Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


Stéphane Mallarmé

Birthname: Etienne Malarme
Nationality: French
Date of birth: 1842.03.18
Place of birth: Paris
Date of death: 1898.09.09
Place of death: Valvins
Category: writer


Stéphane Mallarmé was a French Symbolist writer and poet. He married Marie Gerhard (b. 1835) on 10 August 1865 in Kensington (now Brompton Oratory). They had one daughter, Geneviève (1864-1919), later the first Mme Edmond Bonniot.


On 13 June 1888 Claude Monet introduced Whistler to Stéphane Mallarmé. Mallarmé agreed to translate the 'Ten O'Clock' lecture into French. The two men became regular correspondents and close friends. Whistler attended Mallarmé's famous 'Mardis', the Symbolist Salon, at 89 rue de Rome, and visited his country house at Valvins, Seine et Marne. When Whistler moved to Paris in 1892 they met frequently.

In 1889 Mallarmé presented Whistler with a copy of his translation of Les Poèmes d'Edgar Poe (Brussels, 1888), which included the poem 'Annabel Lee' that had inspired an oil by Whistler of the late 1860s, Annabel Lee y079, and several pastel studies, Annabel Lee m1077.

Whistler's frequent use of colour and flower titles for his studies of women (e.g. r.: Study for the Tall Flower; v.: Design for a Wall Decoration m1089, Blue and Silver: Forget-me-not m1090, Rosa und violet m1115, Cupid letting a bird out of a cage m1341) reflects his friendship with the Symbolist circle around Mallarmé. It was Mallarmé who suggested the title for Purple and Gold: Phryne the Superb! - Builder of Temples y490.

Early in 1892 Whistler tried to interest the publisher William Heinemann in a book of quatrains by Mallarmé written on letters to friends as imaginative replacements to their postal addresses. Whistler also approached Osgood, McIlvaine & Co. The project came to nothing. A selection was published in the Chap Book, Chicago in 1894.

In April 1892 Whistler worked on a lithograph of Mallarmé for the frontispiece of his Vers et Prose (Paris, 1893), Stéphane Mallarmé, No. 2 c059. He painted the portrait of Mallarmé's daughter Geneviève in October 1897, Rose et gris: Geneviève Mallarmé y485. Mallarmé was active in persuading the French government to purchase Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother y101 for the Louvre, and in obtaining honours for him. Portrait of Miss Emily Tuckerman m1546a was drawn on 14 August 1898 for Mallarmé at his home at Valvins.

Whistler was very upset at Mallarmé's death, shortly after, on 9 September 1898. Portrait of Miss Emily Tuckerman m1546a was published in Le Petit Bleu de Paris two days after Mallarmé's death.


Mallarmé, S., 'Les Loisirs de la Poste', Chap Book, Chicago, vol. 2, no. 3, 5 December 1894, pp. 111-15; Barbier, Carl Paul (ed.), Correspondance Mallarmé-Whistler: histoire de la grande amitié de leurs dernières années, Paris, 1964; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980 ; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995 ; Lloyd, Rosemary, Mallarmé : the poet and his circle, London, 1999; Austin, Lloyd James, 'Stéphane Mallarmé', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy.