Paul Maitland, London, Chelsea, Suburb, Place Identity, Cheyne Walk.
The aim of this article is to consider the extent to which Paul Maitland’s paintings of
Cheyne Walk addressed the problem of establishing suburban identity at the end of the nineteenth century. The emergence of the modern suburb during this period presented a particular problem with regard to how this form of urban living might be defined, understood and experienced. As part of a group of artists that could loosely by described as British Impressionists, Maitland was amongst the first to engage in a close study of this subject. This article situates Maitland’s visual project within its wider cultural context, comparing his work with that of associated artists also interested in the suburban subject and in Cheyne Walk in particular and with a range of contemporary texts that addressed the complex problem of Chelsea’s place identity, including guidebooks, letters, novels and the work of local historians. Drawing on the methodology of cultural and historical geography, this article highlights the extent to which place identity changes through time and how its formulation is based upon the economic and social structures of those who ‘live’ the place. Adopting and elaborating a range of visual signifiers associated with the modern suburb, including both its rural and working aspect, Maitland’s paintings of Cheyne Walk provide a valuable and subtle insight into how this new urban space was being conceptualized at the end of the nineteenth century.