Monochrome photographs of paintings are unsatisfactory in most cases. In my travels through archives and reference stores I have come across many old art books full of black and white images which have been superseded by later colour versions. So perhaps you could forgive me if, many years back, I dismissed a small collection of photographs of Greaves paintings because they were “only black and white”. Some of them were postcard size, and a group of larger ones had begun to deteriorate with age, but now I look at them and find them quite interesting. In addition, modern software enables me to mess about with them.
This first image though, comes from a modern postcard I acquired for myself along the way, and it’s quite striking.
Circus performers and mountebanks, as Greaves puts it. The same troupe is seen below, adding a sensational element to an ordinary day in riverside Chelsea. the giant figure and the performers bring an element of folk horror to this urban territory. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is the old Chelsea, a slightly down at heel riverside neighbourhood, somewhat dilapidated.
But as well as the working riverside this part of Chelsea was home to other entertainments.
In the background of this picture, another spectacle – the Female Blondin, crossing the river on a tightrope. We’ve covered this before in this post.
Tom Pocock suggests in Chelsea Reach that the tightrope artist, Lucy Young later became the wife of Walter’s older brother George. This is a more realistic view of the crossing than the etching seen in the old post, which gave the impression there were huge numbers of boats in the water. Miss Young had to abandon the walk part way through when the ropes became slack but she returned later and completed a two way walk. She was unlucky when she fell at Highbury Barn a year afterwards. Pocock reports that she was “crippled” but also notes that in marrying George she had returned to “the scene of her greatest Triumph.”
After which, with the Greaves family season ticket to Cremorne she could engage in more sedate pursuits. Here are two more views of the Gardens, in daylight,
And in the evening.
In a ghostly light.
Below, the deconstruction of the old Battersea Bridge and the construction of the new version.
Both Greaves, and his mentor Whistler preferred the old to the new and continued to dwell on “old Chelsea”, which was not even part of London to many of its inhabitants. Dickens, although he was married at St Lukes and was a friend of the Carlyle family called it “barbarous Chelsea”. Speaking of the “sage of Chelsea”,
Although neither Walter nor Henry were very skilled at drawing figures, they did like to enliven their pictures with a few figures. like this one of the man himself, almost a tourist attraction in his own right.
Female figures were often of one of their sisters, Eliza, Emily or the youngest, Alice.
The Strange shop, a general merchant and grocers is also seen in some of the photographs by James Hedderly. (Strange’s is one of the shops in this image.) As a professional sign writer he often provided painting materials to the Greaves brothers and Whistler. I have corresponded with a descendant of Mr Strange.
This older woman could also be Alice, pale and enigmatic on an otherwise deserted riverside, before the Embankment.
I wonder if her dress quite matches the pre-embankment period? The dating or Greaves paintings is sometimes questionable.
The picture below is Eliza Greaves, wearing a Tudor style outfit, in a picture called the Green Dress.
I used a green filter on the image, which also works well on other pictures like the Balcony, one of Walter’s best compositions.
And even the bowling green at the rear of the King’s Head and Six Bells. (Not to be confused with the King’s Head and Eight Bells which is in the Hedderly photo. This King’s Head was on the King’s Road, and was later the home of a jazz club.)
The two figures below could be Walter and Alice heading homeward.
These two definitely are.the siblings Alice’s parasol was actually pink so I’ve given a slightly red tinge to the image.
It’s not in particularly good condition. You can see signs of chemical deterioration around the edge.
This photograph of Walter is also showing signs of age.
But it does catch a something of his character, a diffident man who was nevertheless possessed by the desire to paint, and bring the old Chelsea back to a modern world.
I couldn’t leave Greaves with just one post, but next time, although we’ll still be by the river, you’ll see a more vigorous and colourful version of Chelsea.
I was thinking that now I’m back to regular posting I should be looking out for deaths, which was an occasional part of the blog but there was nothing I’d noticed recently. Then as soon as I looked at Twitter today I saw something about David Roback, who died on Monday of this week. He was the guitarist of Mazzy Star, a group who have rather faded into the background. I realised that I owned all four of their albums as well as a couple by their singer Hope Sandoval. They had a unique sound which I shall not attempt to put into words. My MP3 player still plays me Fade into You, a flash of languid brightness on a dull day.