The family and the painting were unusually well-travelled. The painting was given by Whistler to his mother and by her to Julia de Kay Whistler (1825-1875). 1 She was the second wife of Whistler's older step-brother, George William Whistler (1822-1869), and several years after his premature death in Brighton in 1969, the painting was taken to Baltimore. It was bequeathed to her daughter, also named Julia, when she died in 1875. The Baltimore Bulletin described it as 'a portrait of a lady in riding habit, a picture containing some remarkable color and curious idiosyncrasies of drawing', then 'in the possession of the children of his sister-in-law, the late estimable Mrs Whistler, who died recently at the summer residence of her brother, Mr Thomas Winans, at Newport.' 2
The new owner, young Julia de Kay Whistler Revillon (1855-1930) married Albert Charles Revillon (ca 1846-d. 1915) in Baltimore on 30 May 1885. The picture accompanied them to St Petersburg, but Julia agreed to lend it to Whistler's major retrospective, Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 12). As soon as the painting was on its way from St Petersburg to London, it became clear that Julia Revillon was eager to sell it:
'I am tempted to sell the "Music Room" considering what a swell you are & what high prices your pictures fetch. I telegraphed Boussod that they might ask 800 guineas for it, but hearing from him that they could not sell for that price, I telegraphed both you & him, to consult on the price ... I am very fond of the "Music Room" & shant feel like parting with it unless I get a very good price for it ... that is why I wish to know from you (knowing as you do the London public) what I can safely ask.' 3
Someone (not named) wanted to buy it, as Thomson told Whistler:
'A serious business question. One man wants to know if £400 or £450 would buy Madame Reveillons [sic] 'Music Room.' We wired to her & she replies consult you. Will you kindly think over the matter for her & say what your idea is. Our man will not pay more than £450 we fear.' 4
Whistler, writing to Thomson from Paris, was conspicuously indignant, partly because he feared the prospective purchaser might be Francis Seymour Haden, Sr (1818-1910):
'Reveillon - Proposed price perfectly absurd - I have a notion who is impudent enough to offer it - Send me details - In these matters you must be entirely with me -
I shall write to Mme. Reveillon, and mean time you must say to purchaser that his proposal wouldn't be listened to - That the price is more like a thousand guineas - Who is the man? Is it Seymour Haden? - You see it would be ruinous that such prices should get about - in the midst of the ones I am asking myself - Moreover the only interest the Goupil House can have is in the good prices of Whistler works - not in the selling, for small sums, a picture or two, from one owner to another!' 5
Thomson declared that the prospective purchaser was a Scottish art dealer: "Mr Lawrie of Glasgow ... wants to have it 'on spec' he says, but it may be he has a Scotch or Canadian buyer. Whatever price you [think?] we shall wire to St Petersburg for confirmation & approval & then wire Lawrie." 6 Lawrie then backed out, as Thomson reported:
'Lawrie of Glasgow ... wanted to buy a picture by you - any one - for about that price - We do not think he had any special buyer & now he declares he is off it altogether. We quite understand the advantage to you & to ourselves of keeping up the prices & this has been our aim all along. At the same time if we sell to a dealer who will himself sell at a profit it could not be to the hurt of either. If Lawrie buys for £450 he wont sell under £600.' 7
However, Whistler insisted on at least 800 gns: 'The great point is not the changing of ownership of these pictures - which is scarcely interesting to me - but to confirm, by every transaction, my large prices.' 8 At that price, no one was interested. Instead, in January 1894, Mme Revillon asked Thomson to send the picture to Messrs Christie, Manson & Woods. 9 Whistler was worried about the auction, and hoped that Thomson would attend the sale and keep the price up: 'It ought certainly not to be allowed to fall flat - However it is about the last of that lot - thank the Lord! - They are very nearly all out of the country now - those "Whistler's".' 10 It was sold at auction at Christie's on 10 February 1894 (lot 69), and bought (according to an illegibly annotated catalogue) for £199.10.0, or, according to D. C. Thomson, by a Glasgow art dealer, William Paterson (1859-1952), for over £200. In any case, the result was disappointing, as Thomson reported:
'The Music Room has been sold today for a little over £200, we were willing to give that amount & we had arranged accordingly but it went one bid over that to a Glasgow dealer called Paterson ... The bidding was very very slow & only Paterson was in the field against it. As we have written to Mdm Revillon today, since the sale, we could have got far more for her, but her lowest price was always 500 guineas & she would not hear of any reduction even although we telegraphed one day for it. As she sent it to Christies against our wish, there was no reason why we should support her further than what was an amazing bargain.' 11
Basically, Whistler was annoyed with everyone concerned, berating Thomson:
'Fancy going to a public sale at all - with less than 200 in your pocket, and letting a country dealer carry off the last Whistler in the market under your very nose at what you say yourself is an amazing bargain, ... I wish I could have gone into the thing myself - and I really did think that you would have told me exactly what your intentions were - & that I should have had time to manage something - As to the Reveillons, I am glad that they got nothing and lost their better chance.' 12
Presumably both the Whistlers and Revillons were not pleased. 'It was perfectly idiotic everyone says to have put it in Christies!' wrote Whistler's wife to her sister-in-law. 13 And Whistler himself wrote a cutting letter to Julia Revillon:
'My dear Julia - Accept my felicitations! - You have done well - though Mr. T - of Goupils tells me you might have done better - But ... He has no idea - as yet - that the picture, over which you bargained, and haggled, and which you finally sent to public auction, was a gift from my Mother to your own!
... I may congratulate you upon having so completely freed yourself from ridiculous and conventional theories that hinder the less daring, and frequently prevent their turning into money ... heirlooms & family follies of that kind!' 14
At the same time, he had still not finished complaining to Thomson:
'[Y]ou let the "Music Room" go under your nose for five or six pounds over some miserable price to which you were limited - thereby showing a vacilating [sic] state of mind as to your intentions own faith in the real worth of the very picture for which you had yourselves been asking a thousand only a week or two before!! - Whereby the Goupils do me in the market (the only place where they could affect me at all) as much harm as they possibly can!' 15
After this its provenance is straightforward, except that it is not known exactly when Hecker acquired it. He owned it by 1899, and it was reproduced as in his collection in 1909, before he generously gave it to C. L. Freer. 16
Having failed to meet the deadline for the Royal Academy in 1861, Whistler toyed with the idea of sending it to another major exhibition in 1864, and mentioned to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) that he thought of sending 'le tableau avec l'amazone' to the Salon. 17 However, this did not happen.
After that the painting moved to America, where its first exhibition was at the Academy Charity Exhibition, Academy of Music, Baltimore, March 1876 as 'Portrait of a Lady and Child'. 18 It was a much-traveled painting, having first joined the Winans family in Baltimore and then travelling with Whistler's niece Neva to Russia: it was one of the few Whistler paintings to spend a significant time in Russia.
A small sketch of the painting, on the verso of an unrelated letter dating from 1881, suggests Whistler was considering borrowing it for a show at that time, but if so, this did not happen. 19 The painting does not seem to have been exhibited at all in Europe until 1892, when the artist listed 'Music Room' among pictures suitable for exhibition. 20 Whistler urged D. C. Thomson, manager of the Goupil Gallery in London, 'Write to Madame Reveillon. 43. Galernaia. St. Petersbourg - Russia - and borrow her picture of "The Music Room" - by me - I shall write also.' 21 By 1 March it was on its way from St Petersburg to London. 22 When Whistler saw it again at the Goupil Gallery, he described it to his wife Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896) as 'quite primitive - but such sunshine! ... such colour!' 23 Unsurprisingly, the review (from Merrie England) which he selected as a commentary on The Music Room in the Goupil catalogue of 1892 was a sweeping statement that Whistler 'far from enjoying primary hues, has little or no perception of the loveliness of secondary or tertiary colour', a statement that the picture obviously refuted. 24 D. C. Thomson described the hanging of the rooms to Beatrice Whistler:
'The smaller gallery has mostly the smaller pictures & the effect of this salon is a contrast to the other, more gay perhaps & more easily understanded [sic] of the people, - equally triumphant in its result. The Japanese Screen is here & the Music Room & the Little White Girl & many of the wondrous nocturnes & one's [sic] feels glad to live & be able to enjoy such beautiful things.' 25
Newspapers were ambivalent in their reception. 'For ugliness and cleverness together, the "Music Room" could hardly be surpassed', wrote the Pall Mall Gazette, but the York Herald described it as 'much admired'. 26 The Glasgow Herald on 19 March associated it, not unflatteringly, with the Pre-Raphaelites. The London correspondent of the Leeds Mercury was bothered by the standing figure, commenting that 'its black lady, cut out and fixed in a room in which Japanese perspective reigns, is beyond us'. 27
At the same time Whistler was concerned with the effect of the photograph taken for inclusion in the Album of his work published by the Goupil Gallery. He wrote to D. C. Thomson, suggesting the picture be re-photographed and printed smaller: 'It is an early work & comes out too hard.' 28 In fact it seems he would have preferred Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Bognor [YMSM 100] included in the Album, instead of either this painting or Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks [YMSM 047]. 29
In 1899, Colonel Hecker lent the painting to a show in Philadelphia, and the Director, Harrison S. Morris (1856-1948), sent Whistler some press cuttings:
'In remembrance of the morning call which you did me the honor to accept several years ago, and on behalf of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts which you were then good enough to express some kindly sentiments for, I venture to enclose a cluster of clippings from American papers about our current Annual Exhibition in which your "Music Room" belonging to Colonel Hecker of Detroit, is the central work.' 30
Freer lent the painting to the 1904 exhibition in Boston, where it appears on the far wall at right in the photograph reproduced above. However, the travels of the painting are now over. By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent.
Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room was one of the paintings seen by Antonin Proust (1832-1905) at the Whistler memorial exhibition in Paris in 1905, and praised in a letter to his mother. 31 Proust had met Whistler once, probably through Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921). In 1906 Proust started to write À la recherche du temps perdu in which the character 'Elstir' was in part inspired by Whistler.
2: Baltimore Bulletin, 27 November 1875; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 2/29.
18: Press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 1/73.
24: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 12).
26: 'The Whistler Show', Pall Mall Gazette, 19 March 1892, p. 2; 'London Letter', York Herald, 21 March 1892, p. 4.
27: 'Mr Whistler's Exhibition', Leeds Mercury, Leeds, 23 March 1892, p. 8.
31: [13 or 14 June 1905], quoted by Painter, George D. (ed.), Marcel Proust – Letters to his mother, London, 1956.
Last updated: 18th December 2020 by Margaret