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Fish Shop, Chelsea

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
(46623)
Number: 267
Date: 1886
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 141 x 218 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 22
Catalogues: K.264; M.259; W.214
Impressions taken from this plate  (22)

KEYWORD

children, fish shop, people, street, shop.

TITLE

There are several variations on the title, as follows:


'The Fish-Shop, Chelsea' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 2
'Fish Shop Chelsea' (1887/1888, Whistler). 3
'Chelsea Fish Shop' (1889, Whistler). 4
'Maunder’s Fish Shop' (1898, Wunderlich's). 5
'The Fish-Shop: Busy Chelsea' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 6
'Maunder's Fish Shop, Chelsea' (1903/1935, possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958)). 7
'The Fish Shop' (1905, ISSPG). 8


The etching shows Maunder's Fish Shop in a row of shops in Chelsea, but Whistler does not appear to have ever used the name. His original title 'Fish Shop, Chelsea' (with added punctuation) is therefore preferable.

Furthermore, although Mansfield's title 'The Fish-Shop: Busy Chelsea' has become popular there is no record of it being used by Whistler. The fish shop is central to the scene, but the title 'Fish Shop, Chelsea' ensures that it is not confused with Little Maunder's 273, which only shows Maunder's and not the street.

2: Wedmore 1886 A [more] (cat. no. 214).

3: [August 1887/1888], GUW #13233.

4: List, 18 July 1889, GUW #13235.

5: New York 1898 (cat. no. 186).

6: Mansfield 1909 [more] (cat. no. 259).

7: On verso of copper plate and on envelope containing plate, Hunterian Art Gallery.

8: London Mem. 1905 (cat. no. 214).

DESCRIPTION

A row of three-storey buildings is seen across a street, depicted parallel to the edge of the copper plate. At left are two small shops, the one at left with blinds half-pulled down, and both with window boxes and flowers on the window sills on the first floor. In the centre is the fish-shop, with an open counter shaded by an awning; lights and shop-assistants are visible in the dark interior, and a little girl stands in the door at right. There are window boxes on the two windows over the fish-shop, and circular metal cramps (wall ties or clamps) on the walls above. To right of this shop is a dark close or passageway leading to the back of the row, with several small children in the entrance, and a woman in the shadows further back. To right is another shop with an awning, with a closed door at far right; above this is a big, arched window, half open. There are several women with babies and children on the pavement at far left and outside the fish-shop, men at the open door of the shop to left of the fish-shop and children walking by the shop at right.

SITE

Mrs Elizabeth Maunder's fish-shop was at 72 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London. 9 The building was demolished in 1892. The medallion from the top of the gable-end is now in Chelsea Public Library. Whistler later lived in the house that replaced it, which was built by the architect C. R. Ashbee. The building was destroyed in World War 2.

The same row of houses appears in Whistler's oil painting Street in Old Chelsea y249, painted in the early 1880s, where the fish-shop, with its light plastered walls and steep pitched roof, is just to left of centre. Maunder's also appears - in isolation - in Little Maunder's 273, and finally in the lithograph, Maunder's Fish Shop, Chelsea c037, which is dated 1890, and where the name of the proprietor, 'MAUNDER' is seen over the open shop window, and the ominous sign 'TO BE SOLD' on the wall above.

9: Wedmore wrongly called it Milman Row, Wedmore 1886 A [more] (cat. no. 214).

Edward William Godwin (1833-1886) sent Whistler a presscutting - possibly a proof from British Architect - which described Whistler's Fish Shop, Chelsea:
'THIS ETCHING IS ONE OF MR. WHISTLER'S MOST BRILLIANT CREATIONS. IT REPRESENTS A GROUP OF OLD HOUSES AT CHELSEA, AND IS AN EXCELLENT ARRANGEMENT IN BLACK AND WHITE. (THE WOMAN IN THE DEEP SHADOW OF THE SHOP, AND THE CHILDREN IN THE SUNLIGHT THAT STRIKES ON THE THRESHOLD, CONSTITUTE PASSAGES OF WONDERFUL DELICACY IN THIS MASTER'S LATEST COMPOSITION.)' 10
Godwin added a little rhyme, amending the description:

'The woman in the shadow of the shop,
The children gaily champing to chump-chop' 11

11: Ibid., GUW #01755.

The Little Fish Shop, Chelsea Embankment, an etching by Théodore Roussel (1847-1926), shows the ground and first floor of the same shop, with a gas lamp standing in front of the door. 12

12: Hausberg 1991 [more] (cat. no. 25).

DISCUSSION

Whistler's shop fronts are discussed in depth by Robins, who comments on the grinding poverty of the area, where the inhabitants lived literally hand-to-mouth, trying to make ends meet, with the fish shop representing 'the take-away food culture of fried fish ... when they had enough money to supplement their staple diet of bread and dripping with a treat'. 13

13: Robins 2007 [more], pp. 129-129.

In the oil painting Street in Old Chelsea y249 and in this and many other etchings, children throng the street, peering into the shops, running errands, playing, living on the streets because their homes were horrendously over-crowded.