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The Thames (Nocturne: Chelsea Reach)

J. A. M. Whistler invented the concept of the “nocturne” in the early 1870s to describe images made at night, especially along the water, that evoked the abstract and emotional qualities of Chopin’s piano music. This pastel was inspired by a stretch of the River Thames near the new Chelsea Embankment.

Despite the drawing’s apparent simplicity, it is a heavily worked and carefully composed harmony of shapes and colors. The distinctive masts of the barges in the Greaves’ boatyard provide a dramatic counterbalance to the silhouetted factories along the horizon, while the cool blues are complemented by the warmth of the brown paper and glimmering gold reflections.

Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection includes several prints of Whistler’s Thames subjects: etchings Billingsgate (Eskenazi Museum of Art 68.128) and Rotherhithe from the “Thames Set” (Eskenazi Museum of Art 71.100) and the lithotint The Thames (Eskenazi Museum of Art 85.66.9).

James McNeill Whistler
American, 1834–1903
The Thames (Nocturne: Chelsea Reach)
Chalk and pastel on brown paper
Image/sheet: 7 x 10 ¼ in. (17.8 x 26.0 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of Chancellor Herman B Wells, 78.32.1