American Art, Events, From the Collections, Talks and Lectures

Join Us for A Tale of Two Cities: London and DC

Chelsea Shops, James McNeill Whistler, 1880s, F1902.149a-b.

This Sunday, take an imaginative stroll through London’s Chelsea neighborhood and learn about the history of DC’s waterfront. Join Maya Foo, curator of Whistler’s Neighborhood: Impressions of a Changing London, and Lee Glazer, associate curator of American art, at 1 pm in the Freer for a tour of the exhibition followed by a 1.5-mile walking tour of the Southwest Waterfront. The free tour will be conducted by Cultural Tourism DC, rain or shine. Register now!

The tour will shed light on the parallels between the Southwest Waterfront, a neighborhood currently in transition, and nineteenth-century Chelsea, a mixed-income area that was affected by the Thames Embankment project. Both neighborhoods are situated along riverfront property, making the land attractive for real estate development.

The Chelsea Embankment, which was part of the larger Thames Embankment project, was a major public engineering feat that resulted in improving river navigation and the city’s sewage system. It also changed the topography of the waterfront by reclaiming acreage from the river where public gardens and pedestrian walkways were later established. Redevelopment also occurred with the demolition of historic buildings, which created space for expensive mansion blocks—apartments that were intended for the upper classes. The poor were displaced and many were forced to live above storefronts in small, cramped apartments with other families.

Old-clothes Shop, No. 2, James McNeill Whistler, etching on paper, F1903.163.

The diminutive works in the exhibition are coded with social issues, including childhood poverty and overcrowding. Whistler, however, did not intend for these works to promote social change. The etchings were not mass produced and were not meant for a wide audience. While documenting the poorer sections of Chelsea, the artist was attracted to the geometric forms created by architectural elements, such as window panes and doorways.

Register now to join us on Sunday!


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