Nowhere in England could you find better material for pictures than in Chelsea… but it was then practically owned by James McNeill Whistler. There were his little shops, his rag shops, his green-grocer shops, and his sweet shops; in fact, so nearly was it all his, that after a time he sternly forbade other painters to work there at all.
Dorothy Menpes, World Pictures: Being a Record in Color (1902)
James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) lived in London’s Chelsea neighborhood from 1863 until his death. Bordering the River Thames, Chelsea was home to artists, aristocrats, tradesmen, and paupers. Whistler depicted the storefronts and street life outside his door and captured a section of the city that was undergoing a dramatic transformation in the 1880s. Historic buildings were razed and replaced with mansions for the upper class, forcing the poor into squalid conditions. The Thames Embankment, a major public works project designed to improve river navigation and provide underground sewers, changed the topography of Chelsea by claiming much of the riverbank for public gardens and new residential buildings.
The diminutive etchings in Whistler’s Neighborhood: Impressions of a Changing London, which also features watercolors and small oil paintings, underscore the immediacy of the artist’s quick impressions of his evolving neighborhood. Together, the works form a panorama of Chelsea in the 1880s.