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“Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James McNeill Whistler - Variations in Pink and Grey- Chelsea

“Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea” by Whistler

“Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler depicts South West London’s affluent area bounded to the south by the River Thames. 

In the 19th century, the area became a Victorian artists’ colony. Chelsea once had a reputation as London’s bohemian quarter, the haunt of artists, radicals, painters, and poets.

Painters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, J. M. W. Turner, James McNeill Whistler, William Holman Hunt, and John Singer Sargent all lived and worked here.

There was an unusually large concentration of artists around Cheyne Walk and Cheyne Row, where the Pre-Raphaelite movement had its heart.

While Whistler was living in Chelsea, in 1877, Whistler sued the critic John Ruskin for libel after the critic condemned his painting “Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket.”

The jury eventually reached a verdict in favor of Whistler but awarded a mere farthing in nominal damages, and the court costs were split.

The cost of the case, together with huge debts from building his residence “The White House” in Tite Street, Chelsea, bankrupted him in 1879, resulting in an auction of his work, collections, and house in Chelsea.

Chelsea, London

Chelsea is an area of South West London; from 1900 and until the creation of Greater London in 1965, it formed the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea in the County of London.

Chelsea’s exclusivity resulting from its high property-prices historically resulted in the coining of the term “Sloane Ranger” in the 1970s to characterize its residents.

Chelsea is home to one of the largest communities of Americans living outside the United States.

Before the 1900s, Chelsea once had a reputation as London’s bohemian quarter. Chelsea was home to writers such as George Meredith, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Thomas Carlyle.

Jonathan Swift lived in Church Lane, Richard Steele, and Tobias Smollett in Monmouth House. Oscar Wilde’s house on Tite Street, Chelsea, and Virginia Woolf set her 1919 novel Night and Day in Chelsea.

In a book, Bohemia in London by Arthur Ransome, published in 1907, there are some fascinating accounts of bohemian goings-on in the quarter.

Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea

  • Title:                         Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea
  • Artist:                        James McNeill Whistler
  • Year:                         1872
  • Medium:                   oil on canvas
  • Dimensions              Height: 62.7 cm (24.6″); Width: 40.5 cm (15.9″)
  • Museum:                  Freer Gallery of Art 

Landscapes by James McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) was an American artist active during the American Gilded Age and based primarily in the United Kingdom.

He was averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting and was a leading proponent of the credo “art for art’s sake.”

He found a parallel between painting and music and entitled many of his paintings “arrangements,” “harmonies,” and “nocturnes,” emphasizing the importance of tonal harmony.

Whistler influenced the art world and the broader culture of his time with his artistic theories and his friendships with leading artists and writers.

His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger for a tail.

James McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler in London

Virtual Tour of the Freer Gallery of Art

An American in London: Whistler and the Thames


“You shouldn’t say it is not good. You should say, you do not like it, and then, you know, you’re perfectly safe.”
– James Abbott McNeill Whistler


Photo Credit: 1)  James Abbott McNeill Whistler [Public domain]

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