' "Nocturne in Grey & Gold" (Southampton Water)' was sold with Nocturne: Battersea Reach [YMSM 160] by Whistler to Alfred Chapman on 22 June 1874, for 200 guineas. 1 In late September 1894 Chapman asked David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) of the Goupil Gallery to sell it for him for £400. 2
On 19 September Whistler advised Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913) to buy it from Thomson: 'Mr. Chapman (of Liverpool, another of my English "Art Patrons"!) has at their place, Goupil, two of my pictures for sale! ... The "Southampton Waters - Blue and Gold" (No 20) is a beauty.' 3
It was eventually sold by Chapman to E. G. Kennedy, of Wunderlich's, New York dealers, and purchased from that firm with the Stickney Fund for the Art Institute of Chicago, 5 February 1900. 4
1872: It may have been the 'Nocturne in Grey and Gold' shown at the Dudley Gallery in 1872, priced at £315, and described in the The Athenaeum:
'multitudinous shipping on either side with the "silent highway" in the centre and nearly deserted. The air might be said to be visible, so dense is the deep, warm twilight which obscures all things here ... the moon [is] near the dim horizon on our left ... The strength of this picture lies not in its verisimilitude, but in the super-subtle arrangement and exquisitely delicate nature of its colour.' 5
The only trouble with this description is that there really is not all that much shipping!
The Athenaeum called Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water [YMSM 117] 'a pair' with 'Nocturne in Blue and Silver', describing it as 'the same part of the Thames under very different effects of light.' 6 This has not been identified with certainty, but was probably Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights [YMSM 115] (illustrated above). The Builder, discussing both paintings, wondered 'that such a pretty pale blue or pale-grey fog could necessitate the lighting up of the moon and other lamps ... how the small craft so near should be merged in mist, and yet that a forest of masts should be more visible miles away.' 7 The Times expressed modified approval, but with a sting in the tail:
'Mr Whistler sends two of his subtle studies of moonlight (187, 237), in which form is eschewed for harmonies of gray and gold and blue and silver so delicate that they require a disciplined perception to follow; ... for the few their rare qualities of truth and beauty are as unquestionable as the strange gifts of the painter, who, in his special sense of these infinite delicacies of misty tone and silvery or golden colour, seems disposed to reduce art to the expression of them, to the exclusion alike of detail, form, and all that is commonly understood as "subject." In a word, painting to Mr. Whistler is the exact correlative of music. … Rare as is the power the painter shows in this work of his predilection, his success cannot disguise the fact that he is really building up art out of his own imperfections.' 8
Although contemporary reviews of the painting exhibited as a 'Nocturne in Grey and Gold' at the Dudley Gallery in 1872 are not sufficiently clear to identify Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water conclusively, it appears by far the most likely candidate and undoubtedly represents Southampton Water and not the Thames.
After the Dudley exhibition, Whistler wrote to Charles William Deschamps (1848-1908) asking if his Dudley exhibits were now 'safely hanging in your care up stairs in my gallery', presumably meaning in the Fifth Exhibition of the Society of French Artists [Winter Exhibition], Deschamps Gallery, London, 1872. 9
1873-1874: According to William Stephen Marchant (1868-1925), the artist Walter Greaves (1846-1930) described the 'Nocturne in grey and gold' shown at the 1873 International Exhibition in London as 'a moonlight on Southampton Water.' 10 This painting, or Nocturne in Grey and Gold [YMSM 116], may have been shown in Whistler's one-man show in the following year.
1879: It was certainly included in the Grosvenor Gallery exhibition in 1879, identified by a cartoon in The Mask. 11
It was, however, very little discussed in the papers, and while the North British Daily on 1 May 1879 remarked that it represented 'the Thames on a foggy morning' and was almost identical to Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea [YMSM 103], this is hardly helpful, since it has little similarity to that painting.
1883: four years later Whistler asked Chapman to lend the painting again, explaining:
'while things are hot I am asked to send several pictures to the Exposition Internationale - Rue de Sèze - very swell where each year different painters are chosen to represent different countries - last year Millais - etc - and I want ... the Southampton Water - Do be very nice and let us continue the success that has been so long in coming!' 12
As a result it was probably exhibited at the Galerie Georges Petit in 1883 as 'Nocturne en bleu et or', since the description published in a newspaper matches it convincingly: 'Le bleu domine; mais je ne vois d'or que dans la pleine lune et la réflexion des lumières des maisons et des bâtiments dans l'eau du pont.' 13 Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) described the same exhibit as 'représentant une vue de la Tamise au-dessus de laquelle, dans une féerique brume, une lune d'or éclaire de ses pâles rayons l'indistincte forme des vaisseaux endormis à l'ancre.' 14 On the other hand, these descriptions of the painting exhibited in Paris in 1883, although they correspond most closely to Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water, could also, if a clock face was mistaken for the moon, apply to Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach [YMSM 152] or Nocturne: Grey and Silver [YMSM 156].
1892 and 1898: Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water was shown in Whistler's major retrospective at Goupil's. Confusingly, Whistler kept changing the title. He immediately wanted to borrow it for exhibition in Munich but this did not materialise. 15 It was probably also at Goupil's in 1898 as 'Nocturne – Blue and Gold', which was described poetically in the Pall Mall Gazette on 8 March: 'the two profound depths of sky and water are divided by a mysterious shore set with sparse lights touched in with a delicious delicacy that drops them wavering and tremulous into the bottom of an infinite abyss of space.' 16
When it was bought by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1900, it was the first of Whistler's Nocturnes to be acquired by a public institution and the only nocturne to enter a public collection during the artist’s lifetime. 17
5: Anon., 'The Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery', The Athenaeum, 2 November 1872, pp. 568-69, at p. 568.
6: Anon., 'The Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery', The Athenaeum, 2 November 1872, pp. 568-69
7: Builder, London, 23 November 1872, p. 929.
8: 'The Dudley Gallery', The Times, London, 11 November 1872, p. 4.
11: The Mask, vol. 2, 17 May 1879, repr. p. 4. Press cutting kept by Whistler, GUL Whistler LB 11/21.
13: Translation: 'Blue dominates; but I see gold only in the full moon and the reflection of the lights of houses and buildings in the water of the bridge.' Unidentified press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 4, pp. 63, 115.
14: Translation: 'representing a view of the Thames over which, in a magical mist, a moon of gold illuminates with its pale rays the indistinct form of the vessels asleep at anchor.' Huysmans 1889 [more], p. 67.
17: Exhibition catalogue Atlanta, After Whistler, 2003 [more] (cat. no. 4). Stephanie L. Strother, 'Cat. 16 Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southampton Water, 1872: Curatorial Entry,' in Whistler Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2020, URL.
Last updated: 5th December 2020 by Margaret