An almost illegible receipt from Whistler to C. A. Howell in 1878 acknowledged receipt of £50: 'I had received the £50 for the two small pictures you agreed upon.' 1 According to the Pennells, C. A. Howell recorded in his diary on 22 February 1878 buying five paintings from Whistler: Girl with Cherry Blossom [YMSM 090], Nocturne [YMSM 114] or Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach [YMSM 119], Study for the Head of Miss Cicely H. Alexander [YMSM 128], Sketch for a Portrait of Henry Greaves [YMSM 198], and a 'Nocturne – winter scene in Chelsea' which was probably Nocturne: Grey and Gold - Chelsea Snow [YMSM 174], the painting under discussion. 2 It was then sold (it is not really clear if it was sold by Howell or by Howell on Whistler's behalf) to Alfred Chapman. A letter from Whistler on 29 March 1878 thanks Chapman for 'sending up the Nocturne so instantly', possibly so that it could be exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878 (cat. no. 57). 3 However, none of this is certain.
It is confusing that on 5 November 1878 (shortly before the Whistler v. Ruskin trial was heard at the High Court) another letter from Whistler requested that a 'Nocturne in Grey and Gold' deposited with H. Graves & Co. should be delivered to Lucas (Luke) Alexander Ionides (1837-1924), and this letter is annotated by Howell, 'The picture described above has been received and sold by me.' 4
There is no doubt that it was in the hands of J. A. Chapman of Liverpool until 1894, at which time Whistler encouraged Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913) to buy it:
'And certainly, if you are at all inclined to act on your brother in laws theory of "buying all Whistlers", you ought to have a try for the Nocturne "Grey and Gold - Chelsea Snow" - you will find it in Miss Theodate's Catalogue (No 13). It is a beauty. Little as I wish to help Mr. Chapman to make money out of my brains, I should be delighted to know that the picture left that country, to find its home among its fellows in your good care and sympathy!' 5
Pope went to see 'Chelsea Snow' at Goupil's and told Whistler that he liked it but could not afford it, given his other purchases. 6 Chapman apparently wanted David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) of the Goupil Gallery to sell it for £500. 7 Nothing further seems to have happened until, in January 1899, through his business outlet, the Company of the Butterfly, Whistler told Christine Anderson (Christiana Barrett, Mrs C. L. Baldwyn, Mrs C. A. M. Anderson) (b. 1865/1866) to ask Chapman if he would sell his 'Snow Nocturne.' 8 Apparently he would, and Cowan accordingly bought the 'Chelsea Nocturne - Gold & Grey.' 9
There are several gaps in the provenance. According to Scott & Fowles, New York dealers, it was later in the collection of Edwin Amsinck, whose widow Antonie bequeathed it to the Kunsthalle, Hamburg, in 1921. It was sold by the museum some time after 1922. On 17 May 1926 it was sold to the Galerie G. Paffrath, Dusseldorf.
According to the records of the Macbeth Gallery, New York, it was later owned by Barbizon House, London, and was offered to the Macbeth Gallery through Knoedler's in February 1930 and returned in April, at which point it was exhibited in London. 10 It was purchased by Scott & Fowles, New York dealers, who sold it to G. L. Winthrop in March 1933, and finally bequeathed to the Fogg Art Museum in 1943.
Whistler's note, ' "Nocturne in Grey & Gold" (snowpiece) Grosvenor', confirms that this was the painting exhibited in 1878. 11 A favorable review in The Examiner of 11 May 1878 stated that 'nothing could be more delicate and true to nature than the way in which he represents the mingling of artificial light with the lingering light of day.' The Glasgow Herald on 2 May 1878 commented: 'The Nocturne in Grey and Gold (57), which, being interpreted into vulgar language, is a night scene with fog and snow, is by far the most astonishing.'
Whistler's titles received some criticism, and it was at the time of the 1878 Grosvenor show that Whistler published 'The Red Rag', which referenced this painting; he wrote, 'My picture of a "Harmony in Grey and Gold" is an illustration of my meaning - a snow scene with a single black figure and a lighted tavern. I care nothing for the past, present, or future of the black figure, placed there because the black was wanted at that spot.' 12 Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942), although he misremembered the date as 1879, described the painting memorably as 'a snow scene in London in a fog, with a draggled little figure shuffling towards a lighted window. No one who was not there can imagine the revelation which these canvases were at the time.' 13
In 1883 Whistler asked Alfred Chapman if he could borrow it again, but it is not clear if Chapman agreed to lend, despite Whistler's plea:
'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 ... and I want your little man in the snow ... Do be very nice and let us continue the success that has been so long in coming!' 14
However, in 1888 Chapman did agree to lend the 'Snow picture' to the III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1888; and 'A Nocturne in Grey & Gold (Snow Piece)' was insured for £350 and safely despatched after some delay. 15
Whistler was very keen for Chapman to lend all his pictures to the 1892 Goupil retrospective, including 'Nocturne Grey & Gold - snow piece.' 16 Having got it for the show, Whistler immediately wanted it to go on to Paris for another exhibition, and Chapman agreed, though as usual there was an almighty panic before it was delivered. 17
A rough sketch, Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG [M.1582], shows that Whistler had hoped to borrow it for the 2nd Exhibition, Pictures, Drawings, Prints and Sculptures, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, London, 1899 but for some reason this did not happen.
10: Archives of American Art, Washington; London, LAA, 1930 as 'Grey and Gold – Chelsea Snow'.
13: Sickert, Walter R., 'Pictures of Actors', The Speaker, 29 May 1897.
Last updated: 9th April 2021 by Margaret