Completed British 19th C, except portraits, British 20th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects 39 Does this work by Paul Fordyce Maitland depict a street in Chelsea or Kensington?

Plane Tree, Cheyne Walk
Topic: Subject or sitter

This does not seem to be Cheyne Walk, but where is it?

The title, however, goes back at least to 1948 when no. 8 in the Leicester Galleries' November exhibition 'Paintings by Paul Maitland (1869-1909)' was 'A Plane Tree, Cheyne Walk'.

It was also no. 72 in the Leicester Galleries' May 1928 exhibition 'Paintings of London by Paul Maitland'.

Most of Maitland's urbanscapes were of Chelsea or Kensington.

The collection has no further information on this painting on file.

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. This painting has now been re-attributed to 'circle of Paul Fordyce Maitland (1863–1909)' and the location confirmed as Cheyne Walk at its junction with Luna Street. This change will be visible on Art UK in due course.

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.

38 comments

Geraint Richard Hall,

What makes you say 'This does not seem to be Cheyne Walk'?

Cheyne Walk has changed considerably since Maitland's day.

Martin Hopkinson,

Neither of the buildings in this painting appear in the many prints, drawings and photographs of Cheyne Walk made in the 19th century and early 20th century in such collections as the Guildhall Library and Art Gallery , the Museum of London, the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, and the British Museum. It is some time since I consulted Chelsea Library, but I do not think that I saw these buildings in its archive.The building on the right might be too late to appear in James Hedderly's photographs. Maps should show whether there was a church other than Chelsea Old Church on Cheyne Walk before Maitland's death, but I think that there was not one. Having been curator of the Whistler collection in the University of Glasgow, I am very familiar with the works of Greaves, Menpes, Roussel and other contemporaries of the American artist, who worked on the Chelsea river front.

Geraint Richard Hall,

Fair enough. I agree that it's definitely not Chelsea Old Church on the left.

Martin Hopkinson,

The building to the right has a New York look in style. Could this possibly be a painting which Maitland owned rather than one which he painted?

Andrew Chamberlain,

St Mary Abbott's on Church Street, Kensington. The heavily altered building on the right today now has a ground floor shop (L.K. Bennett) and to the right of that part of the terrace retains a four storey elevation. The front of the church also appears to have been altered in the 20th century. But there may be better candidates in the area?

Osmund Bullock,

Possibly, Martin - the railings don't look particularly London-like. But there are quite a few of his on wood (is this wood or artist's board?) painted on very much this scale...of Chelsea, of Chatham, of Sheerness, for example; for Maitland did paint in other places as well as Ken & Chelsea - Ludlow, Sussex, Folkestone also appear, as do other parts of London, both more central (e.g. St James's) and north of Hyde Park (Bayswater, Little Venice).

You're certainly right that it's not Cheyne Walk (or I think Chelsea Embankment) at any period, but it doesn't ring any other bells with me. I rather doubt it's Chelsea, though Kensington is possible. Wherever it is, the scale of both the Church (if it is) and the adjacent building suggest a fairly main thoroughfare rather than a side street. And it does look as if it's a city scene - my guess would be somewhere else in the West End of London.

You identify it with a particular work (or works) exhibited in 1928 & 1948 - is that based on just the title, or is there any documentary support (a label or whatever) to link it? Maitland clearly painted an awful lot of trees, and even on ArtUK there are other works that show a plane or planes in Cheyne Walk, such as this http://bit.ly/2l2GdAd . I'm not even sure this is a plane - the bark looks OK, but young planes tend to have fewer, larger leaves, giving an impression of rather less dense foliage.

Osmund Bullock,

Andrew, St Mary Abbot's was the first possibility I looked at, but I really don't think it's right - neither the church structure (it was only built in 1872, and is largely unaltered including the original, quite different railings), nor any feature at all of the RH building...fewer stories (each of them much taller), nicely-proportioned flat windows, wholly different roof type - the next one to its right in the terrace has been extended upwards, not the LH one altered downwards. Ours has bays on every floor, each with three narrow sashes, and is a Victorian building of perhaps 1860-80, while that on Kensington Church St is clearly either Georgian, or just possibly C20th (or late C19th) in the Georgian style.

Martin Hopkinson,

Osmund - your surmise is correct, it was just the coincidence of title. I am not convinced that it is really by Maitland. Little panels like this in a style indebted to Whistler are quite common, and from the 1890s there were young American painters as well as slightly later students of his at the Academie Carmen in Paris who followed the 'Master's' example.

Malcolm Fowles,

From Kensington & Chelsea's History pages, p 14 'The Boroughs at War': "Among the buildings either destroyed or seriously damaged ... were Chelsea Old Church, Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Our Lady of Victories, St Mary Abbots, ..."

The first and fourth have been dismissed above, but please check that this covers the pre-1940 fabric.

The second's website says that it "escaped extensive damage" caused by incendiary bombs and an explosion in the crypt. Its RH front is next to another building, but the church architecture is nothing like the painting.

Our Lady of Victories is another matter. Best if you browse the Google Images. These include the original *Gothic* interior, the bombed out interior, and the modernist box that replaced it. It is now surrounded by equally modern buildings, suggesting the whole area was damaged beyond repair. Unfortunately the original exterior and its street context seem to be absent. Next port of call would be old maps and historical image libraries.

Malcolm Fowles,

There are fabulous interactive map overlays at the National Library of Scotland (!) http://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=18&lat=51.4990&lon=-0.1981&layers=163&b=1

This shows the old pro-cathedral of Kensington completely hemmed in, as now. It would account for the tightly framed view. Furthermore, the RH front has a small gap to the building beside it. However that building is at right angles, not aligned, or at least it was in 1895.

Still worth looking for an image, but less likely.

I hesitate to throw a spanner in the works but I wonder if the building on the left is indeed a church. In 1994 the Fine Art Society did a charming little (if would have to be little!) Maitland exhibition. No 15 in the catalogue Street Scene, Chelsea, 10 x 6 in, unsigned, shows what must be the same view (enclosed). The tree is bigger, but then trees grow, so this must have been painted a year or two later. There are lots of instances of Maitland returning to favourite spots. The important thing is that the ‘church’, now begins to look like a tall apartment building with bay windows. Will this make it easier to find the street? Possibly not, but while I still favour Chelsea, I don’t know it as well as others. And at the moment I'd have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the work, despite the fact that there were lots of precious little Whistler followers.

Malcolm Fowles,

We have buttresses, we have trees, we have railings: the old West Brompton Congregational Church. See the top picture at http://www.chelseachurch.co.uk/our-history. It was destroyed in 1944. This 1896 map //www.old-maps.co.uk/#/Map/526300/177500/12/100682 shows it adjacent to residential buildings in Edith Grove. In the 1874 map this is still open ground.

We do not have a perfect comparison with our buttress, nor with today's adjacent frontage (Google StreetView). However the latter is the facade of a building one storey taller, and both could be post-1944.

How much artistic licence is Maitland known to have applied?

Malcolm Fowles,

My church search is binned. Kenneth's image suggests that Maitland was more interested in the tree than accuracy in the buildings.

An online tour along Cheyne Walk, especially the western end, shows plenty of new frontages, empty spaces, and the right number of storeys. Three WW2 high-explosive bombs are mapped along the road at Bomb Sight. Unless you are convinced that the archive pictures cover the whole of the Walk, don't write it off completely.

On the NLS 1895 map linked earlier, there are no narrow alleys between blocks of Cheyne Walk, only roads. I had thought our gap was an alley. However in Kenneth's version, the railings go around the corner, suggesting a road.

As the two paintings are separated by a few years, this is now much more likely to be Maitland's home ground. I'd recommend the NLS map if you want to look for candidate road junctions further from the river. If his works are en plein air, an extra feature to look for is a sensible painting spot.

Chris Pain 01,

As a local I'd say this does look a lot like the western (unfashionable) end of Cheyne Walk as it was at the time Maitland was active, either the bottom of Blantyre Street or that of Luna Street, probably the former allowing for a little artistic licence. The houses in question date from the 1870s, which means that Hedderley could have photographed them and did, if the photograph I have attached really is a Hedderley.

Another Maitland entitled Cheyne Walk in Sunshine, which I have attached, was painted from a similar position and shows on the far left the first two of these buildings starting directly west of 119 Cheyne Walk, where Turner died. This view also shows the railings and tree. The railings were replaced by a sturdier after the floods of 1928.

I have also attached a painting by Fairlie Harmar again showing the railings, the trees all along this stretch of embankment and the houses similar to those in the Maitland picture.

The only peculiar thing is that, to get that view, the artist would have had to have been on a boat on the river or maybe a jetty of some sort.

Chris Pain 01,

On second thoughts I think it's the bottom of Luna Street, which isn't there any more, having been replaced by the river frontage of the World's End Estate. I've found an aerial photograph from 1952, which gives quite a good view of the houses I think Maitland painted in A Plane Tree, Cheyne Walk.

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Malcolm Fowles,

The photo works for me. Just remove the paintwork and undo the odd window upgrade. There are the railings, and we see clearly what is either side of them. The angle suggests it could even be the same tree. Well done Chris.

Malcolm Fowles,

Andrew, as far as I can tell, your link doesn't actually include a picture taken from the river end of the street. In the penultimate photo we see that the end buildings are taller than the rest, matching Chris' aerial shot. That strengthens the identification.

These recent postings overlapped, so I am happy to make a formal recommendation that the painting shows Cheyne Walk at its junction with Luna Street. Thanks to everyone for their help.

Malcolm Fowles,

The NLS map even has the 1895 trees! A direct line from Luna Road entrance through this tree heads out across the Thames at a sharp angle, and immediately reaches "Thames Vestry Wharf", which juts well out into the river, right next to a pub. Beer and no pedestrians - my idea of a great place to paint.

Malcolm Fowles,

Have you ever been able to say something like "the main subject is at OS grid reference E526649 N177304, and the artist was at or very near to E526638 N177261"? That, by the way, is ridiculous sub-metre accuracy. Thank you NLS.

Malcolm Fowles,

Sorry, the grid ref is right but its name was "Kensington Vestry Wharf".

Osmund Bullock,

Well done, all, especially Kenneth for finding that Maitland picture of the same view with a rather different look to the LH building; and Chris for the 1950s aerial view that gives us the exact spot beyond any reasonable doubt.

I will salvage a tiny bit of self-respect from having got the age and architectural elements of the RH building right, but am embarrassed at being so adamant about it not being Cheyne Walk. Historically Cheyne Walk only began at Chelsea Old Church, and ran east from there - until at least the late 1870s the first part of the riverside road west of Battersea Bridge was called Lindsey Row, the next section (including the junction with Luna St) was called Cremorne Rd (originally Cremorne New Rd), to which name the portion alongside the 1968-77 World's End Estate has now reverted. But I now belatedly realize that by 1886 the Cheyne Row name had been extended to cover the whole section west of the bridge. It seems likely that the change happened with the replacement of Old Battersea Bridge in 1885-90.

See attached maps for the name development (and gradual disappearance of the famous Cremorne Gardens nearby).

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Although the question of subject matter has been most satisfactorily settled, I wonder whether the actual attribution of this little painting should be questioned. I find it odd, for example, that Maitland should have painted the tall apartment block with bay windows on the left in such a way that that it could so easily be read as the end of a church façade – while being able to render it so much more convincingly in the Fine Art Society picture.

According to Michael J, Franklin, a dealer/collector who was knowledgeable about the artist, there was a close friend and imitator, some of whose works passed into Maitland’s studio in c.1907, and after Maitland’s death in 1909 these were inadvertently attributed to him. I suggest that the Newport panel could be an example of one of these.

Malcolm Fowles,

You are effectively calling into doubt every attribution of a small panel to Maitland. I've just opened some random works in vertical format (besides ours) on Art UK: Battersea Boat Houses, Thames Steamboat Pier and A Yacht of Sheerness. All are small (as are both works of this subject) and all have indistinct passages. As a painter, I do this to accentuate the main subject.

I suggest we need more reason than this.

Malcolm Fowles,

Incidentally, the first image I see for Maitland on Art UK is "Chelsea Embankment from the River". Nice title, but not quite right. At its right-hand edge is the unmistakeable arch of Battersea Bridge. This is "Chelsea Embankment from E526638 N177261", or if you prefer from Kensington Vestry Wharf as was, or as now Old Ferry Wharf of Chelsea Yacht and Boat Company Ltd.

The trees on the left are the far end of the row containing our subject. Our subject is no more, sadly, but two of its venerable friends still stand on the wharf side of it, and in its place is a healthy-looking young plane tree. Locals might be able to paint the same picture, with a rather altered background.

Martin Hopkinson,

Maitland like many artists was uneven , but now thanks to Kenneth, we have seen the other painting of this subject I no longer have grave doubts as to the attribution. If is not by him, it must be by an artist very close to him. Michael Franklin certainly knew Maitland's paintings far better than any one. He owned many of them. Did Franklin leave any notes as to which paintings he doubted, Richard? The FAS picture seems to me to be of higher quality, but that does not necessarily rule out Maitland's authorship.
Initially I thought that the artist might be American and the subject when there seemed to be no evidence of a church other than the old parish church being on Cheyne Walk at the turn of the century - but the other picture reveals that we are looking at a residential block and several people have combined above to sort out the location.

Osmund Bullock,

Malcolm, I agree that the Kensington Vestry Wharf is probably the artist's position for both our picture and the Hepworth's 'Chelsea Embankment from the River', but I don't quite understand what you mean when you say "our subject is no more" in the latter; surely the junction of Luna St & Cheyne Walk is further off to the left from the painting's LH edge? I think the far left block shown in 'Chelsea Embankment...' is that between Blantyre & Riley Streets, stopping just short of Turner's House. See attached 1890s map marked up to show the L&R limits of both our (green) and the much larger Hepworth (red) views.

I don't find the latter's title too objectionable - while technically you may be right about the Wharf not being 'in the river', at high tide the foreground mud would be covered in water with one side of the wharf jutting out into it.

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Malcolm Fowles,

I mean today, not in the picture. Today this tree is no more. It has ceased to be, expired and gone to meet its maker, (etc.), it is an ex-tree. It has been replaced, but the two between its spot and the wharf are very old and likely to be from the same planting.

We now have three works painted from the same spot, which makes it a (the?) favourite painting place of Paul Maitland. It could have a blue plaque. The Tate alone has four more of the opposite bank with only the river as foreground. Their scenes are unrecognisable today, but I'd bet that at least some of them are also from here, and that others may be hanging elsewhere. Each extra painting increases my doubt that there's another hand in them.

Malcolm Fowles,

Flipping between these paintings side by side, in the FAS picture:

1. The gaps between the fenceposts narrow, suggesting a viewpoint further back on the wharf.

2. However the tree overlaps more of the RH building, suggesting either a closer viewpoint or tree growth.

3. Artistic licence or inaccuracy, which invalidates all comparison.

To make 1 & 2 fit, it has to be tree growth, in which case the FAS picture is later. That would mean it was painted after the supposed imitator.

To make 3 fit, one of them is worked up and the other is a sketch, en plein air as was Maitland's habit. For example the Tate's catalogue entry for 'Factories Bordering the River':

"From 1878 to 1889 the Maitland family - Paul, his mother and his two sisters Maggie and Ada - lived at 7 Edith Terrace ... Maitland in the late 1880s painted numerous small works en plein air recording the topography of the Chelsea and Battersea banks of the river."

I still think the imitator is doubtful, but would not be surprised if he were she, and called Maggie or Ada. What better "close friend"? And who more likely to be kept anonymous than a woman artist?

Malcolm Fowles,

And who more likely to mix up Maitland's paintings with his sister's than a surviving family member?

As Martin has said, Michael Franklin certainly knew Maitland's paintings far better than anyone and owned many of them -- but sadly he did not commit much of his knowledge to paper. He probably died in the early years of this century. I was in contact with him in the late 1970s when I was at York Art Gallery, although even before then he had demoted (verbally) one of the Gallery’s four paintings acquired as Maitlands to the status of being by a close friend and imitator. All four have exactly the same impeccable early provenance of the artist’s sisters and then the painter Murray Urquhart and his wife. The demoted work was moreover included in the Maitland exhibitions at the Leicester Galleries, London, in 1928 and 1948, and bought from the latter by the distinguished gallerist Lillian Browse. It is catalogued on ArtUK as ‘follower of’:

https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-thames-above-battersea-bridge-8071/search/actor:maitland-paul-fordyce-18631909/page/3/view_as/grid

The demoted York work certainly lacks the subtlety of brushwork found in what we may assume to be genuine Maitlands and displays a clear tendency to hardening the profiles of buildings and roofs in a way uncharacteristic of the artist. There is no good reason not to accept Franklin’s explanation that this belongs to a group of paintings by a close friend and follower inadvertently passed on by the sisters as Maitlands because they were found in their brother’s studio. Unfortunately it follows from this, to pick up Malcolm’s point, that the attribution of all works called Maitland needs to be tested, even when the provenance is similarly secure and especially where there is not a convincing signature.

While the Newport painting is not necessarily by the same hand as the demoted York picture, it certainly lacks the subtlety typical of Maitland and this is highlighted by comparison with the Fine Art Society work. In the Newport picture, for example, the painting of the tree’s foliage is too solid for Maitland and the railings are too mechanical. The roofline of the right-hand building is unsure in its perspective and too hard, and the sky crudely blocked in without the subtle suggestion of chimneys as in the FAS picture where they are indicated by (apparently) leaving the ground uncovered by the paint thinly applied for the sky. In the FAS panel there is a real sense of light falling on the side elevation of the right-hand building leaving the riverside facades in shadow, whereas the lighting in the Newport work is confused. Above all, it is the misunderstanding of the bay windows on the left-hand building which, in my view, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to accept the Newport picture as a genuine Maitland. They are painted out of scale and as if wrapping round a buttress -- not, I think, by someone looking at the actual building but by someone misinterpreting a pictorial representation, almost certainly an existing work by Maitland.

The quality of Maitland's work was uneven to a degree but not to the extent that the Newport picture could be securely regarded as being from his hand.

Osmund Bullock,

Exceptionally well-argued and illuminating, Richard, thank you, and I concur on all your points of comparison between the two works. Some of the deficiencies might perhaps be explained if it were a rough, experimental sketch; but you are surely right to feel that the complete misconstruction (in both senses) of the left-hand bays is a very serious problem indeed.

There has been some very fine analysis of this painting and in particular the comparison with the Fine Art Society version of the subject. Thanks particularly to Kenneth McConkey and Richard Green. It doesn't look to me as if one is a copy of the other; my suspicion is that these may have been painted side by side - the Newport painting in direct imitation of Maitland's style. Is this a case for an unusually appropriate use of the phrase 'Circle of Maitland'? The location is confirmed as Cheyne Walk at its junction with Luna Street.

In the absence of further comment I propose to formally recommend an attribution to the 'Circle of Paul Maitland' The location is confirmed as Cheyne Walk at its junction with Luna Street, but there seems no need to change the title.