Home > The Catalogue > Browse > Subjects > Etchings > Etching

Bird-Cages, Chelsea

Impression: Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Number: 297
Date: 1887
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 153 x 230 mm
Signed: butterfly at upper left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 8
Catalogues: K.276; M.271
Impressions taken from this plate  (8)


bird, birdcage, dog, people, posters, shop-front, street, theatre.


There are several minor variations of the title and punctuation, as for example:

'Bird-Cages - Chelsea' (1888, Whistler). 4
'Bird Shop (Chelsea)' (1889, Whistler). 5
'Birdcages' (1889, Whistler). 6
'Bird Shop. The. Chelsea' (1890/1891, Whistler). 7
'Bird Cages: Chelsea' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 8
'Bird-Cages, Chelsea' (1902, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932)). 9
'Bird cages, Chelsea' (1903/1935, possibly Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958)). 10

The title, 'Bird-Cages, Chelsea', based on Whistler's original title, with revised punctuation, has become generally accepted.

4: Whistler to R. F. Knoedler, 27 July 1888, GUW #13660.

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

6: Whistler to Wunderlich's, 16 April 1889, GUW #13055.

7: List, [1890/1891], GUW #13236.

8: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

9: Kennedy 1902[more] (cat. no. 297).

10: Envelope containing copper plate, Hunterian Art Gallery.


A row of shops is seen across a street, drawn parallel to the edges of the plate. The shop on the left has bird-cages hung all along the front, and animal cages below. In the middle is an open doorway leading into a dark interior, stacked with goods. Above the shop is the lower part of a window with plants in pots in front of it. On the pavement at left, a man stands looking at the shop.
To right is a smaller shop with an open doorway in which three people are standing. To right of this, the shop window contains sheets of paper (probably advertisements and posters), one reading '2'. The shop sign above reads 'W. JONES - '. On the pavement are advertising boards, one reading 'AMBER'. In front, at right, stand two small children, a baby in a cart or pram, and a dog (Mansfield interpreted this as a woman). 11

11: Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 271).


The premises of Henry Newmarch, bird-cage maker, at 126 Pimlico Road, adjoined the shop of Walter Jones, hairdresser, at No. 128. Pimlico Road is off Lower Sloane Street and near the Royal Chelsea Hospital, London. The same premises housed George Kennedy & Sons, coppersmiths, who may have been the source of some of Whistler's copper plates. 12

12: London Postal Directory, 1888.

Another etching showing a bird shop is Bird Shop - Seven Dials 384.


The newspaper announcing 'AMBER' refers to Alfred Cecil Calmour's play The Amber Heart, an 'original poetic fancy in three acts', which opened at the Lyceum Theatre on 10 May 1887, starring Ellen Terry as Ellaline ('an admirable part for Miss Ellen Terry, who throws into it all her wonted grace and charm') and Beerbohm Tree as Silvio, a 'lute-bearing troubadour'. 13 Terry appeared in a costume designed by Alice Comyns-Carr. 14

The play was revived several times at the Lyceum but Whistler's etching almost certainly records the original theatrical poster.

Another etching by Whistler showing a theatrical poster is The Barber's Shop, Chelsea 263.

13: 'Lyceum Theatre', The Times, 8 June 1887, p. 9.

14: Photograph by Window and Grove, 1887, in 'THE ACTOR AND THE MAKER: ELLEN TERRY AND ALICE COMYNS-CARR', Victoria & Albert Museum website, (accessed 2009).