Whistler's aim in this picture, as in all his Nocturnes, is to convey a sense of the beauty and tranquility of the Thames by night. The epithet 'nocturne' was first suggested by Frederick Leyland, since it conveys the sense of a night scene, but also has musical associations. The expression was quickly adopted by Whistler, who later explained,
By using the word 'nocturne' I wished to indicate an artistic interest alone, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal interest which might have been otherwise attached to it. A nocturne is an arrangement of line, form and colour first' (quoted in Dorment and MacDonald, p.122).
The composition of this work, with empty foreground and high horizon, relates closely to Nocturne in Blue and Silver - Chelsea (Tate T01571) of the previous year. The view is from Battersea Bridge, looking upriver towards Battersea on the left and the lights of the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens on the right. Whistler preferred the calm of the river at night to the noise and bustle of the Thames by day. With would set off in a rowing boat at twilight and sometimes remain on the river all night, sketching and memorising the scene…