The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 046
Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach

Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1863
Collection: Art Institute of Chicago
Accession Number: 1922.449
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 50.8 x 68.6 cm (20 x 27")
Signature: 'Whistler.'
Inscription: '63.'
Frame: : Grau Whistler, possibly F. H. Grau, 1892

Date

Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach is signed and dated '1863'.

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

It may have been one of the pictures mentioned, rather cryptically, by Whistler to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) in July 1863: 'Moi aussi j'en ai en train des choses que nous aimerons.' 1

Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach was probably the 'Thames picture' seen by William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919) in Whistler's studio on 31 March 1867. 2

It was first exhibited in the 99th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1867 (cat. no. 243) as 'Battersea'.

Images

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

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

Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston, 1904, GUL Whistler PH6/18
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston, 1904, GUL Whistler PH6/18

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

Chelsea in Ice, Colby  College Museum of Art
Chelsea in Ice, Colby College Museum of Art

Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses, The Hunterian
Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses, The Hunterian

Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, Freer Gallery of Art
Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, Freer Gallery of Art

Hiroshige, Saijo, Iyo Province, 1855, woodcut, Art Institute of Chicago, 1980.339
Hiroshige, Saijo, Iyo Province, 1855, woodcut, Art Institute of Chicago, 1980.339

Subject

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

'Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach' is the preferred title.

Description

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

A view of shipping on a river, painted in horizontal format. On the shore in the foreground are several small boats, with, in the lower right corner, three men launching a rowing boat or skiff, and another man carrying oars. The shipping on the river includes barges in mid-stream, and two sailing barges close in at right. Further out at left are two further barges, one carrying enormous tree trunks; one nearer, at left, is probably moored, with sail lowered, and has a small boat at the stern, possibly unloading goods. On the far shore are riverside warehouses and factories, with two large chimneys to left of centre and a chimney or spire to right of centre. In the distance at far right is a bridge, where the river begins to curve into the distance.

Site

This is a view of Battersea Reach, on the river Thames, London, from Whistler's house in what is now Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. In the far right distance is Battersea Railway bridge, newly opened in 1863. The barges mid-stream are coal-barges that would unload at Johnson's coal wharf downstream from Battersea Bridge, or Druce's jetty near the Greaves' boatyard (the small rowing boats in the foreground probably come from Greaves' yard). 7

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

Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach appears to be a pair with Battersea Reach y045, which was, as Lochnan points out, painted from the same viewpoint. 8 They are, in effect, a diptych.

Chelsea in Ice, Colby College Museum of Art
Chelsea in Ice, Colby College Museum of Art

Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf, National Gallery of Art
Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf, National Gallery of Art

Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses, The Hunterian
Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses, The Hunterian

Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, Freer Gallery of Art
Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, Freer Gallery of Art

The view is seen in many of Whistler's paintings of the 1860s and 1870s (Chelsea in Ice y053, Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf y054, Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses y055, Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056, Sketch for 'The Balcony' y057, Study of Draped Figures y058, Nocturne in Blue and Silver y113, Nocturne y114, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach y119, Nocturne: Battersea y120.

Comments

The AIC website references the influence of Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet (1819-1877):

'[Whistler] was exposed to the bold realism and thickly impastoed surfaces of the paintings of Gustave Courbet. The older artist’s influence shaped Whistler’s depiction of the Thames River, a subject that frequently appeared in his work after he moved to London in 1863. In this painting, he focused on the river’s industrial nature – boats and barges, laboring men, and smoking chimneys – which featured so largely in urban life. Yet despite the realism of the subject, Whistler unified the composition with deft brushwork and a subtle palette of brown and gray that anticipates his later interest in delicate tonal harmonies.' 9

The influence of Japanese prints has also been suggested.

Hiroshige, Saijo, Iyo Province, 1855, woodcut, Art Institute of Chicago, 1980.339
Hiroshige, Saijo, Iyo Province, 1855, woodcut, Art Institute of Chicago, 1980.339

In Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen y060, the model sits surrounded by Japanese prints:

'These included Hiroshige’s 1855 colour woodcut Saijo, Iyo Province from Views of Famous Places in the 60-odd Provinces. A richly coloured, bold design, with startling perspective, it is dominated by the fan-shaped curve of a single sail, gathered into the mast like the waist of a robe. In the distance is a mountain, and tiny boats in the bay. Perhaps this provided inspiration for paintings such as Grey and Silver - Old Battersea Reach, where the sails dominate the composition.' 10

Technique

Composition

Kimberley Muir noted a number of early compositional changes revealed by recent visual and technical analysis. Originally there may have been a large sailing barge at mid-left on the river, and a smaller boat at lower right, as well as several additional figures to right of centre, beside the beached rowing boats. 11

Technique

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

Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach is very freely painted, with thin paint the consistency of rich cream, in fluid, bold brushstrokes in the foreground, and careful, smaller brushstrokes on the buildings in the distance. Stephanie L. Strother notes that Whistler's technique had changed considerably over the past year: 'Whistler’s facture in Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach is thinner and more delicate, although still energetic. ' 12

According to Kimberley Muir in her analysis of Whistler's materials, he used a relatively coarse plain weave canvas from Winsor & Newton, commercially prepared with an off-white ground applied in two layers. Whistler's paints included lead white, red and yellow iron oxide or earth pigments, umber, vermilion, cobalt blue, viridian, and bone black, and isolated patches of red lake pigments. His brushes ranged from 5 to 20 mm in width, with smaller, pointed, brushes for details, and occasionally a knife to apply or remove paint. Muir also discusses Whistler's painting methods.

'It is possible that Whistler scraped or rubbed out parts of the initial lay-in, but for the most part, he simply painted over it ... with the broad brushstrokes used to paint the water. When beginning the final composition ... the figures, … [were] quickly blocked in with thinly applied dark-brown paint.

... Whistler used a variety of paint consistencies and application techniques ... He created low texture in the early stages of painting through distinct brush marking and scraping in the sky and water. In the lower … corners the brushwork is quite open, with areas of the ground exposed, and some of the lower paint layers have the appearance of having been smoothed or smeared on with a knife. Much of the brushwork consists of paste-consistency paint either blended in smooth layers or brushed on in distinct strokes with stiff brush marks. Some of the figures were created with quick wet-in-wet, low-impasto brushstrokes. Whistler combined these ... with areas of very thin, fluid paint application and more of a dry-brush technique. The paint used to create the shadow on the water of the front sailboat was very fluid, and some areas look like they were smoothed with a rigid tool or possibly even a fingertip. The artist scraped into the paint using a pointed tool ... to break up the solid, dark-brown shadows of the two sailboats. Areas of wet-over-dry paint buildup suggest that the painting was executed in more than one painting session.' 13

Conservation History

It seems, surprisingly, to have been one of the few paintings NOT conserved and revarnished at the time of the Goupil exhibition in 1892!

In her detailed report on the conservation history and condition of the painting, Kimberley Muir in the Art Institute of Chicago online catalogue includes the following comments:

'Overall, the painting is in relatively good condition. There is old damage near the center of the canvas, consisting of two vertical tears—one approximately 6 cm in length, the other around 2.5 cm—with associated loss and abrasion of the adjacent paint. ... The surface has a semigloss sheen, somewhat uneven in appearance, especially in the region of the retouched damages.

… there are small, scattered paint losses, mostly around the edges of the painting. … The painting has a fairly pronounced network of cracks in some areas. There are diagonal stress cracks at the upper corners, drying cracks … in the buildings and the thicker passages of the sky and the boats.' 14

Frame

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

A Goupil Gallery account from May 1892, of frame work done in preparation for Whistler’s retrospective, shows that the owner, Madame Coronio, had ‘paid’ and that a ‘new one [frame] was cut down’; however, this note was then crossed out. 16

The painting seems to have been reframed before it went to America in 1892. D. C. Thomson mentioned the frame, writing, 'in June 18 - we c[redi]ted you with £5 for the frame on the picture sold to Mr P. Palmer.' 17

Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston, 1904, GUL Whistler PH6/18
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston, 1904, GUL Whistler PH6/18

The painting is now in a Grau frame, possibly made by Frederick Henry Grau (1859-1892) in 1892.

History

Provenance

In July 1862, George du Maurier (1834-1896) said that Whistler was 'painting river pictures for the Greeks.' 18 These probably included Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge y033, commissioned by Alexander Constantine Ionides (1810-1890), and The Last of Old Westminster y039 and Battersea Reach y045 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 y179, of about 1876.

The Coronios owned three paintings. A Girl by a Shelf y048 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.' 19 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.' 20 The Coronios disliked the dark nocturne that Whistler proposed as a substitute, Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water y179, and Whistler offered to paint 'another Thames picture or landscape of any kind'. 21 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.' 22

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.' 23

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.' 24

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!' 25

Exhibitions

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.' 26 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.' 27

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.' 28 By this he undoubtedly meant they were hung near the floor. After this it was not exhibited for many years.

The painting was shown in the exhibition organised by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) in 1889. 29

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.' 30 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.' 31

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.

Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston, 1904, GUL Whistler PH6/18
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston, 1904, GUL Whistler PH6/18

After Whistler's death, it was hung in the Boston Whistler Memorial Exhibition of 1904, as seen in the photograph reproduced above.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Newspapers 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: 'I too am working on things that we will like', [6/10 July 1863], GUW #08043.

2: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 144.

3: 99th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1867 (cat. no. 243).

4: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 36).

5: [29 November 1892], GUW #05761.

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 46).

7: Spencer 1990 [more], p. 54.

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

9: Art Institute of Chicago website at http://www.artic.edu.

10: MacDonald, Margaret, 'Whistler and the Thames', in MacDonald, Margaret, and Patricia de Montfort, An American in London: Whistler and the Thames, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Addison Gallery of American Art, Freer Gallery of Art, 2013-2014, p. 23 (cat. no. 27).

11: Kimberley Muir, 'Cat. 7 Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach, 1863: Technical Summary,' in Whistler Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2020, URL.

12: Strother, Stephanie L., 'Cat. 7 Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach, 1863: Curatorial Entry', in Whistler Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2020, para 5 URL.

13: Muir 2020, op. cit., URL.

14: Ibid., URL.

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

16: 20 May 1892, GUW #05740.

17: Thomson to Whistler, 2 July 1892, GUW #05752.

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

19: GUW #11034.

20: [1889], GUW #00693.

21: 2 June [1889], GUW #00691.

22: GUW #05708.

23: [29 March 1892], GUW #08355.

24: Goupil Gallery to Whistler, 28 May 1892, GUW #05742.

25: [1/5 August 1892], GUW #06717.

26: '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.

27: '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.

28: [May/June 1867], GUW #10827.

29: Echo, London, 20 May 1889, press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 10, p. 93.

30: 8 March 1892, GUW #05699.

31: 9 May 1893, GUW #05777.