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

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Nocturne: Grey and Gold – Chelsea Snow


Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Nocturne in Grey and Gold' (1878, Grosvenor). 1
  • 'Nocturne - Grey & gold Snow' (1886/1887, Whistler). 2
  • 'Nachtstück in Grau und Gold' (1888, III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Munich). 3
  • 'Nocturne Grey & Gold – snow piece' (1892, Whistler). 4
  • 'Nocturne, Grey and Gold – Chelsea Snow' (1892, Goupil). 5
  • 'Snow Nocturne' (1892, Whistler). 6
  • 'Nocturne gris et or: – la neige à Chelsea' (1892, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts). 7
  • 'Yellow and Grey – Chelsea Snow' (1894, A. A. Pope). 8
  • 'Chelsea, Nocturne, Gold and Grey' (1901, Royal Scottish Academy). 9
  • 'Nocturne: Grey and Gold – Chelsea Snow' (1980, YMSM). 10

'Nocturne: Grey and Gold – Chelsea Snow' is the preferred title.

This painting was chosen by Whistler to illustrate his aesthetic theories, as published in the World on 22 May 1878, under the title 'The Red Rag':

'Why should not I call my works "symphonies," "arrangements," "harmonies," and "nocturnes"? I know that many good people think my nomenclature funny and myself "eccentric." ...

The vast majority of English folk cannot and will not consider a picture as a picture, apart from any story which it may be supposed to tell.

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. All that I know is that my combination of grey and gold is the basis of the picture. Now this is precisely what my friends cannot grasp.

They say, "Why, not call it 'Trotty Veck' , and sell it for a round harmony of golden guineas?" – naively acknowledging that, without baptism, there is no . . . market! ... I should hold it a vulgar and meretricious trick to excite people about Trotty Veck when, if they really could care for pictorial art at all, they would know that the picture should have its own merit, and not depend upon dramatic, or legendary, or local interest. As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or of colour.' 11


                    Nocturne: Grey and Gold – Chelsea Snow, Fogg Art Museum
Nocturne: Grey and Gold – Chelsea Snow, Fogg Art Museum

A snowy street by night, painted in horizontal format. The snowy street stretches into the distance at right, bounded by dark buildings on each side. In the middle distance at left is a dark figure, and behind this, the ground-floor windows of a shop or pub jutting out into the street (Whistler called it 'a snow scene with a single black figure and a lighted tavern'). 12 A few street and house lights cast very little light.


Chelsea, London.


1: II Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1878 (cat. no. 57).

2: List by Whistler, GUW #06795.

3: III. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1888 (cat. no. 57).

4: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 28 February [1892], GUW #08213.

5: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 16).

6: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 1 May [1892], GUW #08202.

7: Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ-de-Mars, Paris, 1892 (cat. no. 1068).

8: Pope to Whistler, 1 October 1894, GUW #04999.

9: The Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, MCMI. The Seventy-fifth, Edinburgh, 1901 (cat. no. 347).

10: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 174).

11: Whistler 1878 A [more] ; Whistler 1890 [more] ; Trotty Veck figures in The Chimes, a story by Charles Dickens (1812-1870).

12: Whistler 1878, op. cit.

Last updated: 9th April 2021 by Margaret