Tag Archives: Walter Greaves

Walter Greaves: postcards and photographs

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archives and reference stores I have come across many old art books full of black and white images which have been superseded by later colour versions.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.

Postscript

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.

Another postscript

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.


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.


The Chelsea painter – on the waterfront

Earlier this year, I spent some time in our archive rooms assisting a photographer who was taking pictures of the oil paintings in our Local Studies collection. He was working for the Public Catalogue Foundation (www.thepcf.org.uk ) a registered charity which has been working to create an online catalogue of all the oil paintings in public ownership in the UK. To this end their agents have been visiting institutions all over the country, making lists and taking photographs. They have visited museums, art galleries, educational establishments, hospitals and of course libraries. They’ve been working in collaboration with the BBC’s Your Paintings project and you can see the results on the PCF website and at www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings .

But for me and you and the blog the main result of all this work is that I now have some good digital images of artworks I haven’t been able to photograph or scan myself. I’m going to do a couple of posts featuring some of the paintings. This week the paintings are all from the Chelsea collection. Just as with the Chelsea artists I’ve featured in previous posts, for the painters here the quintessential Chelsea subject is the river.

This is a picture of the riverside at Chelsea looking from the Battersea shore painted by James Webb in the 1880s.  You can see the principal landmark Chelsea Old Church, the old Battersea Bridge and just visible in the distance the towers of Albert Bridge. The painting hangs high up on a staircase chained into position and has probably been there since 1905.  Some good lighting has brought out details which I had never seen before like these:

You can just about read the name of the barge in the foreground. The number and size of the barges show you that this is a working river.

More than a century earlier Thomas Priest painted this picture:

The sky is lighter, the boats are smaller, the Battersea shore is more rural. It’s the same church. There was originally a cupola on the tower which was removed in the 1820s when the “new” church St Luke’s was built. The tower is also visible in the picture below, by an unknown painter.

Here you can see an even quieter day on the river. There really was a windmill on the south shore in the eighteenth century. I can’t say for sure what the building to the right of it is though. It looks like a warm lazy day. Before the embankment and the development on both banks the river was wider and may have flowed slower, or so it looks from our time.

This is the Chelsea bank at high tide. I think the bridge in the background is Chelsea Bridge, the old one which looked a little like Hammersmith Bridge. Just to the left of centre is the curious bent structure (a chimney?) of the Old Swan, an ancient Chelsea tavern much loved by artists.  Here it is again in a painting by Edward A Alkyns showing a barge being unloaded with raw materials for the brew house and some men swimming in the river.

The next picture of the Old Swan is by one of Chelsea’s most famous artists, Walter Greaves.

It shows a livery barge passing the Old Swan with a crowd gathered to see it go by. This may be a depiction of famous river race for barges, Doggett’s Coat and Badge. The Old Swan would have been the finishing point for the race at this time. The Greaves family had a boatyard further down the river which we’ve seen in the posts about James Hedderly and W W Burgess.

Going west past the Old Swan was the Magpie and Stump. Here the river ran close to Cheyne Walk and at high tide was only a few feet from the street.

This atmospheric  picture is by George Lambert.

Further west you came to Lindsay Wharf where the Greaves family worked and where Walter painted this picture called “Unloading the barge”. This is one of his best paintings.

It’s one of those pictures where Greaves leaves behind all the touches of the amateur painter and creates a work as good as any of the artists who have painted Chelsea. St Mary’s Church, Battersea where William Blake was married is is visible across the river.

Finally this week, my single favourite painting in the collection, another view of the river and Cheyne Walk. This one is by Henry Pether.

Pether was one of a family of painters of that name. His father Sebastian and his grandfather Abraham were all fond of night time scenes. This one, “Cheyne Walk by moonlight” captures the still evening atmosphere of old Chelsea. Two lonely figures pass the dark houses and shops and the river laps against the moored barges.  This is a hard picture to photograph. The colour of the original is hard to capture but this version comes the closest yet. With the full moon over our heads it’s a good moment to leave the Chelsea painters.

 

Thanks to the Public Catalogue Foundation and particularly to Dr Rosie Macarthur.


Down by the River: Chelsea Reach in the 1860s

 

This is Chelsea Reach where today you will see a collection of picturesque houseboats. The boats are a long established Chelsea institution which have braved bad weather and road widening schemes alike but long before they were there the Reach was a place for working boats. Most of the houses in the background are still there but you will no longer see sailing barges resting on the foreshore or the sign on the wall at the centre of the picture.  Don’t strain your eyes trying to read it. Here is a closer view:

The name of course is Greaves. This is the family business of Walter and Henry Greaves, amateur artists as well as boatmen. The street behind the wall looks calm and prosperous, the passersby are unhurried. This is a quiet residential stretch of the riverside. The tightly packed shops and taverns of Lombard Street/ Duke Street are just out of shot. To the left the road leads to Cremorne Gardens. But no-one is in a hurry to get there this morning. A man sits on the wall. Could that be one of the Greaves brothers themselves keeping a eye on James Hedderly, who has carried all his photographic equipment onto the muddy river bed? We think they were acquainted maybe even friends as fellow tradesmen of Chelsea’s riverside. (Hedderly was a sign writer at this point in his life).

Hedderly took many photographs of this area. Here are some of the barges moored to the west of the Greaves boatyard:

In the background you can see the old Battersea Bridge looking ethereal, although this is probably due to the quality of the photograph rather than weather conditions on the day.

Here a little further down is a pair of coal barges at Lindsey Wharf:

And a close-up of the men working on the barge, pausing to face the photographer and look out at us:

The next picture looks back at the Greaves boatyard from the east :

Just behind the boats to let sign is another for Lindsey Wharf. The boats built and rented out by the Greaves family were mostly rowing boats. The brothers rowed customers out on the river themselves. Some of those trips were purely business, taking passengers to their destinations like river taxis as boatmen on the Thames have done for centuries.  But Chelsea was already a place for artists and some of the passengers were making sketches of what they saw from the river. One of those customers was James McNeill Whistler who would have a profound effect on the lives of the Greaves family.

This is a view at low tide probably taken from the bridge, shows what must have been the whole of the Greaves business, the narrow rowing boats sitting on pontoons waiting for customers.

When I started writing this post I intended to take you all the way along Chelsea’s riverside, but we seem to have lingered in one small stretch of water. Perhaps it’s the spell of the river or perhaps post-Christmas languor. Either way we’ll be back here again before too long both with Mr Hedderly and the Greaves family.

I hope you all had a happy Christmas.

 


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