The artist's father was J.M.W. Turner's boatman and a Chelsea boat builder. The young Walter's childhood, spent along the banks of the Thames, inspired his later work; he often depicted local bridges and stretches of the river. Not only a painter of 19th century Chelsea, but also a master of primitive art, Greaves found a patron in William Marchant of the Goupil Gallery where he exhibited in 1911.
In 1863, Greaves met Whistler and became both a friend and studio assistant. The two men were ultimately to grow apart as Whistler found fame but his influence can often be discerned in Greaves' work. The dusky light and muted tonality that permeates Battersea Reach, Moonlight is a fine example of this.