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Whistler’s Chelsea home for sale with £30m price tag

Cheyne Walk house was where artist painted famous portrait of his mother

Number 96 Cheyne Walk overlooks the Thames, and this inspired the artist's “Nocturnes”, ethereal moonlit scenes of the river

The 19th-century artist James Whistler’s Chelsea house has just gone on the market for £30m. Number 96 Cheyne Walk, overlooking the Thames, was home to Whistler, his mother and a string of mistresses for more than a decade.

The American-born artist arrived in Britain in 1859 and initially stayed in Wapping, in London’s East End. He moved to 96 Cheyne Walk (then known as 2 Lindsey Row), in 1867. Jo Hiffernan, his Irish model and lover, came too, although their relationship was on the wane. Three years later Whistler had a son, Charles, with a parlour maid, Louisa Hanson. Over the next few years his lovers included Elizabeth Dawson (to whom he was briefly engaged) and the model Maud Franklin.

The large garden-facing room on the first floor served as Whistler’s studio. It was there that he painted the portrait of his 67-year-old mother, Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, 1871, now in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Cheyne Walk overlooks the Thames, and this inspired his “Nocturnes”, ethereal moonlit scenes of the river. Some depict the panoramic views from the upper floor windows of his house. Cremorne Gardens, the entertainment centre that the artist also depicted, was just a couple of minutes away.

The interior decor of Cheyne Walk reflected Whistler’s exquisite taste. It included Japanese-style screens and Chinese ceramics in boldly coloured rooms. As he grew more successful, he became increasingly known for his entertaining, particularly his noted “Sunday breakfasts”, with the food selected to look its best on blue-and-white china.

In 1878 Whistler left, wanting somewhere even larger and grander, and he moved to the White House in nearby Tite Street. However, 96 Cheyne Walk remains most desirable, and its price tag reflects the fact that its main rooms are vast, including a 50-ft lounge.

Cheyne Walk has always attracted the famous and wealthy. Other residents have included the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the authors George Eliot and Henry James, the former British prime minister David Lloyd-George, the actor Laurence Olivier and the musician Mick Jagger.

Number 96 has been owned since the 1930s by the American-born British politician Henry “Chips” Channon and later by his ministerial son, Paul Channon (Baron Kelvedon). A spokesman for Savills, which is marketing number 96, says it is likely to go to an international buyer, probably Russian or Middle Eastern (a Russian owner would make an appropriate link, since Whistler was brought up in St Petersburg). Despite its price, the house is in need of a major refurbishment and upgrade, which might well push up the total cost to over £40m.

“An American in London: Whistler and the Thames”, Dulwich Picture Gallery, until 12 January 2014

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