Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 181
Date: 1878/1879
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 133 x 207 mm
Signed: butterfly at lower right
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: Printseller's Association, 1879.
No. of States: 5
Known impressions: 66
Catalogues: K.182; M.179; W.148
Impressions taken from this plate  (66)


There is some confusion about which firm published what in 1879. The Athenaeum announced on 14 June 1879:
MESSRS COLNAGHI & CO have sent us three etched views on the Thames by Mr Whistler, being 'Putney Bridge', 'Battersea Bridge', and 'View near Fulham'. The first, although but a very slight and telling sketch, is marked by the delicate and brilliant feeling of the artist for the elements of his subject, the varying solidities of the bridge and its reflections on the water. The second contains more matter, and shows a balance of parts and tones, as in the group of house on the right and the neighbouring foliage, with the shimmering lights on the water. The third shows barges, their sails hanging on the sprit, lying amid boats and close to the shore, with a range of houses and many trees behind. The water is luminous in all these stretches, peculiarly so in the second; the dark reflection in the third give a more striking force to the effect. These are works which must vary prodigiously in quality according to the state of the plate. 8

8: The Athenaeum, 14 June 1879, p. 769 (our italics mark the relevant passage).

It seems possible that The Athenaeum had muddled the titles and that the 'Battersea Bridge' described above was actually Chelsea. Chelsea does show barges but not 'barges, their sails hanging on the sprit, lying amid boats', which would be a more accurate description of Hurlingham [184]; the first one mentioned is almost certainly Little Putney Bridge [186]. However, the identification is not absolutely certain.
Another review of Whistler's etchings mentions 'three specimens, published by Mr McLean; ... views of the Thames about Mortlake, ... evidently ... done in the boat in which he was sitting to take them' being published by Thomas M. McLean (b. ca 1832). 9 It is possible that Whistler was trying to evade the bailiffs, raising money by publishing his copper plates, in these months before he was declared insolvent. The Art Journal complained, 'They supply, however, proofs of his heedlessness, for, as he has not taken the trouble to reverse the sketches, the several objects depicted are all on the wrong side of the river.' 10

9: Art Journal, 1879, p. 99.

10: Ibid.

In the second state Chelsea was stamped by the Printsellers' Association and probably published by the Fine Art Society, in London, on 28 January 1879, though some stamped impressions appear to be of a later date.
It was definitely published as Chelsea in The Art Journal in 1882, with the comment that it was a better example of the simplicity advocated by Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910) than any of the prints recently shown at the Society of Painter-Etchers. 11 This was a rather back-handed compliment, which was probably not appreciated by either Whistler or his brother-in-law Haden, who had not been on speaking terms for years.

11: The Art Journal,, London (J. S. Virtue & Co., Ltd), and New York (Patterson & Neilson), May 1882, p. 136, published f.p. 129.

Finally it was published, probably in a fairly limited print run, in Choice Examples of Modern Etchings, E. Parsons, London, 12 March 1889.


Rarely exhibited, it was seen in print dealer's shows, particularly at H. Wunderlich & Co. in New York in 1898 and 1903. 12 Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought an impression from the Wunderlich 1898 exhibition and it was probably this that was lent to a show organised by the Caxton Club in Chicago in 1900 (either Graphic with a link to impression #K1820403, Graphic with a link to impression #K1820302 or Graphic with a link to impression #K1820202). 13

Impressions were shown in the Memorial Exhibition after Whistler's death, including at the Grolier Club in New York in 1904, and the Copley Society show in Boston in the same year. An impression was lent to the Whistler Memorial show in London in 1905 by H.R.H. Princess Victoria. 14

12: New York 1898 (cat. no. 127). See REFERENCES: EXHIBITIONS.

13: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 129).

14: New York 1904a (cat. no. 149a, b); Boston 1904 (cat. no. 114); London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 148).


Most sales of Chelsea were transacted by the Fine Art Society, and there is no record of Whistler selling separate proofs, although he may well have done so. It was rarely at auction during Whistler's lifetime, although at the sale of the collection of the late Joshua Hutchinson Hutchinson (ca 1829 - d.1891) at Sotheby's on 3 March 1892, Lot 232, a 'first state', was bought by 'Blunt' for £1.12.0 and Lot 233 by 'Mellor' for £1.0.0.
Howard Mansfield (1849-1938) bought what was described by Frederick Keppel (1845-1912) as a '1st proof of 1st state, before the shadows in the water and before the sky' (Graphic with a link to impression #K1820102). Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) bought what he believed to be the 'first trial proof' in 1898 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1820103). Both are good early impressions of the first state, slightly enhanced by printing with retroussage. At the same time Freer bought what may be a worked proof of the second state (Graphic with a link to impression #K1820202). Mansfield also bought a fifth state - a fine impression on ivory antique laid paper - (Graphic with a link to impression #K1820207).
An impression was acquired by the Royal Collection; it was probably the one exhibited in the Whistler Memorial Exhibition of 1905, and sold soon after through Agnew's. It was acquired by Sir John Ilott, who began collecting prints in the 1920s, advised by Harold Wright of Colnaghi's. He gave over 700 works to the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongerewa) from 1952. 15

15: William McAloon, Art at Te Papa, Te Papa Press, Wellington, 2009, p. 54.

The Victoria & Albert Museum bought a good clear impression of the second state of Chelsea in 1901 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1820211) and also acquired an impression as published in the Art Journal in 1882 (Graphic with a link to impression #K1820217). The etching is common as published in this edition.