Greaves beside Carlyle’s statute not far from his Chelsea home
Dates:1846 - 1930
Address: 104 Cheyne Walk, SW10
Dates at address:1846 - 1897
Greaves was the son of Chelsea waterman Charles Greaves. Born and raised on the Thames he lived and worked with his brother Henry. A friend of Whistler he modelled himself on the older painter, even copying his dress. A dandy all his life, he appeared in a battered top hat with his hair blacked with boot polish in his old age.
Starting as boat builders the brothers met Whistler who hired them as rowers, later teaching them to paint. Painting scenes of Chelsea before the Embankment they worked together until Henry’s death in 1904. They also helped Whistler decorate Frederick Layland’s Peacock Room. Their paintings never sold well, though Walter enjoyed fame in 1911 when the Goupil Gallery exhibited his work. Discredited by Whitler’s friends Joseph and Elizabeth Pennel as a thief of Whistler’s work he was bankrupted.
The friendship with Whistler started well. In Greaves’s words, “he taught us to paint and we taught him the waterman’s jerk”. However, Whistler characteristically discarded the pair on moving to fashionable Tite Street, even refusing to be reconciled when Greaves visited him on his deathbed. With mounting debts Greaves moved to Fulham Road in 1897 and Lillie Road, Fulham in 1919. Rescued from penury in 1921 by artists including Augustus John and William Rothenstein, they restored his reputation and paid for a retirement home in Charterhouse where he died.
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