Chelsea Shops, in the Freer Gallery of Art (F1902.149a-b), is now identified as a painting shown at Whistler’s one-man show of ‘Notes’ – ‘Harmonies’ – ‘Nocturnes’ in Messrs Dowdeswell’s galleries in 1884. Whistler kept press-cuttings of the show (these are now in the Whistler collection in Glasgow University Library).
Chelsea: Yellow and Grey, which was no. 11 in the catalogue, was described by a London newspaper as ‘a newspaper shop.’ The art critic went on to query the title: ‘He calls it “Chelsea Yellow and Grey.” Why? I cannot say. It is neither yellow nor grey. It is, however, a precious little gem.’ Now, there is indeed a newspaper shop in the centre of this street scene, and the dominant colours on this shop are pale yellow and grey.
On 1 July 1884, the London Standard described it more vaguely as ‘one of Mr. Whistler’s rapid, suggestive studies of low-browed houses, shops, and the picturesque of drabs, yellows, dirty bricks, and dropping plaster’. However, this fits Chelsea Shops perfectly. We are in discussion about whether to restore the original title or create a new one (‘Chelsea Shops: Yellow and Grey’?) or stick to the title it has had since 1904 at the Whistler Memorial exhibition in Boston.
It’s a problem: we don’t want to confuse people, rather we want to clarify what Whistler considered important (both the colour and the location- the link to an actual site on an actual day). It’s not the only problem: Sherlock Holmes has nothing on us. Except Dr Watson.