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

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The Last of Old Westminster

The Last of Old Westminster is signed and dated '1862'. However, it is painted over the portrait of a seated woman that may well have been painted in the previous year. 1


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

1862: The painting was probably begun after Whistler's return to London from Paris in April 1862, and the essential features of the scene must have been completed in essence before the timbering on the new Westminster Bridge was removed early in July that year. 2 In July 1862, George du Maurier (1834-1896) said that Whistler was 'painting river pictures for the Greeks.' 3 These 'river pictures' included The Last of Old Westminster, and possibly Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge and Battersea Reach [YMSM 045]. By the 'Greeks' he meant the Ionides family, George Coronio (1831-1895) and his wife Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906); another patron, George John Cavafy (1805-1891) , was actually Turkish.

The Last of Old Westminster was painted from the rooms of Walter Severn (1830-1904) in Manchester Buildings, where Walter's brother, the artist Arthur Severn (1842-1931), saw Whistler working on it. Arthur's account, written years later, is not precise about the date: he said that on his return from Rome (which was about August 1862) he saw Whistler beginning the picture, and he mentioned that the bridge had 'just been finished.' 4 By the end of the following month, September 1862, Whistler had left London en route for the Basses Pyrenées. In November he returned to London via Paris, and the painting arrived in Paris for the exhibition of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in December. 5

1863: Whistler exhibited The Last of Old Westminster at the Royal Academy in London. 6

Notes:

1: See MacDonald, Margaret F., 'Joanna Hiffernan and James Whistler: an Artistic Partnership' in Margaret F. MacDonald (ed.), The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and Washington, 2020, pp. 15-31, at pp. 15-16.

2: 'Westminster Bridge', The Times, London, 4 July 1862, p. 8.

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

4: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 1, pp. 100-01.

5: Whistler to G. A. Lucas, 19 December 1862, GUW #09189.

6: 95th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1863 (cat. no. 352).

Last updated: 4th June 2021 by Margaret