5

It is very likely that it was the 'Rose et Brun: Les Boutiques de Chelsea' shown at the Galerie Georges Petit in that year.

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent.


1: Whistler to W. Dowdeswell, [27 September 1885], GUW #08616. See H. S. Theobald, receipt, 1 July 1885, GUW #00858; Dowdeswell's account, [July 1885/1886], GUW #00867.

2: 'The Man about Town', Sporting Gazette, London, 24 May 1884, pp. 7-8; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 6, p. 57.

3: 'Mr Whistler's Exhibition', Daily News, London, 21 May 1884, p. 7.

4: 'M.C.S.' [Malcolm Charles Salaman], Kensington News, London, 29 May 1884; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC6, p. 13.

5: Whistler to H. S. Theobald, [26 April 1887], GUW #10891. See also Curry 1984 [more], p. 128.

Last updated: 31st December 2020 by Margaret