The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 055
Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses

Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1864/1871
Collection: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
Accession Number: GLAHA 46358
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 51.3 x 76.5 cm (20 1/8 x 30 1/8")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau-style, after 1903

Date

Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses probably dates from between 1864 and 1871. It is difficult to date, and appears to have been reworked at intervals over some years. 1

1864: A label on the verso of the canvas, written by Harold Wright (1885-1961), possibly on information from Whistler's sister-in-law Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) , and written after the artist's death, gives the date as 1864.

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

Venus, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus, Freer Gallery of Art

1867/1870: Andrew McLaren Young (1913-1975) pointed out that the two faint figures on the left (the seated figure is nearly invisible) were reminiscent of Whistler's Greco-Japanese sketches of the late 1860s such as Venus y082 and Symphony in Green and Violet y083. 2

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

Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea, Freer Gallery of Art
Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea, Freer Gallery of Art

1870: The more vividly painted figures, the women on the right, have costumes of around 1870/1871 painted on top of the original, amorphous, pastel-coloured draperies. They relate to the figures in Victorian dress in paintings such as Variations in Violet and Green y104 and Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea y105. 3

1871: It is quite possible that this picture was started in 1864 and reworked in the late 1860s, until about 1871. 4

Images

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

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

Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses, frame detail
Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses, frame detail

Venus, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus, Freer Gallery of Art

Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea, Freer Gallery of Art
Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea, Freer Gallery of Art

Subject

Titles

Whistler's original title is not known. The suggested title is as follows:

Description

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

A view across a broad river, in horizontal format. There are women on the near shore, at lower left and right, a sailing boat in mid-stream, to right, and buildings on the far shore, with mist or fog making everything indistinct. One of the three women at right is holding a parasol.

Site

The view is from Whistler's house in what is now Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, looking south across the river Thames to the Battersea shore.

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

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

Chelsea in Ice, Colby College Museum
Chelsea in Ice, Colby College Museum

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

This view of Battersea Reach from Chelsea is seen in many of Whistler's paintings of the 1860s and 1870s, including Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach y046, Chelsea in Ice y053, Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf y054, Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056 (and the Sketch for 'The Balcony' y057) and Study of Draped Figures y058. It is also seen in several Nocturnes, such as Nocturne in Blue and Silver y113, Nocturne y114, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach y119, and Nocturne: Battersea y120.

Comments

Richard Dorment commented on Whistler's blend of realism, japonisme and aestheticism:

'How could he reconcile this quest for decorative perfection with the teeming reality of the dredgers, tugboats and penny steamers he actually saw from his balcony? The answer becomes clear in a picture such as Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses ... a view looking across the river to a coal slag on the Battersea side. But now, instead of the working class bargemen in the foreground Whistler places fashionably dressed Victorian ladies, two carrying open parasols that make them look like delicate figures on a Japanese screen.

Now too, a fog has clothed this banal cityscape in a diaphanous mist. For most Londoners London’s notorious fogs were no more than an unhealthy nuisance created by coal fires and industrial pollution. Whistler was the first artist to see their beauty, and to realise that the blurred outlines of bridges and boats glimpsed through soft grey haze was worthy of aesthetic contemplation.

Whistler managed to integrate the seeming opposites of realism and aestheticism. Rather than abandon his commitment to realism, he chose to paint the river exactly as he saw it, but at quiet times … when fog descended over furled sails, ... Whistler remained committed to depicting the river as it was. But he reserved the right to choose the time of day and the weather conditions under which he painted it.' 7

Technique

Composition

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

It appears to have been painted over a confusing underpainting of rough brush marks, and this in itself might have been painted over an earlier composition, which is, as a result, no longer distinguishable. 8 There are signs of repainting on the river, where the mast and rigging of a sailing barge appear to have been partially rubbed and painted out on the left, and on the women in the foreground. These figures were originally clad in robes similar to those of Whistler's Greco-Japanese sketches of the late 1860s, such as Symphony in Green and Violet y083, and were replaced with women wearing Victorian costumes of about 1870/1871.

Technique

The lower priming is chalk and lead white, presumably in oil, typical for commercially-prepared canvas. The upper commercial priming is also lead white in presumed oil. The grey imprimatura consists of lead white and bone black. It is fairly thickly painted and, although pentimenti are visible, an X-ray examination does not reveal any underpainting. The pale off-white water is a mixture of lead white, bone black and cobalt blue. It was painted wet-in-wet with brushstrokes containing lead white and chrome yellow or lead white and natural ultramarine. Samples of white and off-white paint from the railings, the water and sky, include small amounts of red ochre, vermilion, ivory black, cadmium yellow, Mars yellow, cobalt blue, and rose madder. Joyce H. Townsend commented, 'The distant shore is painted like a nocturne, from dark to light, whereas the water has been developed with darker scumbles over off-white.' She adds that the water was painted with confident horizontal brushstrokes, while the figures are much more tentative:

'The figure painting is sketchy and very thin, and shows evidence of wiping off and dabbing out as the composition developed, but not much rubbing or scraping down, except in the parasol, where the subsequent reworking was more confident.' She adds, 'the two rightmost figures have been reworked over earlier figures that could have been as unfinished as the leftmost figures.' 9

The dark pink on the figures consists of lead white and red ochre (possibly sienna); the blue parasol is cobalt blue, and the blue dress, ultramarine with a trimming of Mars yellow. The green grass was a mixture of Prussian blue and cadmium yellow, and the latter was also used for the yellow areas on the ship at left. 10

Conservation History

It is on a fine weave tabby canvas, which has been paste-lined with similar canvas at some date. It is difficult to distinguish between rubbing down or retouching by the artist, and later retouchings to cover areas of damage or paint loss. There are extensive fine drying cracks and areas of raised compressed crackle. The thin glossy resin varnish overlies dirt, but the picture overall is in fair condition. 11

Frame

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

Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses, frame detail
Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses, frame detail

Grau-style frame dating from after 1903.

There is a label on the verso, inscribed in ink by Harold Wright (1885-1961), 'City of London Fine Art Gallery / Gladwell Brothers / 20 & 21 Gracechurch Street.'

History

Provenance

Unfinished works, and paintings destroyed by the artist, were not sold at the time of his bankruptcy. Some were retained for safe-keeping by his family, friends, and even creditors, and some of these paintings were returned to him later.

Exhibitions

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

COLLECTION:

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Newspapers 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler, Tate Gallery, London, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, and National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1994-1995 (cat. no. 37).

2: Young, A. McLaren, James McNeill Whistler, Arts Council Gallery, London, and Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1960 (cat. no. 25; Young, A. McLaren, Glasgow University's Pictures, Colnaghi, London, 1973 (cat. no. 74).

3: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 55).

4: John House, Impressionism; its masters, its precursors, and its influence in Britain, Royal Academy, London, 1974 (cat. no. 24).

5: Young, A. McLaren, James McNeill Whistler, Arts Council Gallery, London, and Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1960 (cat. no. 25).

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 55).

7: Dorment, Richard, Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2013.

8: Reports by Joyce H. Townsend and Stephen Hackney, conservators, Tate Britain, 1994, checked June 2017.

9: Townsend and Hackney, 1994 and 2017, op. cit.

10: Ibid.

11: Reports by Tate conservators Joyce H. Townsend (1994 and 2017), Stephen Hackney (1994), and condition report by Clare Meredith, 2001, Hunterian files.

12: Freer's diaries, n.d., Bk. 13, Freer Gallery archives.

13: 1903, GUL Whistler LB 6/9.