Catalogue entry

James Abbot McNeill Whistler 1834–1903

T01571 Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea 1871

Signed with a butterfly and dated‘71’ in a cartouche at bottom. The frame, designed by Whistler, is also signed with a butterfly motif.
Oil on panel, 19 11/16 x 23 15/16 (50 x 60.8).
Presented to the National Gallery by the Misses Rachel F. and Jean I. Alexander under the terms of a Deed of Gift 1959; entered the collection as N06418 in 1972.Transferred to the Tate Gallery 1972.
Coll: Purchased from the artist by William Cleverley Alexander 1871; his daughters Rachel and Jean Alexander.
Exh: Dudley Gallery, 1871 (265); Grosvenor Gallery, 1879 (192); Société des XX, Brussels, 1884; Goupil Gallery, 1892 (18); Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1902 (34); Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 1904 (250); International Society of Sculptors, Painters & Gravers, 1905 (West Room, 31); Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1905 (72); Whitcchapel Gallery, Spring 1907 (Upper Gallery, 33); Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1910 (25); Tate Gallery, 1912 (21); The New English Art Club Retrospective Exhibition, Spring Gardens Gallery, 1925 (149); Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, 1937 (484); Two Hundred Years of British Painting, New York, St Louis, and San Francisco, 1956–7 (118); Arts Council Gallery, London and Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1960 (26); The Alexander Gift, National Gallery, 1972.
Lit: E. R. & J. Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 1908, I, repr. facing p.162; Denys Sutton, Nocturne; The Art of James McNeill Whistler, 1963, p.64, repr. in col. pl.III.

This is probably the earliest of Whistler’s ‘Nocturnes’. First exhibited at the Dudley Gallery in 1871 as ‘Harmony in Blue-green— Moonlight’, its title had been changed to ‘Nocturne in Blue-Green’ by the time it was next exhibited, at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879. A label on the back, perhaps in Whistler’s hand, reads: ‘“Nocturne in Blue Green/Nocturne en Bleu vert— “/J.A.M. Whistler, London’. At the Goupil Gallery in 1892, however, the picture appeared as ‘Nocturne Blue and Silver— Chelsea’. Whistler adopted the term ‘Nocturne’ in 1872 on F. R. Leyland’s suggestion. In a letter, presumably of that year, he wrote to Leyland: ‘I say, I can’t thank you too much for the name “Nocturne” as the title for my moonlights. You have no idea what an irritation it proves to the critics and consequent pleasure to me; besides, it is really so charming, and does so poetically say all I want to say and no more than I wish!’ (Val Prinsep, ‘A Collector’s Correspondence’, Art Journal, 1892 p.252; the original letter is in the Library of Congress, Washington.)

T01571 was painted at Whistler’s house at 2 Lindsey Row (96 Cheyne Walk). The view is from the Battersea side of the river, looking towards Chelsea church. The picture was bought from the Dudley Gallery exhibition by William Cleverley Alexander who afterwards commissioned Whistler to paint portraits of his daughters Cicely and Agnes Mary Alexander (Tate Gallery, N04622, N05964).

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.