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

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Nocturne: Trafalgar Square – Snow

Provenance

  • 1876/1878: sold or given to the artist Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893) , London;
  • 1892: sold by Moore through Whistler to Alexander Reid (1854-1928) , Glasgow art dealer;
  • 1892/1893: sold by Reid to Arthur Kay (1860-1939) , Glasgow.
  • By 1901: Dugald M'Corkindale (d. 1903) , M.D., Glasgow;
  • 1901/1902: sold by Théodore Duret (1838-1927) , Paris, through Agnew, London dealers, to J. W. Martin White (dates unknown) , 19 April 1902;
  • 1908: bought from White by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) , Detroit, August I908 for £1900;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

It is not known when Whistler gave this to Moore, but they were friends from the mid-1860s: it is most likely that it was given to him around the time of Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879. On 25 November 1892 Alexander Reid, having offered Albert Moore £80 for it, wrote to Whistler stating that he was negotiating its purchase after seeing it in Whistler's studio, so Whistler sent it to Reid in Glasgow; Moore was annoyed because a price was not settled, and eventually Reid paid £90 for it. 1

The Glasgow art critic, collector and dealer, Arthur Kay, lent it to an exhibition in 1893 and may have sold it to Dugal M'Corkindale, who lent it to the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901. Within a year it was sold again. According to dealers' records, it was sold by Duret (though this seems a little odd) through Messrs Agnew (a/c #404) to J. W. Martin White on 19 April 1902, and by White to C. L. Freer, in August I908 for £1900.

Exhibitions

  • 1876: 12th Exhibition, Society of French Artists, Deschamps Gallery, London, 1876 (cat. no. 140) as 'A Winter Fog'.
  • 1892: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 6) as 'Nocturne / Trafalgar Square – Snow'.
  • 1892: Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ-de-Mars, Paris, 1892 (cat. no. 1070) as ‘Gris et Or; – nocturne, Trafalgar square Chelsea’.
  • 1893: 32nd Exhibition of Works of Modern Artists, Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Glasgow, 1893 (cat. no. 22) as 'Trafalgar Square, Chelsea – snow and twilight'.
  • 1901: International Exhibition, Glasgow Art Galleries, Glasgow, 1901 (cat. no. 417) as 'Nocturne in Blue'.
  • 1904: Exhibition catalogue Edinburgh 1904 [more] (cat. no. 255) as 'Trafalgar Square, Chelsea'.
  • 1905: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 33) as 'Trafalgar Square, Chelsea'.

This nocturne was first exhibited at the Society of French Artists in 1876, when the correspondent for the Glasgow Herald described it:

' "A Winter Fog" (140) will probably attract the most admiration, and most truly does it deserve all that can be said of it. The snow has been falling, and night has closed in, bringing with it fog and mist, through which, at the corner of the street, the glimmer of a warm, well-lighted room faintly struggles, whilst the looker's gaze seems to lose itself in the suggested murkiness of the street beyond.' 2

The critic writing for The Academy, probably William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), described the painting in enough detail to identify it:

'Mr. Whistler has lately completed three interesting studies of landscape. One of these is a winter scene, and records an attempt to interpret the effect of snow at dusk when the white tones of the earth are caught and overpowered by the darkened mist that hangs in the air. As in all the artist's paintings of landscape, the constant realities of the chosen scene yield to the momentary influences under which the scene is viewed. The sombre tones of the earth reveal not the familiar qualities of snow, but the particular aerial conditions by which these are controlled and modified. And in the yellow and softly diffused light that glimmers from a window at the end of the little street, as well as in the heavy darkness of the sky above, and in the uncertain forms of houseroof or tree that stand against the sky, the spectator has so many more symbols by which to measure the density of the thick night air, and to realise its attributes of colour.' 3

During the time that Albert Moore owned the painting, it was not exhibited until the Goupil show in 1892. From there, it went directly to Goupil’s Paris branch for submission to the Salon. D. C. Thomson intended it to be reproduced in the Goupil Album in 1892 but some proofs were 'shockingly bad', complained Whistler. 4

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald on 24 March 1893 described the painting as 'soft and delicate in colour, it makes a rather weird picture of a dim, deserted square.' 5 The Glasgow art critic, Arthur Kay (1860-1939), who owned this work briefly, kept press cuttings regarding the 1893 exhibition, some describing the painting as 'a morning effect' and 'One of Mr Whistler's studies in grey.' 6 Another critic called it 'A badly placed unnamed Whistler – an "arrangement in grey." ' 7 Percy Bate (1868-1913) praised the painting, 'A Nocturne in Blue' when it was shown in Glasgow in 1901:

'the dim mass of the houses that form two sides of the London square; the attenuated trees, ghostly in the moonlight; the exquisite indications of the evening haze of a town atmosphere; and the beautiful shivering blue of the sky, are all most charmingly rendered; and this work alone, small as it is, is one of the most notable landscape paintings in the gallery.' 8

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: Reid to Whistler, 25 November and 10 December 1892, Reid to B. Whistler, 2 and December 1892, GUW #05143, #05145, #05146; Moore to Whistler, 28 November 1892, and Whistler's reply, ]29 November 1892], Moore to Whistler, 5 December [1892], GUW #04170, #09220, #04171 and #04172.

2: Glasgow Herald, 25 April 1876 [more] .

3: Academy, 19 February 1876 [more] .

4: Thomson to Whistler, [25 May 1892], GUW #05745; Whistler to Thomson, [10/11 July 1893], GUW #08315.

5: Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, 24 March 1893[more] .

6: Glasgow Herald, 3 February 1893 [more] .

7: Glasgow Evening News, 2 February 1893 [more] .

8: Bate 1901 [more] .

Last updated: 23rd November 2020 by Margaret