Tag Archives: Henry Greaves

Walter Greaves: a friend of Whistler

Anyone interested in the history of Chelsea has probably heard of Walter Greaves. But you won’t have seen much of his work on the blog. This is largely for technical reasons. We have quite a few works by him in the collection but many of the best are too large or in some cases too delicate to scan. The rest are often sketches or unfinished works which don’t convey how good he could be at times. He was an amateur who didn’t always have the time or the materials to achieve great work. But recently, we’ve been stock checking the art collection and I’ve had a chance to look again at his work and I’ve come to appreciate it more.

First however, let me show you one of his best works, which was photographed professionally in 2012.

 

 

[“Unloading the barge” presented by Lord Northcliffe to Chelsea Old Town Hall ]

For those of you who don’t know much about Greaves, here is a summary.

Walter Greaves grew up in the west part of Chelsea with his father and mother, a couple of brothers and a couple of younger sisters. George Greaves ran a boatyard which built, repaired and offered boats for hire. One of his customers was a mysterious old gentleman who lived a few doors away who turned out to be Joseph Mallord Turner living  incognito with just a housekeeper for company.(As seen in the recent film) His identity was almost unsuspected. On the other side of the Greaves’s house lived John Martin the painter of enormous pictures depicting apocalyptic landscapes. So the young member of the Greaves family were brought up in an artistic as well as a nautical atmosphere. When Walter and Henry were teenagers, a new neighbour came to live nearby, James McNeill Whistler.

 

 

[Photograph of a Greaves picture of Whistler at work.]

Jimmy Whistler became a friend of the whole family, using their boating services but also enrolling Walter and Henry as acolytes and (mostly) unpaid artistic assistants. He introduced them to the artistic world, and they introduced him to the pleasures of the riverside, including Cremorne Gardens which was also in the immediate vicinity. There were many decorous and educational pursuits and wonders there, as well as dancing and other licentious activity.

 

 

 

Walter and Henry were both teenagers when they met Whistler and fell under his influence. Tom Pocock’s book about Greaves and Whistler is subtitled “The brutal friendship of Whistler and Walter Greaves”. Although it was Whistler’s dominance over the brothers which made them more serious about art, he never really allowed them to step out of his shadow. For many years he was like a family member and he was a frequent visitor to the Greaves house, as was his mother and mistress (separately, I assume). He was close to Alice Greaves, although whether she was another mistress is not known. The friendship lasted longer than many of Whistler’s but eventually he dropped them. The greatest animosity came from Whistler’s eventual biographers, Joseph Pennell and his wife.

I was left with a feeling of melancholy,  reading about how Greaves and his family were treated but the pictures themselves show how the Greaves brothers, while under the spell of Whistler, forged their own artistic identity which was as much the result of their love of Chelsea as their lives as friends and pupils of the Master (as some saw him).

 

 

 

Sometime Whistler’s sartorial influence on the brothers was such that it could have been the man himself, or Henry, or Walter who appears in this picture. Who ever he is, he in many of the pictures, even as a passer-by as in the one below.

 

 

 

Greaves also tackled the traditional subject of all Chelsea artists, the riverside. He turned out small sketches like the one below constantly, and kept sketching well into old age.

 

 

We’re going to linger awhile at Cremorne though, in happy days for the Greaves family and their friends.

 

 

Walter, Henry and Alice (“Tinnie”) frequently feature in the pictures, with Jimmy as well sometimes.

 

 

[Photograph of a Greaves painting]

Walter and Tinnie sharing a bottle of beer at the table , Whistler by the fountain

Below, part of one of Walter’s larger drawings.

 

 

That could be Walter, possibly carrying his portfolio, on the left.

 

 

[Another photograph of a Greaves painting]

After he was dropped by Whistler, Greaves, made some efforts to meet his former mentor but was usually rebuffed. Walter and Henry were not invited to Whistler’s funeral. They observed part of the proceedings leaning against the embankment wall. This sketch was one his attempts to capture the event.

 

 

In his later years, short of money for himself and his sisters, Walter was reduced to hawking his pictures round the streets of Chelsea and doing impromptu portraits in public houses. Many of his best pictures were sold off cheaply, the frames having been used for firewood. But he did enjoy a brief revival in the early 1900s when a dealer acquired some of those painting and cleaned them up. There was an exhibition and proper sales. The dealer started paying Walter a weekly stipend. This fifteen minutes of fame (or three weeks as Pocock depicts it) was marred by attacks in the press and accusations of plagiarism. This hurt Walter but he also had supporters. There was a dinner for him at the Chelsea Arts Club where he was presented with a cheque (for £150, more money than he had ever seen). He ended his days comfortably, in a charitable institution in the City (only a motor-bus ride from Chelsea) having been finally recognized as an artist in his own right. He lived to see his early painting of Hammersmith Bridge on Boat Race Day bought for the nation, and you can still see it in Tate Britain.

John Rothenstein put him in his 1928 book Painters of the 1890s “Greaves was not only one of the most important artists of the period, but one whose painting and personality contrasted more sharply with Whistler’s than did those of any of his contemporaries……the similarities were accidental while the differences were essential. ….this aged man, one of the great artists of his time..sitting alone and forgotten..sketching old Chelsea from memory because he ‘couldn’t pass the time without it’.”  The chapter on Greaves sits along others about Beardsley, Sickert, Conder and of course Whistler

 

Finally, another one of his best pictures, still owned by the Council.

 

 

Postscript

Another reason why I never wrote much about Greaves before now was that I was afraid I wouldn’t do him justice. I’m still not sure about that, but here he is before it’s too late. I’m going to come back to some of the photographs and postcards of Greaves picture, of which we have many, in a future post.

This post is dedicated to the late Tom Pocock, a friend of Chelsea and the Local Studies collection, and to a former colleague of mine, Ann Holling, who was obsessed with Greaves a long time before me.


In the gallery

Local Studies and Archives collections often contain paintings and prints connected with the area they cover, particularly if like Kensington and Chelsea the area is or has been one where artists lived or worked. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that our collection contains dozens of Turners or works by other famous artists. A Local Studies collection is far more likely to have works by lesser known professionals like William Ascroft or William Walter Burgess, or William Cowen, obscure figures like Francis Griffen, amateurs like Walter Greaves (or were he and his brother Henry semi-professionals?),  illustrators like Herbert Railton, unknowns like Marianne Rush and annonymous figures like the artist of the Red Portfolio.

But this is how we like it. It’s nice to loan out one of our small number of Whistler etchings to an exhibition as we recently did but there is far more pleasure in having a much larger number of sketches by Railton or Ascroft or possibly the entire oeuvre of Rush which can be shown to interested parties or blogged about.

This post is an  almost random selection of pictures I have shown to visitors or come across in the course of enquiries or have had at the back of my mind for years.

 

 

The river entrance gate to Cremorne Gardens, by Walter Greaves. The gardens were just a short step down the road from the Greaves boat yard where he and his brother worked in the family business. During the course of business they struck up a relationship with Whistler who liked to make sketches from their boats. Walter and Henry became close enough to the great artist to get some lessons from him, although it all turned sour in the end as Whistler’s friendships seemed to do. Walter inserted the figure of Whistler into many of his pictures, but the man in this picture could just as easily have been Greaves himself who modeled his personal style on that of the master. Neither of them are in this picture.

 

 

Lindsey Wharf, looking east I think.  The pub is the Queen’s Arms, a different pub from the King’s Arms, which was also in that vicinity. Chelsea enthusiasts may like to try to reconcile this view with photographs of the area. Forgive me if I  don’t do that today. Normally I like the minutiae of locations but we could be here all day.

[Added 18 September – at the prompting of Chris Pain, Chelsea history expert – see his comments below – I have reverse this image to make things clearer]

I’ve done a couple of posts of Ascroft in the early days of the blog, but cannot resist putting in one of his pastel sketches showing a country lane, probably in the Putney area, with one of his characteristic skies.

 

 

Horace Van Ruitl, on the other hand was an unfamiliar name to me until a few weeks ago when a researcher working on hid biography asked to see what we had. Scattered in the Chelsea general sequence were several pictures mostly of the interior of Chelsea Old Church. Once I had gathered them together I was quite impressed. This is a detail from one of the larger pictures which I chose because of the two women who add a burst of colour to the subdued scene.

 

 

Van Ruitl was like Ascroft a well known professional name in his day, and not completely forgotten.

This artist, Juliet Williams, is probably an amateur but an artist who was absolutely obsessed with the gates of Cheyne House. Here they are in winter:

 

 

And here in summer:

 

 

We also have an autumn and a spring, but also eight other versions, smaller and larger, sketches and completed pictures. I could practically fill a whole post with them. But I won’t. (Although that’s an idea for Christmas).

Chelsea is full of picturesque locations for painters. But the Kensington amateurs produced plenty of pictures too.

 

 

This is a pen and ink sketch by Frank Emanuel. We’ve seen his work before here, a picture of Tower Cressey, but this a a simple street scene showing Silver Street, which was the former name of the northern section of Kensington Church Street, leading up to Notting Hill Gate. The figure of the woman is what makes this one special I think. I wish he’s done more pictures of people.

Elizabeth Gladstone was an amateur watercolourist who was featured in the same post as Emanuel. This picture looks down Derry Street / King Street towards Kensington Square.

 

 

If you study the 6th image in this post on the development of the Barker’s building, you will recognize one of the buildings.

in contrast to Gladstone’s mostly late 19th century work, Joan Bloxham painted and drew in the 1930s.

 

 

Victoria Grove, still quite recognizable.

 

 

Another view I’m familiar with, Holland Street, a few minutes walk from the Library, showing the house of Walter Crane. He’s a famous artist we do have some work by, which we may look at one of these days.

Like many amateur artists, Elizabeth Gladstone’s pictures are usually simply views of street and buildings but occasionally she includes a curious detail as in this one.

 

 

York House, also in Kensington Church Street in the 1890s, featuring a sinister hooded figure, or is it simply a harmless monk? There were many religious establishments in Kensington in that period.

Finally, another Greaves for the road, signed by Henry, the less prolific of the two brothers, although they both often added to each other’s picture.

 

 

Chelsea riverside east of the Old Church, before the Embankment. Not an unfamiliar view for regular readers but we can always have one more.

This post is a bit of a trailer for others I might do this autumn about artists I haven’t covered in any detail so far so pardon me if it looks like a bit of a filler between Chelsea stories. I do need time between those.

Postscript

I feel that I tempted fate last week by noting the death of another musician from the golden age of popular music. I was saddened to read that even as I was writing last week’s post, another bass guitar player from one of the great bands of the 1970s had died. The name Holger Czukay may not be as familiar as Walter Becker, but for me he was an even greater name. He played bass and other instruments and electronics for the German avant garde rockers Can. I saw Can play live in several London venues  – the Lyceum, the Roundhouse, Hammersmith Palais, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane – all of which are no longer used as music venues . They practiced “spontaneous composition” rather than merely improvisation and seldom played the same material without some massive variations, according to the weather, their mood, or the audience’s mood (I once saw them suddenly turn on an audience whose attention was wavering and shock them into submission). Czukay also made a number of remarkable solo albums. He was one of the first to use samples in his recordings. I’d better stop with that before I get maudlin. Can’s drummer Jaki Lieberzeit also died this year, leaving only their two vocalists and founder member Irmin Schmidt.


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