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

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Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge

Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge was commissioned in 1859 and completed by 1865.


                Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge , Addison Gallery of American Art
Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge , Addison Gallery of American Art

1859: Whistler was commissioned by Alexander Constantine Ionides (1810-1890) to paint Old Battersea Bridge after the Royal Academy show of 1859. 1 However, it is not clear exactly when Whistler started to paint it.


                Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge, X-ray, detail
Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge, X-ray, detail

1861: An X-ray of Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge shows that it was painted over a self-portrait, which may have dated from 1861 or 1862, judging from Whistler's appearance.

1862: In July, George du Maurier (1834-1896) said that Whistler was 'painting river pictures for the Greeks'. 2 The 'Greeks' included the Ionides family, George John Cavafy (1805-1891), George Coronio (1831-1895) and his wife Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906).


                The Last of Old Westminster, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Last of Old Westminster, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The 'river pictures' included The Last of Old Westminster [YMSM 039], which is dated '1862', and others could have been Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge and Battersea Reach [YMSM 045]. Later in 1862 Whistler mentioned commissions that he hoped to complete before the Royal Academy exhibition in the following year. 3 He may have worked on Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge over the winter of 1862-1863.

1863: To the Royal Academy of Arts Whistler sent The Last of Old Westminster [YMSM 039], which in subject and technique might be considered a pair with Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge, but the latter was not submitted. Another Thames subject, Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach [YMSM 046], although signed '1863', was not exhibited until 1867. Whistler may also have been working on Battersea Reach [YMSM 045], which was sold at some time to George John Cavafy.

1864: Recent paintings were mentioned by Whistler to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904):

'J'ai fait aussi deux petits tableaux de la Tamise - un vieux pont, et un effet de brouillard - Je les ai trouvé bien au moment où je les ai terminé mais maintenant ils ne me plaisent pas beaucoup.' 4 Translation: 'I have also done two little pictures of the Thames - an old bridge, and an effect of fog - I thought they were all right when I finished them but now I am not satisfied with them.'

Neither Battersea Reach at 50.8 x 76.2 cm, Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach at 50.9 x 68.6 cm, Battersea Reach from Lindsey Houses [YMSM 055] at 51.3 x 76.5 cm, nor Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge, at 63.5 x 76.2 cm, are particularly 'petit'. Chelsea in Ice [YMSM 053] (44.7 x 61.0 cm) is a good candidate for the 'effet de brouillard', and Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge undoubtedly shows 'un vieux pont'.

Yet another possible date for Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge is suggested by a review of the 1865 Royal Academy exhibition in the Fortnightly Review, which states: 'one seems to be looking back right into last November, through a little square in the Academy walls.’ 5 Now this might simply imply that the grey skies of Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge look like a cold November day, but it might also reflect inside knowledge that the picture was being painted in November 1864.

1865: Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge was certainly completed by May 1865 when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy. 6 Whistler also had it photographed by Cundall & Co. at this time. 7

Notes:

1: Ionides 1924 [more] , at p. 40.

2: Du Maurier 1951 [more] , p. 160.

3: Whistler to H. Fantin-Latour, [12/19 November 1862], GUW #07952.

4: Whistler to Fantin-Latour, 4 January-3 February 1864, GUW #08036.

5: Palgrave 1865 [more] , at pp. 665-66.

6: 97th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1865 (cat. no. 343).

7: Cundall & Co., invoice, [30 September 1865], GUW #00765.

Last updated: 19th December 2020 by Margaret