Chelsea, London  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Chelsea is an area of west London.

The borough of artists

Chelsea once had a reputation as London's bohemian quarter, and likes to think of itself as the haunt of artists, radicals, painters and poets. Little of this seems to survive now: the comfortable squares off the King's Road are homes to the English military establishment, investment bankers and film stars, and more recently the pop singer Kylie Minogue.

In fact it has always reflected an odd mixture of the English upper class, and the cultural ever-so-slightly-avant-garde.

Chelsea's reputation stems from a period in the 19th century when it became a sort of Victorian artists' colony: painters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, J.M.W. Turner, James McNeill Whistler, William Holman Hunt, and John Singer Sargent all lived and worked here. There was a particularly large concentration of artists in the area around Cheyne Walk (pronounced Cheynee) and Cheyne Row, where the Pre-Raphaelite movement had its heart.

Chelsea was also home to writers such as George Meredith, Algernon Swinburne, Leigh Hunt, and Thomas Carlyle. Jonathan Swift lived in Church Lane, Richard Steele and Tobias Smollett in Monmouth House. Carlyle lived for 47 years at No. 5 (now 24) Cheyne Row. After his death, the house was bought and turned into a shrine and literary museum by the Carlyle Memorial Trust, a group formed by Leslie Stephen, father of Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf set her 1919 novel Night and Day in Chelsea, where Mrs. Hilbery has a Cheyne Walk home.

In a curious book, Bohemia in London by Arthur Ransome which is a partly fictional account of his early years in London, published in 1907 when he was 23, there are some fascinating, rather over-romanticised accounts of bohemian goings-on in the quarter. The American artist Pamela Colman Smith, the designer of A.E. Waite's Tarot card pack and a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, features as "Gypsy" in the chapter "A Chelsea Evening".

A central part of Chelsea's artistic and cultural life was Chelsea Public Library, originally situated in Manresa Road. Its longest serving member of staff was Armitage Denton, who joined in 1896 at the age of 22, and he remained there until his retirement in 1939. He was appointed Chief Librarian in 1929.

The Chelsea Collection is a priceless anthology of prints and pictures of old Chelsea. Begun in 1887, it contains works by artists as notable and diverse as Rossetti and Whistler. During his time at the Library, Armitage Denton built the Collection assiduously, so that by the time of his death in July 1949 it numbered more than 1,000 items. At the end of the 20th century, the Collection totalled more than 5,000 works, and it continues to grow.

Swinging Chelsea

Chelsea shone again, brightly but briefly in the 1960s Swinging London period and the early 1970s. The Swinging Sixties was defined on the King's Road which runs the length of the area and both the Beatles and Rolling Stones members Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards lived here at one time. In the 1970s the "World's End" of the King's Road was home to Vivienne Westwood's boutique "SEX", and saw the birth of the punk movement. Elvis Costello even sang `I don`t want to go to Chelsea`. Then Youth culture decamped forever, the Goths moving to the newly fashionable quarter of Camden Town and the hippies to Notting Hill.

Famous residents

Chelsea probably has more Blue Plaques than any other district of London. Some of the great and not-so-good who have lived here include:

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Chelsea, London" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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