The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 246
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1884
Collection: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Accession Number: F1902.149a-b
Medium: oil
Support: wood
Size: 13.5 x 23.4 cm (5 1/4" x 9 1/4")
Signature: butterfly
Inscription: none
Frame: Large Dowdeswell, 1884 [14.1 cm]

Date

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey dates from the early 1880s. 1 It may have been painted in the spring of 1884, when Whistler told Mortimer Luddington Menpes (1860-1938) that he would be "at the 'shop' game" on the Thames Embankment in the early morning. 2

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art

Street in Old Chelsea, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Street in Old Chelsea, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

It was almost certainly first exhibited in Whistler's show of 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 11) with several other recent shop studies, Harmony in Yellow and Brown: Sunday y248 and Street in Old Chelsea y249 based in Chelsea, and, from St Ives, Blue and Orange: Sweet Shop y263, An Orange Note: Sweet Shop y264 and A Grey Note: Village Street y265. All may have been painted specifically for the Dowdeswell exhibition.

Blue and Orange: Sweet Shop, I. S. Gardner Museum, Boston
Blue and Orange: Sweet Shop, I. S. Gardner Museum, Boston

An Orange Note: Sweet Shop, Freer Gallery of Art
An Orange Note: Sweet Shop, Freer Gallery of Art

A Grey Note: Village Street, The Hunterian
A Grey Note: Village Street, The Hunterian

Images

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art

Street in Old Chelsea, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Street in Old Chelsea, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Blue and Orange: Sweet Shop, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Blue and Orange: Sweet Shop, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

An Orange Note: Sweet Shop, Freer Gallery of Art
An Orange Note: Sweet Shop, Freer Gallery of Art

A Grey Note: Village Street, The Hunterian
A Grey Note: Village Street, The Hunterian

Subject

Titles

Several titles have been suggested:

In 1980 it was suggested that this might have originally been called 'Pink note – Chelsea', which the Liverpool Mercury had described on 3 July 1884 as a view in Chelsea 'more elaborate than the others.' 7 This could equally apply to other works, such as Street in Old Chelsea y249. On the other hand, press descriptions of 'Chelsea; yellow and grey' mention the newspaper-shop that dominates the scene, and make it much more likely that this is its original title. 8 It has therefore been decided to combine the original, 1904 and 1980 titles, to create a new title, 'Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey'.

Anna Robins comments that Whistler's titles 'reflect an eclectic interest in colour systems rather than an adherence to one particular theory' and, in the exhibition catalogue '[conjure] up an image of luscious colour arrangements'. 9

Description

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art

A street scene in horizontal format. Across a broad street, which rises slightly to left, is a row of small shops. Four shops are shown, the house fronts from left to right varying from off-white, to brown, to cream, to brown. The cream shop has a grey awning over the open door and there are numerous newspaper signboards standing on the pavement outside it, and outside the shop at right. Several figures are walking along the pavement, or looking in the windows at right. The ground and upper floor of the buildings are shown, the windows curtained and the two at right with flowers in pots on the window ledges.

Site

It is among the earliest of Whistler's many studies of London – and particularly Chelsea – shop fronts. The exact site is identified by Anna Robins as showing 'Nos 83-6 Cheyne Walk, including the tobacconist's at No. 85, a photographer's and coffee shop to the left and a furniture dealer to the right.' 10 Robins points out that the etching The Street, Chelsea Embankment of 1888-1889 by Théodore Roussel (1847-1926) shows a slightly more extensive view of the street, from Nos. 83-88. 11

Technique

Technique

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art

The panel appears to have been prepared with a pale grey ground. The panel may have been placed in a paint box, or frame of some sort, or held on an easel, and the paint does not extend fully to the margins at left and right. It was painted carefully, with the brushstrokes pointed and jerky instead of flowing. Whistler appears to have been fascinated by the various details of the shops, their signs and wares, their bricks and panelling, and figures caught in movement – a child running on the right, a figure bending down, in the centre – and concentrated on harmonising the colours and textures, rather than enjoying the fluidity of the paint.

Conservation History

The edges are slightly abraded, probably by the frame. The varnish was removed in 1921; it was cleaned and varnished in 1937, and resurfaced in the following year and again in 1951. According to a conservation report by the Freer Gallery, a butterfly in the lower left corner was almost obliterated when the painting was resurfaced and cradled in 1938.

Frame

1884: Large Dowdeswell, 1884 [14.1 cm]. 12

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art

Framed for the 1884 Dowdeswell exhibition.

History

Provenance

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.' 13

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

Exhibitions

Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art
Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey, Freer Gallery of Art

In 1884 Chelsea: Yellow and Grey y247, 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.' 14 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'. 15 Although this could be applied to other shop-fronts such as Street in Old Chelsea y249, 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". ' 16 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 -' 17

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.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Newspapers 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

COLLECTION:

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 246).

2: [1/14 May 1884], GUW #10020.

3: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 11).

4: Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 208).

5: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 3).

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 246).

7: Ibid.; 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 23); press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 7, p. 13.

8: Anon., 'Man about town, The County Gentleman, Sporting Gazette and Agricultural Journal, London, 24 May 1884, p. 8; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 6, p. 57.

9: Robins 2007 [more], pp. 26-27.

10: Robins 2007 [more], pp. 126-28, repr. p. 126.

11: See Hausberg 1991 [more] (cat. no. 26 I/I), and Art Institute of Chicago website at https://www.artic.edu/artworks/210932/the-street-chelsea-embankment. See also Hausberg, Meg, and Victoria Sancho Lobis, Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions, Art Institute of Chicago, 2015, URL.

12: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017. See also Parkerson 2007 [more].

13: 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.

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

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

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

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

18: Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 208).

19: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 23) 'Pink note - Chelsea' .