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Chelsea Bridge and Church

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
Number: 102
Date: 1871
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 103 x 170 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: 'Thames Set', 1871
No. of States: 7
Known impressions: 56
Catalogues: K.95; M.96; T.53; W.85
Impressions taken from this plate  (56)


barge, bridge, church, Japonisme, river, rowing boat, sailing ship, wharf.


There are minor variations in published titles, as follows:

'Chelsea Bridge and Church' (1871, Ellis and Green). 6
'Chelsea Bridge and Church' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 7
'Chelsea Church' (1881, Union League Club). 8
'Chelsea Bridge' (1895, Leipzig). 9

'Chelsea Bridge and Church' is the definitive title, as published in the 'Thames Set' in 1871.

6: A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames.

7: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 53).

8: New York 1881 (cat. nos. 119-20).

9: Leipzig 1895 (cat. no. 815).


Across the foreground is a wharf or pier, with a mooring post in the centre. Beside the pier, to left, are two barges and a skiff with its sail furled by the mast. In the distance at left are the buildings of Chelsea silhouetted against the sky. The tower of the church is prominent towards the left, with its clock illuminated, and a flagstaff at the top. In the distance at right, a bridge crosses the river. It has five pairs of piers visible, and slopes up to a central point. For subsequent changes, including the addition of a sailing boat at right, see STATES.


Chelsea Old Church (All Saints) is on the north bank of the River Thames near the Albert Bridge in Chelsea, London. Started in the 13th century, extended in the 16th century, and badly bombed in 1941, it is the local Church of England parish church. It stands on the corner of Old Church Street and Cheyne Walk, near where Whistler lived in different houses for many years. It appears in several of Whistler's drawings, prints and paintings including Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge y140 and Lindsey Houses 161.
The 'Thames Set' was published in 1871, which was the year the Embankment along the Chelsea shore was started, and it may be that Chelsea Bridge and Church was intended to record the appearance of the area before its radical reconstruction.


Lochnan discussed this plate at some length, in the context of Whistler's growing interest in Japonisme:
'Whistler worked in the half light of dawn when forms coalesce and appear to become two-dimensional ... Chelsea Bridge and Church looks quite "flat" in the first state, in which the forms are bounded by strong black lines which recall the dark contours of the key block in Japanese woodcuts ... In retouching the plate, Whistler tried to create a convincing recession while retaining the two-dimensional decorative patterning of the surface by adding a few oriental touches. He incorporated a repoussoir element into the space at the right, using a small oriental flowering tree of the kind which he had used in painting as early as 1866 10 ... he burnished it out and replaced it with a boat of rather oriental shape to balance the lumpy forms of the large boats on the left which recall the square ships found in his impression of Hiroshige's Clearing Weather at Shibaura from Eight Views of the Suburbs of Edo, 1837-8 ... he strengthened and darkened the forms on land, the waterfront buildings and the boats, and gave the bridge in the distance a more pronounced oriental shape. By adding reflections in the water and a dark band in the sky, he finally created the illusion he wanted.' 11 See Utagaws Hiroshige, print illustrated in Metropolitan Museum website, Acc. No. 2842, at