It is painted on a canvas that was probably acquired in France, for it is a 'toile de cinquante' (89 x 116 cm). The canvas bears the stamp: 'L'Rue Chil[debert] Paris / Hard[y] Alan'. P. Hardy-Alan (fl. 1860-1903) was at 1 rue Childebert, near St Germain-des-Prés, Paris, from 1859-1868. 1
On returning from France early in 1862, Whistler described the painting to George du Maurier (1834-1896), who in turn reported: '(The sand was not laid on with a palette knife.) And there is not one part of the picture with which he [Whistler] is not thoroughly satisfied he says, and its open air freshness nothing can stand against.' 2
In November/ December 1861, Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) mentioned that Whistler had been back in Paris a couple of weeks, but would not show anyone his painting until it was cleaned and framed ('nettoyé et encadré'). 3
When ordering a frame for another seascape in 1862, Whistler asked George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) for one similar to that made for The Coast of Brittany, 'richly carved, and bold - deep and rather broad; massive but not cumbersome, and well finished.' 4 He reminded Lucas, 'The Brittany sea piece last year was a "toile de cinquante" and the frame very large and deep as you remember - it cost 150 [francs].' 5
When The Coast of Brittany was bought by Whistler's half-brother, George William Whistler (1822-1869), he asked Whistler about a frame:
'I want a nice & appropriate frame … I like as little of a frame around a picture as possible - Have the framing & packing well done, & I will pay you for it ... I dont know if the sea piece would look well with less frame than it now has - use your own judgement.' 6
Then George apparently queried the price of what he had bought and the artist offered take the picture back, promising, 'I will see that you are not troubled with the bill from the frame maker, or if he have already sent it, I will return you the sum.' 7 However, there are no further letters surviving and George kept the framed picture.
The frame, made in 1862 or 1863, appears in photographs of the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in Boston in 1904. It was then in a French-made Louis XVIth style frame, attributed to the Parisian frame firm Dutocq & Fernandez, which has since been replaced. 8
The painting is now in a Grau-style frame, probably American, dating from after 1904.
3: Copy of letter from Fantin-Latour to Edwin Edwards, 1861, Bibliothèque Municipale, Grenoble.
Last updated: 4th June 2021 by Margaret