Chelsea Shopfronts
watercolour heightened with white on board
5 x 812 in. (12.8 x 21.6 cm.)
in the original Whistler frame
Rosalind Birnie Philip.
with Colnaghi, London, where purchased by
Sir Robert Barlow, and by descent to the present owner.
M. MacDonald, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, online edition, no. M1515a.
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Lot Essay

This drawing, previously unknown, has been dated to between 1897-1899. Since 1896, Whistler had been living at 4 Whitehall Court in Westminster, but Chelsea, where he had lived on and off since his return from Paris in December 1862, remained the focus of his life. He began painting Chelsea shop fronts in the early 1880s and appears to have been fascinated by the details of the architecture, wares and figures surrounding them. Chelsea Shops (A. McLaren Young et al, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven 1980, p. , no. 246, Freer Gallery of Art) is thought to be the first of these subjects – others are more specifically titled. Terreys Fruit Shop, Chelsea (Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow) is dated to 1885-6 and depicts his local fruiterer, to whom he had been over £20 in debt when he was declared bankrupt in 1878. Whereas this drawing of the 1880s is easily identifiable, the vivid colours clearly representing the array of fruit at the front of the shop, Whistler’s Chelsea shop drawings of the late 1890s are more muted in tone, and their specific subjects less easily identified. Shops in Chelsea (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) is one such example. Probably depicting a newspaper shop, it shares the strong geometric framework of the present drawing, and is similarly expressive and loose in its brushwork.
This drawing was one of a large group of sketches left in Whistler’s studio at his death and bequeathed to his sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip. She then sold several of the group to the London dealer Colnaghi, from where this drawing was purchased by the father of the present owner.
We are grateful to Professor Margaret MacDonald, University of Glasgow, for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.
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