Chelsea Shops


A street scene with figures.

Historical period(s)
early 1880s
Oil on wood panel
H x W: 13.5 x 23.4 cm (5 5/16 x 9 3/16 in)
United States
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Oil painting


To 1902
Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934), London, to 1902 [1]

From 1902 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Henry Studdy Theobald, London, in August 1902 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Undated folder note sheet, Object file. See also Original Whistler List, Purchases from Theobald, pg. 2, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.


A street scene with figures.


1. Purchased from H.S. Theobald, London, in August, 1902. For price, see original Whistler List, purchases from Theobald, page 2.

2. (C.L. Freer note) Mr. Whistler's No. 5.

3. (S. Hobbs, 1978) Whistler painted street scenes often, using the shop fronts as vehicles for delicate color modulations. A horizontal and vertical structure complements Chelsea Shop's tonal pattern, forming a grid similar to the works of later abstract artists such as Mondrian. Sprightly figures deftly executed with a mere sweep of the brush counterpoint Whistler's geometrical format. Although the paint was thinly applied, very little ground is visible. Perhaps the work's opacity indicates the artist's concern with formal problems at the expense of the free brushwork used in his other small oils such as A Note in Green, Worthley (F1902.115).
- Denys Sutton, Nocturne, The Art of James McNeill Whistler, (Philadelphia, New York, 1964) p. 106 and Sutton, James McNeill Whistler, (London 1966) p. 195.

4. (David Park Curry, 1984), (from an exhibition catalogue "James McNeill Whistler at the Freer Gallery of Art.") This view of an unidentified Chelsea street could be the earliest of Whistler's studies of shop fronts. It is certainly among the most detailed. However, a roughly contemporary photograph of Chelsea shows that Whistler simplified what he saw from the very beginning of the series (fig. 32.1 this catalogue). Grid patterns were a common feature of the streetscape as Whistler knew it. But he regularized his subject further by eliminating the jostle of disparate roof lines. Small rectangles of the brightest yellow, along with a few touches of red and blue, hold the center of the composition, and its tectonic structure seems appropriate for an architectural subject. It has been pointed out that Whistler's division of the picture plane into regular units anticipates geometric abstraction of the 20th century.

5. (Kenneth John Myers, 18 March 2003) Date changed from "early 1880s" to "1883 or 1884" from publication: Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamish Miles. The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols., New Haven, CT and London, Yale University Press, 1980.

Web Resources
Whistler's Neighborhood
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

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