Whistler in Chelsea

The statue of Whistler on the corner of Cheyne Walk and Battersea Bridge is a reminder of the importance of Chelsea in Whistler’s life. Whistler lived in four different houses on Cheyne Walk, as well as in two houses on Tite Street. His Blue Plaque can be found at No. 96 Cheyne Walk, where he stayed the longest. He decorated No. 96 with Japanese wall-hangings and a great many Japanese fans and slept in a huge Chinese bed.

It is thought he painted many of the Nocturnes at No. 101 Cheyne Walk, part of Lindsey House. He would sketch the Thames either from the embankment, his work illuminated by a gas light, or else row out onto the river and sketch in complete darkness. Such was the difficulty of this, he would train himself to memorise scenes as accurately as possible, and then reproduce them in his studio. In a nice seam of history, Whistler would be rowed out on the river by one of the two Greaves brothers who lived two doors down at No. 103. Their boat-builder father had rowed Turner out in a similar fashion.

Many of Whistler’s house moves were forced through financial troubles. Indebted, in 1878 he left No. 96 once his libel suit with Ruskin had begun. The next year he had to leave the White House on Tite Street, which had been designed for him personally. He was bankrupt with debts of £4,500. He also left No. 21 Cheyne Walk in the 1890s, unable to pay the Cadogan Estate his rent. He later wrote to Lord Cadogan that he had torn up the lease, although the present Viscount Chelsea was present at the unveiling of his statue, so we assume he has been forgiven!

Whistler died at No. 74 Cheyne Walk, and his funeral was held at Chelsea Old Church. His statue, the work of Nicholas Dimbleby, stands outside No. 96. It was commissioned by the Chelsea Arts Club, which Whistler helped to found.

— Orlando Bridgeman

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834- 1903) was a monocle-sporting wit, dandy and shameless self- promoter… as well as a great artist. He was one of those maddening, aggressive and pretentious characters who would have annoyed you, as he did Oscar Wilde. Wilde was originally his friend, then grew irritated with him and based his unflattering Portrait of Dorian Grey on his erstwhile friend. With friends like that who needs enemies?

The son of George Washington Whistler, the US ex-pat disliked admitting he hailed from Lowell, Mass., and preferred to say he grew up in Russia, where he attended the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, while his father worked there as a railway engineer.

He lived most of his life in Paris, Venice and London, the latter being his spiritual home. He lived in various addresses on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. As a student in Paris he painted with Manet, Monet and Degas. His most famous painting, commonly known as “Whistler’s Mother,” is a stern reminder of motherhood in sobering grey and black. She lingers in our memories as a classic example of his palette of greys, whites, and blacks, which characterizes his “nocturnes, symphonies and arrangements.”

His animosity toward art critic John Ruskin ended in a famous law suit that left him bankrupt. At the trial he claimed to have been born in Russia, saying, “I shall be born when and where I want, and I do not choose to be born in Lowell, Mass.” He later posed as an impoverished Southern aristocrat from the Old South.

— Mrs M

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