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IN THE NEWS
TOUR OF THE MONTH
ON THIS DAY IN LONDON
The famous Nocturne painting inspiring Ruskin's ire.
Location: The River Thames, by Battersea Bridge
Description: This is about where Whistler sat in a boat and mentally composed one of his most controversial paintings. It's of the old wooden Battersea Bridge at night, exaggerated its height
It was even produced as 'evidence' in the famous 1878 Whistler-Ruskin trial. It's the fifth in a series of Nocturnes, produced during the 1870s. Whistler's aim in these works was to convey a sense of the beauty and tranquility of the Thames by night.
Frances Fowle wrote in 2000: Whistler preferred the calm of the river at night to the noise and bustle of the Thames by day. With the Greaves brothers as his oarsmen, he would set off at twilight and sometimes remain on the river all night, sketching and memorising the scene.
You can make out Chelsea Church and the lights of the newly-built Albert Bridge visible in the distance.
The controversy occured in 1877 when influential critic John Ruskin visited an exhibition of this series of 5 paintings at the Grosvenor Gallery. He said that Whistler was asking two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face.
Whistler successfully sued for libel, the case reaching the courts in 1878. The judge in the case caused laughter in the court when he asked Whistler Which part of the picture is the bridge?; the case ended with Whistler awarded token damages of one farthing.
Whistler said at the Ruskin trial, I did not intend to paint a portrait
of the bridge, but only a painting
of a moonlight scene...My whole scheme was only to bring about a certain harmony of colour.
In 1905, Nocturne: Blue and Gold became the first significant acquisition by the newly formed National Art Collections Fund, and now hangs in Tate Britain.