American art and literature in Tite Street, Chelsea

Mark Twain Tedworth Square Chelsea

The district of Chelsea in the south west of London is part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (royal owing to Kensington Palace).

Tite street Chelsea
Tite Street looking north to Tedworth Square

One particular street in Chelsea was almost an American enclave for artists and writers in the late Victorian period .   These included John Singer Sargent (between 1885 and 1925), James McNeil Whistler (1870 to late 1880’s) and Mark Twain (1896 to 1898).  One can still see the houses where these men lived and visit the streets they strolled around Tite Street in Chelsea.

John Singer Sargent became the most prolific portrait painter in England whilst living at 33 Tite Street – initially, from the flat above his countryman; James McNeil Whistler.

33 Tite Street, John Singer Sergent
33 Tite Street, Chelsea
31 Tite Street, Chelsea
31 Tite Street, Chelsea
John Singer Sargent in Chelsea
31 (closest) and 33 Tite Street, Chelsea

Helped by his portrait of a friend’s daughter (‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’) and his portrait of the super-famous Victorian actress Ellen Terry, both his fame and collection grew. In 1899, Sargent took over 31 Tite Street and connected the two buildings.   At his peak, Tite Street could get very crowded as members of the art loving public and aristocracy would throng to his studio to see his paintings.   He died at home in Tite Street in 1925.

Home of Oscar Wilde Tite Sreet
The former home of Oscar Wilde and family, 34 Tite Street

(Not far away lived Sargent’s English competitor for attention during the period; Oscar Wilde, at 34 Tite Street.   Oscar lived at 34 Tite Street from 1884 to 1895 with his wife Constance and their two sons.   This is where he wrote many of his works, including ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in 1895).

Home of Mark Twain in London
The former home of Mark Twain – on the corner of Tite Street and Tedworth Square

At the north end of Tite Street is the former home of Mark Twain (between 1896 and 1898) – it is 23 Tedworth Square.    He moved here in his early 60’s.   This is where he learned the new skill (of the time) of dictating to a typist and he completed ‘Tom Sawyer, Detective’ and ‘Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc’.   Mark Twain would enjoy strolls (unnoticed) around the neighbourhood of what he called ‘Shakespeare People’.

All the houses are private residences today.   But gaze at the building and imagine the scenes of a century ago and read the historical ‘blue plaques’ on the buildings.   I also recommended you visit the local pub.   Established in 1853, it would have featured in the men’s lives!   It’s called ‘The Surprise’.   See link below:

The Surprise Pub in Chelsea
The Surprise Pub in Chelsea
Corner of Tite Street and Christchurch Street
The corner of Tite Street and Christchurch Street

You can see portraits of John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde at the National Portrait Gallery.

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