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

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Chelsea in Ice

Chelsea in Ice may have been painted in January 1864 or January 1867. 1


                Chelsea in Ice, Colby College Museum of Art
Chelsea in Ice, Colby College Museum of Art

1864: It may have been painted early in 1864, when, according to Whistler's mother, Anna Matilda Whistler (1804-1881),

'during a very sharp frost of only a few days I think for two days ice was passing as we look[ed] out upon the Thames, he could not resist painting while I was shivering - at the open window - two sketches & all say are most effective, one takes in the bridge, of course they are not finished.' 2

The Times on 8 and 9 January 1864 contains numerous references to the severe frost of the previous week, particularly on the 5-7 January when there were 24 degrees of frost, the docks at Chatham were frozen and there was 'a quantity of ice in the harbour which had been floated down the stream.' 3

1867: However, over twenty years later Whistler described it as 'the Ice Picture ... (Ice in the Thames 1867).' 4 This date is also possible. January 1867 was particularly cold, with periods of deep snow and temperatures down to minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit; lakes and ponds were frozen and work on the Thames embankment was suspended. On 14 January 1867, according to The Times, 'Great masses of ice were yesterday floating up and down with the tide on the Thames.' 5

1870: Andrew McLaren Young (1913-1975) originally suggested (but later changed his mind) that this could have been painted about 26 February 1870 when the Illustrated London News described the Thames as being 'blocked with masses of ice.' 6

Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 53).

2: A. M. Whistler to J. H. Gamble, l0-11 February 1864, GUW #06522, quoted by A. McL. Young.

3: Anon., 'The Weather', The Times , London, 8 January 1864, p. 10.

4: Whistler to E. Venturi, 14 March 1887, GUW #06001.

5: Anon., 'The Weather', The Times, London, 15 January 1867, p. 7; see also 5 January 1867, p. 10.

6: Young, A. McLaren, James McNeill Whistler, Arts Council Gallery, London, and Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1960 (cat. no. 23). He also suggested it might have been exhibited at the Society of French Artists in 1873, but this is unlikely.

Last updated: 6th February 2021 by Margaret