The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 045
Battersea Reach

Battersea Reach

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1862/1863
Collection: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Accession Number: Corcoran Collection, 2014.79.35
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 50.8 x 76.3 cm (20 x 30 1/16")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Whistlerian slope frame, American, ca 1940s

Date

Battersea Reach dates from between 1862 and 1863. 1

In July 1862, George du Maurier (1834-1896) said that Whistler was 'painting river pictures for the Greeks.' 2 Battersea Reach was probably one of these, though the purchaser, George John Cavafy (1805-1891), was actually a Turkish merchant.

Many years later Whistler wrote: 'The picture called "Battersea Reach", was painted by me, I cannot remember exactly in what year, but when I was living in Lindsey Row, Chelsea ... on a brilliant autumn evening.' 3

Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach, Art Institute of Chicago
Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach, Art Institute of Chicago

It is dated partly by the technique and by comparison with other Thames paintings, particularly Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach y046, which is dated 1863.

Images

Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach, Art Institute of Chicago
Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach, Art Institute of Chicago

Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thames, Freer Gallery of Art
Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thames, Freer Gallery of Art

Subject

Titles

Only minor variations on the title have been suggested:

'Battersea Reach' is the preferred title.

Description

Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

A view across a river, in a city, painted in horizontal format. In the lower right foreground are figures walking or leaning on a parapet over the river. A woman in a white dress, with long fair hair, is prominent among these. Half a dozen sailing barges with red or black furled sails are moored by the shore at right. Another sailing barge and other boats are on the river. On the far side of the river there are large buildings, factories and warehouses. Both river and sky are streaked with grey and white with touches of pale blue.

Site

The river Thames, as seen from Chelsea, London. Old Westminster Bridge is seen in the background. Whistler described the view:

'The picture called "Battersea Reach" was painted by me ... when I was living in Lindsey Row, Chelsea. It was a view of the opposite bank of the river, from out of my window.' 9

In a letter to Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), Whistler listed it as 'No. 3. The Battersea (afternoon or evening effect).' 10 In another letter, to his sister-in-law, he described it as 'the little evening on the Battersea Reach - a most gorgeous bit of colour.' 11

Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach, Art Institute of Chicago
Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach, Art Institute of Chicago

Battersea Reach appears to be a pair with Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach y046, which was painted from the same viewpoint. 12

Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thames, Freer Gallery of Art
Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thames, Freer Gallery of Art

Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thames y098, and numerous other paintings, show the same view as in Battersea Reach.

Sitter

The 'White Girl' in the foreground at lower right is a visual reference to Whistler's portraits of Joanna Hiffernan (b. ca 1843-d.1886), particularly Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl y038. 13

Technique

Technique

Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

It is painted thinly, with impasto only on the boats in the foreground. These boats were painted over the background and the far side of the river is visible through the sails. However, some details, such as the rigging, were partly obscured when the artist touched up the sky and water. Both sky and water were painted boldly, with some long, sweeping strokes, and other short, jerky brushstrokes: the effect is very fresh and vivid. 14

Whistler provided an interesting insight into the production of the painting when his restorer, Stephen Richards (1844-1900), queried the ground. Whistler replied:

'But what is all this about red ground and the rest of it in my picture Battersea Reach!

You had the telegram from me this morning - The fact is you have had so much to do with all the tricks of the trade, in those "fakements" of Mr. Humphrey Ward's "Old Masters," that by this time you are always expecting to find them every where - Tell him with my compliments that he is vitiating your mind with his Wardour Street Masterpieces - and never think to discover in my canvases any mysteries of such pretension.

There is no red ground - The Battersea was very simply painted - long ago - one evening from my window - I dare say the paint itself is far from thick in its rapid laying on - and perhaps the canvas is in places but slightly covered. Also doubtless this places may by this time have become filled with London filth brown and not unlike what you might have supposed was a ground prepared -

Clean the picture very tenderly, because of these very places - and when varnished it will be all that I wish.' 15

Conservation History

In 1892 Whistler told E. G. Kennedy that 'Battersea - is also a charming Whistler - wants cleaning, varnishing, & glazing.' 16 On 12 June he wrote to Stephen Richards (1844-1900), picture restorer, at 16 Fitzroy Street, London:

'[Y]ou will have brought to you, almost directly, four more pictures by me; I have said that you are the only man fit to touch my work, therefore, you must prove again how right I am, in having this full confidence in you. You will clean and take off the varnish with the utmost care and tenderness - ... The little Thames picture and the seapiece are painted as well as I remember, in one go and consequently are not so much impasted, therefore will require your utmost care.' 17

At the same time he instructed Kennedy:

'Take the pictures to Mr. Richards - you know where his place is - He is the only man fit to clean my paintings - and you can tell him so from me ...

Let him then clean the four and varnish them - "The Balcony" ... was in my Exhibition at Goupil's and Richards attended to all those - But the other three he has never seen - and they must be covered with dirt … He works not only well but quickly.' 18

It is just possible that Whistler also touched it up in 1892, when he wrote to the restorer: 'Mr Kennedy wishes you to send over the "Battersea Reach", and the Balcony without their frames to me here before you re varnish them - for me to see if I should touch them.' 19 The artist continued to badger Richards: 'please get on with all the four pictures, completing the careful cleaning, and then varnish them beautifully', he wrote, 'the Battersea Reach ought to be a beauty of warm colour.' 20

It was lined and cleaned in 1923 by H. E. Thompson at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who, 'vastly improved the Whistler and brought out ... beauties ... which its previous owner and a dealer had largely blotted out.' 21

Frame

The style of the first frame was possibly French, but there is no record of it.

It was probably reframed in 1892, when Whistler instructed E. G. Kennedy:

'You ought to have my new frames made at once for The Westminster Bridge and the The Thames picture - both of which must be in hideous old things - and they should have glass upon them - but that you could get here ...

My frame maker is Mr Grau 570. Fulham Road - He must not have the pictures at his place - but must go to Richards and take the measures immediately - and be pushed without giving him any peace - as he is as procrastinating as he is capable -

He is the only one who has the true pattern of my frame - Tell him that the gold must be the pale yellow soft gold like the gilding of my Mother's frame.' 22

Kennedy did not follow Whistler’s instructions, but, as he explained in a letter to Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896), 'we make our own frames, and thus save duty on the frames, besides making a better article, or rather one which won't split or crack in our climate.' 23

Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Battersea Reach, Corcoran Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

However, the current reeded slope frame probably dates from the 1940s when it entered the Corcoran Gallery, and thus could be the third to surround the work. The frame was restored in memory of Anne Wallick and Marianna Grove, members of the Women's Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It measures 70.49 × 95.89 × 7.62 cm (27 3/4 × 37 3/4 × 3"). 24

History

Provenance

Whistler claimed that he had originally sold 'Battersea' to George John Cavafy (1805-1891), London, for £30.0.0. It was, he said, 'a charming Whistler - wants cleaning, varnishing, & glazing - and then you will see as to price. I should think £400 or £500 But I must really see it again.' 25

G. J. Cavafy and his son John Cavafy (1839-1901) were prepared to sell several paintings in 1892. There was some devious manipulation of the market, during which pictures were offered to an American collector, John Chandler Bancroft (1835-1901), and then sold to the New York art dealer E. G. Kennedy. The dealer paid £650 for Battersea Reach and three other paintings, namely The Last of Old Westminster y039, Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056, and Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville y064 26 Whistler's view of the sales was a mixture of pleasure at the prices and disgust at his patrons' greed. He told his sister-in-law:

'I had lately waited until with the beautiful pictures before us, I could tell you that John who in his rabid greed for money sold even the present I made him has been beaten completely! - for in his indecent haste he has parted with the works for only a quarter of what they will at once fetch! - So that he might have had about twenty two or twenty three times what they ever gave me for them! - That is counting in of course my present!. -

You will say that he got £650 - after all - that is more than seven times what I got - as well as I remember - Yes but to have disgraced himself - (for I shall tell the story of the sale of the present everywhere, now that the pictures are safe! -) - and from a criminal point of view, for so little!!

... The idea of Johns peddling these beautiful things away! Why they were possessions! - They are all going to America except my Courbet.' 27

By October the painting was hanging in Kennedy's house in New York. 28 Although Kennedy was concerned at the treatment of Bancroft and offered to let him have the remaining pictures, Whistler's lawyers said that Bancroft had no legitimate claim. 29

Battersea Reach was sold, with the assistance of Whistler, to Isaac Cook, jr (1867-1926), Jr, Maine, in 1893. 30 On 17 August 1893 Whistler wrote a certificate of authentication for its new owner:

'The picture called "Battersea Reach", was painted by me, I cannot remember exactly in what year, but when I was living in Lindsey Row, Chelsea -

It was a view of the opposite bank of the river, from out of my window, in Lind - on a brilliant autumn evening - and the painting is a favorite of mine -

It was bought from me by Mr. Cavafy - and remained always in the family until sold by Dr. John Cavafy to Mr. E. G. Kennedy of New York.' 31

It is not clear if there is a gap in the provenance of a few years before it was bought from the New York art dealer, John Levy, by James Parmelee (1855-1931) for $15,000 on 30 December 1918. On his death in 1931, the painting passed to his widow, who bequeathed it to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1941. The recent closure of the Corcoran Gallery has resulted in the transfer of its collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Exhibitions

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime, as far as is known. Whistler wanted to include it in the World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893. 32 Indeed it was noted as 'promised' by E. G. Kennedy, but it does not seem to have been shown there. 33

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

COLLECTION:

EXHIBITION:

Exhibitions with no published catalogue are listed online on the National Gallery of Art website at https://www.nga.gov.

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 45) says 'about 1863.'

2: Du Maurier 1951 [more], p. 160.

3: 17 August 1893, GUW #13533.

4: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 10-11 June 1892, GUW #09680.

5: Whistler to S. Richards,[27 June 1892], GUW #05189.

6: St Louis 1911 (cat. no. 84).

7: E. G. Kennedy to Whistler, 22 February 1893, GUW #07212.

8: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 45).

9: Whistler to Isaac Cook, 17 August 1893, GUW #13533.

10: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 10-11 June 1892, GUW #09680.

11: Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [7 August 1892], GUW #06718.

12: Lochnan, Katharine, Turner, Whistler, Monet, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Tate Britain, London, 2004-2005 (cat. no. 121).

13: MacDonald, Margaret F., 'Joanna Hiffernan and James Whistler: an Artistic Partnership' in Margaret F. MacDonald (ed.), The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and Washington, 2020, pp. 15-31.

14: See MacDonald, Margaret F., 'Joanna Hiffernan and James Whistler: an Artistic Partnership' in Margaret F. MacDonald (ed.), The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and Washington, 2020, pp. 15-31.

15: [29 June 1892], GUW #10716. Thomas Humphrey Ward (1845-1926), Times journalist and author.

16: 10-11 June 1892, GUW #09680.

17: 12 June 1892, GUW #08114; the two others were The Last of Old Westminster y039, and Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056. The sea piece is Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville y064.

18: 13 [June] 1892, GUW #09685.

19: Whistler to S. Richards, [27 June 1892], GUW #05189.

20: [28 June 1892], GUW #10715.

21: Letter from Thompson in Corcoran Museum records; Parmelee to Minnegerode, Director of Corcoran Gallery, 16 August 1924.

22: 13 [June] 1892, GUW #09685.

23: 31 August 1892, GUW #07201.

24: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more].

25: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, 10 June 1892, GUW #09680.

26: Whistler to J. Cavafy, [8 June 1892], GUW #00565; Whistler to Kennedy, 10 June 1892, GUW #09680. See also GUW #06172, #09841, #07210, #09828, #09704, and #11556.

27: Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [7 August 1892], GUW #06718.

28: Kennedy to Whistler, 26 October 1892, GUW #07203.

29: 2 December 1892, GUW #07207. See Sieger, William B., 'Whistler and John Chandler Bancroft', Burlington Magazine, vol. 136, no. 1099, October 1994, pp. 675-82, Jstor Online.

30: Cook to J. Pennell, 13 September 1911, LC PC; Secretary of the City Art Museum, St Louis, to J. Pennell, 16 September 1911, LC PC.

31: GUW #13533.

32: B. Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [22 October / November 1892], GUW #09703.

33: Whistler to E. A. Abbey, [November 1892 / 10 January 1893], GUW #03181.