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

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Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea

Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea dates from 1871, and it is signed and dated '71'. 1

Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea, Tate Britain
Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea, Tate Britain

According to Whistler's mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881), one afternoon in the summer of 1871 she was not strong enough to sit for her portrait (Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101]) so Whistler took her for a trip down the Thames. When they returned, as she wrote:

'the river in a glow of rare transparency an hour before sunset, he was inspired to begin a picture & rushed upstairs to his studio, carrying an easel & brushes, soon I was helping by bringing the several tubes of paint he pointed out that he should use & I so fascinated I hung over his magic touches til the bright moon faced us from the window and I exclaimed oh Jemie dear it is yet light enough for you to see to make this a moonlight picture of the Thames.

I never in London saw such a clear atmosphere as this. … So now Kate I send you by this mail steamer an ["]Athenaeum" a weekly paper with a criticism on these two pictures exhibited now in "The Dudley Gallery" it is so true. The Moonlight is not more lovely than Sunset tho the Critique gives it only the mede [sic] of praise.' 2

The 'Moonlight' described by Mrs Whistler was exhibited in London at the Dudley Gallery in 1871 (cat. no. 265) as 'Harmony in Blue-Green – Moonlight' and is considered to have been Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea [YMSM 103], the painting under discussion. The other picture was Variations in Violet and Green [YMSM 104].


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 103).

2: A. M. Whistler to C. J. Palmer, 3-4 November 1871, GUW #10071.

Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret