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

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Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach

Provenance

  • ca 1877: sold to William George Rawlinson (1840-1928) , Camden Hill, London;
  • 1902: sold by Rawlinson through William Marchant & Co., London, to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) , Detroit, in April 1902 for £2000, plus £200 commission;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

There are two marginally different versions of the early provenance. The painting was sold to Rawlinson, possibly in 1877, for £100 or 100 guineas (£110). 1

However, an alternative provenance can be suggested: on 22 February 1878 Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890) bought five paintings from Whistler for £50, Girl with Cherry Blossom [YMSM 090], Study for the Head of Miss Cicely H. Alexander [YMSM 128], Nocturne: Grey and Gold - Chelsea Snow [YMSM 174], Sketch for a Portrait of Henry Greaves [YMSM 198], and 'a small framed Nocturne, Battersea', which was probably Nocturne [YMSM 114] or the painting under discussion. 2

The later provenance is clear. In March 1902 Whistler told C. L. Freer, 'It pleases me immensely that you should have the Rawlinson Nocturne - Another canvas out of England! - and with its fellows, in your sympathetic care'. 3

Exhibitions

  • 1872: Possibly 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872 (cat. no. 237) as 'Nocturne, in Blue and Silver'. 4
  • 1875: Possibly Second Annual Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Water Colour, Royal Pavilion Gallery, Brighton, 1875 (cat. no. 98) as 'Nocturne in blue and gold', priced at £420. 5
  • 1878: Possibly II Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1878 (cat. no. 56) as 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold'.
  • 1892: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 17) as 'Nocturne. Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach'.
  • 1899: Spring Exhibition of pictures, and objects of Art, Goupil Gallery, London, 1899 (cat. no. 31).
  • Comparative exhibition of native and foreign art, Society of Art Collectors, New York, 1904 (cat. no. 177) as 'Nocturne – Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach'.
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 63) as 'Nocturne – Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach'.
  • 1905: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 70) as 'Nocturne. Bleu et argent. Battersea. – (Nocturne. Blue and Silver. Battersea Beach. [sic])'.

The early exhibition history is uncertain.

This painting may have been the 'Nocturne, in Blue and Silver' exhibited at the Dudley Gallery in 1872 (see Nocturne in Blue and Silver [YMSM 118]). The major problem is that reviews of the show are very vague indeed and do not allow a conclusive identification: The Illustrated London News described the exhibited work only as 'the Thames at Battersea'. 6 The Echo stated that: 'One or two broad sweeps of monotint cover the canvas from end to end, certain small streaks of light and dark paint being touched on here and there,' and added that the frame was signed with a butterfly. 7

Three years later, either this painting, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights [YMSM 115], or Nocturne in Blue and Gold [YMSM 141] could have been the 'Nocturne in blue and gold' exhibited in Brighton in 1875 and priced at £420.0.0. 8 Furthermore, in 1878, it is possible that it was again a 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold' on show at the Grosvenor Gallery, which was described in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer:

' "Nocturne in Blue and Gold" is evidently the entrance to a harbour; there can be very little doubt of the fact, as there is a distinct suggestion of lights on a sort of pier or wharf, and one sail which sticks up in a dejected sort of way shows conclusively that the artist is treating a river or sea scene.' 9

                    Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach, Freer Gallery of Art
Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach, Freer Gallery of Art

                    Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL Whistler PH5/6/9
Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL Whistler PH5/6/9

It was definitely exhibited in Whistler's retrospective at the Goupil Gallery in 1892 as 'Nocturne. Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach'. For the catalogue, designed by Whistler, he selected a dismissive quotation (said to be from the Scotsman) to comment, ironically, on this painting: 'J. M. Whistler is here again with his nocturnes.' 10

A few years later, in 1899, it was again shown at Goupil's, and received remarkably enthusiastically in the press, being described as 'beautiful and celebrated' in the St James's Gazette on 17 March and as 'a painted poem', in the The Queen on 1 April. 11

After Whistler's death, it was lent by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) to a loan show at the Society of Art Collectors in New York in 1904, and to two of the Whistler Memorial exhibitions, to Boston in 1904 and Paris in the following year.

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent to another venue.

Notes:

1: W. G. Rawlinson to Whistler, 19 February [1888], GUW #05123. Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 1, p. 214.

2: Pennell 1921C [more] , p. 69.

3: [2/9 March 1902], GUW #01528.

4: See Nocturne in Blue and Silver [YMSM 118].

5: But see Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights [YMSM 115] and Nocturne in Blue and Gold [YMSM 141].

6: Anon., 'Fine Arts: Winter Exhibition at the Dudley Gallery', The Illustrated London News, London, 2 November 1872, p. 419.

7: Anon., 'The Dudley Gallery', The Echo, 26 October 1872, p. 2.

8: Second Annual Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Water Colour, Royal Pavilion Gallery, Brighton, 1875 (cat. no. 98).

9: Anon., 'The Grosvenor Gallery,' Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 14 May 1878, p. 6; but see Nocturne in Blue and Gold [YMSM 154].

10: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 17). It is possible this is a misquoted reference from 'Summer Exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery', The Scotsman, 30 April 1883, p. 5: 'J. M. Whistler is responsible for nocturnes of the usual character, in blue and silver, and black and gold.'

11: 'The Goupil Gallery', St James's Gazette, London, 17 March 1899, pp. 4-5; 'Pictures at the Goupil Gallery', The Queen, London, 1 April 1899, pp. 21-22. See also 'The Goupil Gallery', Morning Post, London, 10 March 1899, p. 7; Daily Telegraph and Courier, London, 14 March 1899, p. 5.

Last updated: 7th June 2021 by Margaret