Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910

JAMES ABBOTT MCNEILL WHISTLER 1834-1903

80 Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights 1872

Oil on canvas 50.2 x 74.9 (19 1/2 x 29 1/4)
Signed lower right with butterfly and dated '72'
Prov: Gerald Potter, after 1882; Goupil Gallery; A.H. Studd 1894, by whom bequeathed to the National Gallery 1919; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1949
Exh: Dudley Gallery 1872 (237); ?Brighton 1875 (98, as Nocturne in Blue and Gold); ?Durand-Ruel, Paris 1873; Grosvenor Gallery 1882 (2, as Nocturne in Blue and Silver); Goupil 1892 (34); Boussod, Valadon & Cie, Glasgow 1893; ?Goupil 1898 (25, as Nocturne - Blue and Gold); Boston 1904 (56); Paris 1905 (69); London and New York 1960 (27); Berlin 1969 (17); Tate Gallery 1994 (47)
Lit: Cary 1907, no.6; Sickert 1908, no.103; Sutton 1966, pl.64; Young et al. 1980, no.115, pl.110

Tate Gallery. Bequeathed by Arthur Studd 1919

It was noticed in connection with no.79 that the series of night or twilight scenes on the Thames that Whistler painted in the early 1870s were a continuation of the thought behind the 'Six Projects' of the years immediately preceding (see no.16). The point is underlined by the fact that there are traces of a figure subject akin to those of the 'Six Projects' beneath the paint of this Nocturne, a change of purpose that embodied for the authors of the 1994 catalogue 'the transition from the decorative figure subjects of the 1870s to the Nocturnes and portraits which dominated the 1870s'. As with Watts, Whistler's work as a portraitist belongs to some extent in a category apart; but the continuity between figure subjects and landscapes is real and significant in the case of both artists. Whereas Watts tended to incorporate literal or implied symbolic content in both his allegories and his landscapes, Whistler was content in both his arrangements of figures and his river views simply to suggest states of mind by means of subtly deployed colour harmonies and restrained compositional devices.

The composition of this Nocturne is a development out of the Nocturne in Blue and Silver of the previous year: although rather wider in format, its layout is almost identical, with empty foreground and high horizon; yet its scale is much more expansive and its colour register higher, more luminous. The sluggish, sleeping river enclosed by the great capital city has given way to a silvery highway, seen from Battersea Bridge, leading to an enchanted fairground, the Cremorne pleasure gardens just beyond Chelsea: the opposition of man and nature seems here to be reconciled in a dreamlike idyll.

Andrew Wilton

Published in:
Andrew Wilton, Robert Upstone, and others, The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.207-8 no.80, reproduced in colour p.208