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

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Nocturne: Black and Gold – The Fire Wheel


Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Nocturnes of Cremorne ... the long one with the great Catherine wheel' (1882, Whistler). 1
  • 'Cremorne Symphonies' (1882, A. S. Cole). 2
  • 'Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Great Fire Wheel' (1883, Grosvenor). 3
  • Possibly 'Nocturne' (1886, International Exhibition, Edinburgh). 4
  • Possibly 'Nocturne en noir et or' (1887, Georges Petit). 5
  • ' "Nocturne en noir et or. No. 2.” Souvenir de Cremorne' (1888, Société des XX, Brussels). 6
  • 'Nocturne in Black & Gold – The Fire-wheel' (1888, Whistler). 7
  • 'Nachtstück in Schwarz und Gold: Das Feuerad' (1888, III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Munich). 8
  • 'Firewheel' (1889, Whistler) 9
  • 'Nocturne in Black & Gold – The Fire Wheel' (1889, Wunderlich). 10
  • 'Nocturne en noir et or' (1890, Société des artistes français, Paris). 11
  • 'Noctune – Black and Gold / The Fire Wheel' (1892, Goupil). 12
  • 'Nocturne – Roue de feu' (1892, M. Joyant). 13
  • 'Nocturne, Black and Gold' (1902, Society of American Artists). 14
  • 'Nocturne: Black and Gold – The Fire Wheel' (1980, YMSM). 15

'Nocturne: Black and Gold – The Fire Wheel' is the preferred title.


                    Nocturne: Black and Gold – The Fire Wheel, Tate Britain
Nocturne: Black and Gold – The Fire Wheel, Tate Britain

A night scene in horizontal format. It is very dark except for a bright firework flaming at right, casting sparks and smoke across the area. At left is a fountain lit with fairy lights, and above it, a stream of sparks from a rocket in the sky. There is a crowd of spectators watching the fire-wheel at right, and smaller groups, walking or watching, in the centre. A few heads are seen right in the foreground.


Cremorne Pleasure Gardens in Chelsea. It closed to the public in 1877.

The Tate website describes the scene:

'The gardens were situated at the west end of Chelsea on the river, only a few hundred yards from Whistler's residence in Lindsey Row. They could be reached by foot or by steamboat, and offered a variety of entertainments, including restaurants, theatres, a "stereorama", a gypsy grotto, a maze and an indoor bowling alley. In all his depictions of the gardens, Whistler ignored the dancing and music which were major features of the nightlife there and focused on the more mysterious and ephemeral activities, such as the nightly display of fireworks. Both this work and The Falling Rocket (1875, The Detroit Institute of Arts) show the climax of one of the pyrotechnic displays which were held every evening on the Cremorne fireworks platform, known as the Grotto. A crowd of spectators, their backs turned to us, are watching in awe the spectacular Catherine wheel as it revolves in the night sky, throwing off a shower of sparks. A tiered fountain strung with fairy lights is just visible to the left of the picture, with trees to left and right.' 16
Walter Greaves, Fireworks, Cremorne Gardens, The Hunterian
Walter Greaves, Fireworks, Cremorne Gardens, The Hunterian

Walter Greaves painted several nocturnes of Cremorne, three of which were exhibited in London at the Goupil Gallery in 1911 (cat. nos. 29, 34, 67) including one showing Fireworks (cat. no. 67). 17 This may be the Fireworks, Cremorne Gardens now in the Hunterian, and reproduced above (GLAHA 43537).


1: Whistler to Graves, 9 [June 1882], (formerly dated January), GUW #10774.

2: Diary, 11 June 1882, copies, GUW #13132 and #03432.

3: VII Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1883 (cat. no. 115).

4: International Exhibition, Edinburgh, 1886 (cat. no. 1399).

5: Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 212).

6: Ve Exposition des XX, Société des XX, Brussels, 1888 (cat. no. 2).

7: Whistler to R. Koehler, [June 1888], GUW #04202.

8: III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1888 (cat. no. 2455).

9: Whistler to Graves, 2 March 1889, GUW #10775.

10: H. Wunderlich & Co. to Whistler, [March/November 1889], GUW #10621.

11: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 105th exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1890 (cat. no. 2440).

12: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 7).

13: Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ-de-Mars, Paris, 1892; Maurice Joyant to Whistler, 4 May 1892, GUW #00388.

14: Twenty-fourth Annual Exhibition, Society of American Artists, New York, 1902.

15: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 169).

16: Tate Britain website at

17: Walter Greaves (Pupil of Whistler), W. Marchant, Goupil Gallery, London, 1911; see also Marchant 1911 [more] .

Last updated: 20th May 2021 by Margaret