It may be the ‘un-finished Chinese' picture that, according to Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), was bought from Whistler by Ernest Gambart in December 1863: 'The picture of Whistler's which I mentioned was the unfinished Chinese one, since bought by Gambart & which was, as I thought, the one about which you wished to know.' 1 Early in the following year, in February 1864, George du Maurier (1834-1896) wrote, 'Jimmie has painted or nearly painted a Chinese woman which Gambard [sic] has bought for 100 £.' 2 According to Fleming, the painting was exhibited by Gambart in London in January 1866, and was sold in the mid-1860s to James Leathart of Newcastle. 3 Whistler later claimed that he had sold it to Leathart for £60 or 80. 4
The Leatharts decided to sell it, through Goupil's, early in 1893, as D. C. Thomson wrote nervously to tell Whistler:
'So far as I know none of your pictures have recently changed hands, but we are trying to sell one for the owner - I have promised him not to give his name at the present. But in confidence I will tell you it is the Lange Leizen & we ask £800 only for it. I feel as if I am putting my head in the lions mouth in telling you, but there is nothing to be upset about I assure you for the owner is simply "hard up".' 5
It was bought by J. G. Johnson for £600, as Thomson reported: 'After a good deal of negotiation we have sold the "Lange Leizen" to Mr. John G. Johnson of Philadelphia U S A. for £600. He made this offer & said he could not give more & we have at length arranged the matter with the Newcastle owner.' 6 The painting eventually went with Johnson's generous bequest to the City of Philadelphia.
1864: Whistler spoke to an Academician in advance of the selection for the Royal Academy, and reported to Fantin-Latour, 'je n'ai pas trop voulu presser les questions ... enfin j'ai pu voir que ma Japponaise l'a énormement plu et qu'elle aura une bonne place' (Translation: 'I did not want to ply him too much with questions ... anyway I could see that he liked my Japanese woman greatly and that she will have a good place'). 7 Numerous press cuttings kept by the artist reveal the varying reactions of the art critics to the painting. 8 The Times critic, for instance, was strongly critical of Whistler's exhibits for showing 'unquestionable power, accompanied by almost defiant eccentricity':
'Mr. Whistler has so much power, that it is a thousand pities to see it marred by fantastic tricks, such as have led him to invest the hideous forms we find in his Chinese vase-paintress in such exquisitely and subtly harmonized colour; or to unite an ostentatious slovenliness of execution with the most carefully calculated choice and arrangement of hues; or when he can draw so well if he chooses, to give us objects as much out of perspective as the great blue vase in the foreground of his Chinese picture.' 9
The Athenaeum review of 14 May 1864, similarly, dismissed the sitter as a 'not very fair Celestial' and the subject as 'quaint', but admired the 'beautiful harmonies of the woman's robe and of the background', praising it as 'among the finest pieces of colour in the exhibition.' 10
In Fun, William S. Gilbert (1836-1911), of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, published a harsh critique and simple-minded caricature of the painting:
'Mr. Whistler has contributed a dreadful picture (No. 593) of a Chinese potichomaniac. It is appropriately styled “Die lange Lizen, of the six marks,” and everybody will at once see why. She is a singular young woman, who possesses an original way of sitting down, which at once recommends her to the notice of persons on the lookout for novelty.' 11
By contrast, on 16 May 1864 the Daily Telegraph art critic commented enthusiastically:
'Lastly – and lastly here is emphatically intended for a place of honour – we wish to point out to the special attention of visitors the two pictures by Mr Whistler ... a Chinese girl, engaged in painting a small china vase. There are some obvious faults ... The girl ... is herself drawn with Chinese exaggeration, and her face and hands are the least finished portion of the work. But there is nothing in the whole Exhibition which even approaches these pictures in one of the rarest and finest gifts which an oil painter can possess. They have a truth of relative tone in the colouring which seems perfect, and this truth has been gained, not by elaborate handling, but at once. Each touch has been laid in without correction, but laid in, so far as correctness of tone goes, for ever. ... in rich glow and tender brilliancy the figure-scene has no rival.' 12
The Saturday Review of 28 May 1864 expressed similar sentiments, coupling Whistler's directness of application with the technique employed by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660). The Spectator, found it 'difficult to criticise' Whistler's exhibits, because 'the handicraft is marvellous and the colour very pleasing', but disagreed with comparisons between Whistler's 'sensuous' brushwork and the 'bold dashing' work sometimes seen in the paintings of Velázquez. 13
1866: According to Fleming, the painting was exhibited in London by Gambart in January 1866, but there is no other record of this. 14
1887: Although somewhat vague about how to spell the owner's name or the picture's title, Whistler thought of borrowing it for a proposed exhibition at the Royal Society of British Artists during his Presidency. He sketched it on the verso of a letter, as reproduced above, and listed it as 'Leithard [sic] - somewhere about Newcastle[,] Lange Lize girl painting.' 15 However, when Whistler was forced to resign from the society, the show was called off.
1892: Whistler was still rather vague in the run-up to his major retrospective exhibition at the Goupil Gallery. He wrote to the manager David Croal Thomson (1855-1930):
'Leathard - or Leathardt - in Newcastle - Something to do with lead works - an old buyer of Rossetti, Madox Brown and so on - He has beautiful picture of mine - Write and borrow: "The Lange Leizen," a girl in Japanese dress painting a vase - . Get and send to Richards to clean & varnish.' 16
At this point the owner's wife, Maria Leathart née Hedley (1840-1899), wrote to Whistler expressing some disinclination to lend the picture. However, he replied, with a series of arguments, brandishing both stick and carrot:
'Pray remind Mr Leathart, with my compliments that he has never lent me the picture since it has been in his possession, and therefore I trust I am not abusing his good nature when this time I earnestly beg him to let me have it for a while -
I want him very much to let me exhibit it in this gathered collection at Goupil's in London where it will be for three weeks, but also I want him to let me exhibit it here in Paris. The picture has never been seen in Paris at all, and all my artistic interest is centred in this Country.
Over and above all other reasons it is to Mr Leathart's interest that I should see my picture and have it properly cleaned and varnished under my own superintendance. [sic] ...
Messrs Goupil will insure the painting for whatever sum he likes -
... I do not remember whether Mr Leathart paid me eighty pounds or a hundred for the "Lange Leisen", but at this moment the picture is doubtless worth ten times that amount in the market, and if Mr Leathart would care to sell it, I have no doubt that he could do so for some such sum at the time of its exhibition in France.' 17
Leathart, writing from Gateshead, replied:
'Just a line to say that I have told ... the Goupil Gallery I will send the "Lange Liesen" Picture for exhibition ... upon their giving me a Policy of Insurance for £800 in my favour against all losses & an undertaking they will not copy the picture in any way nor allow it to be copied by any person whilst in their possession ... I note you say the picture would bring £800 or £1000 in France.' 18
Whistler pressed him for a decision on lending the painting for Paris and/or selling it. 19 When it finally hung at Goupil's, Whistler was delighted with it, writing to his wife, 'The Lange Lizen - is certainly young - but wonderful - wonderful - Such pots & plates & fans! - Such purples & Reds & blues!!' 20 Some critics agreed: The Daily Graphic describing it as 'full of brilliancy and force' and the Athenaeum, while still finding it 'absurd' and complaining of the 'unlovely Chinese vase-painter', commended it as 'fine ... in tone and colour.' 21 Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) commented that it contained' passages of astonishing excellence and refinement'. 22
Whistler and his work had undoubtedly gained more acceptance by this date, and the exhibition was on the whole well received, though Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks did not received much individual attention in the press.
The publication of the Album of photographs after the Goupil show of 1892 produced problems of accurately rendering the range and tone of colours. Whistler was concerned, as he told D. C. Thomson, 'I am most anxious to see the proofs - and wonder how the Lange Leizen would come out with all the Yellow.' 23 When the album appeared he was disappointed with the effect. 'I don't understand at all the presence of the "Lange Leizen", which it was agreed should not appear', he wrote, 'and I cannot understand the absence of the "Bognor", which surely was one of the most important of the whole collection of pictures!' 24 'Bognor' was Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Bognor [YMSM 100]. Thomson replied that it was Whistler who had decided on the selection and they had made no changes. 25
8: The Realm, 4 May and 4 June 1864; The Times, London, 5 May 1864; The Daily Telegraph, London, 16 May 1864; The London Review, 21 May 1964; The Saturday Review, 28 May 1864; The Spectator, 18 June 1864; press cuttings kept by Whistler, GUL Whistler PC1, pp. 11, 13, 15, 17.
9: 'Exhibition of the Royal Academy, The Times, London, 5 May 1864, p. 8.
12: Press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 1, p. 11.
13: The Spectator, London, 18 June 1864; GUL Whistler PC 1, p. 11.
20: Whistler to Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896), [14 March 1892], GUW #06613.
21: 'Mr Whistler's Works', Daily Graphic, 19 March 1892. 'Minor Exhibitions', Athenaeum, 26 March 1892; see also 'The Whistler Exhibition', The Irish Times, 24 March 1892; 'The Whistler Exhibition', Manchester Guardian, 25 March 1892; press cuttings in GUL Whistler PC 18/8, 28, 30, 32.
Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret