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James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Grey & Gold : Chelsea Snow (1876)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Nocturne in Grey & Gold : Chelsea Snow (1876) by James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

About the Work

Title : Nocturne in Grey & Gold : Chelsea Snow
Artist : James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Year : 1876
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions : 47 x 62.2 cm (18 1/2 x 24 1/2 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Demise of the French Academy

According to the digital catalogue of the Harvard Art Museums :

“Color was central to Whistler’s paintings, as demonstrated in the title he chose for this work. The blacks and grays of night are contrasted with what Whistler referred to as “gold,” his name for the twinkling, yellowish glow cast by the gaslights that illuminated the streets of Chelsea.”

This work by Whistler marks the beginning of a new era, that witnessed the gradual decline of the authority of the French Academy. For his work, like many other artists of this era, Whistler drew inspiration from reality. Until now, the Academy dictated and patrons demanded that artworks be based on religious mythology. However, around the late 19th century, with the popularisation of Impressionism, artists protested these long-standing rules.

Instead of looking to the bible as a source of inspiration, artists now began simply looking at the world around them. Urban landscapes, nature and society at large provided ample food to their imagination.

Other Details

James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne in Grey & Gold : Chelsea Snow is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2700. It is part of the museum’s collection of Impressionism and the Late Nineteenth Century – European and American Art, 19th century. The piece has been housed at the Fogg Art Museum since 1943.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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