MacDonald discusses the Asian accessories and dress as follows:
'Whistler’s work was given new impetus and direction as Japanese goods flooded into the West following the American Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan in 1855. By 1863, Whistler was avidly combing the junk-shops of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Paris for oriental artefacts, and by December, he had started his first oriental subject painting, Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks ...
A conventional Victorian genre subject, it shows his Irish model (Joanna Hiffernan) surrounded by miscellaneous far-eastern finds, including a “lange lijzen” jar of the K’ang Hs’i Dynasty. There was no attempt at an Oriental pose or composition, despite the Chinese chair, robes and porcelain, a circular Japanese fan and lacquer tray. This combination of eastern and western artefacts with Western models dressed up in exotic clothes recurs frequently in Whistler’s work.
The embroidered patterns on her robe are traditional Chinese symbols. The elaborate arabesques of butterflies in rich colours alternate with bright leaves and pale flowers (peonies, chrysanthemums and buds) embroidered on cream silk. The black kimono underneath is embroidered with delicate sprays of flowers among narrow leaves.
… The kimono from the Lange Leizen reappears in Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen teamed with a dark pink and gold scarf. ' 1
No studies are known for the painting but Whistler made a rough drawing of it – Sketch of 'Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks' [M.1105] – in a list of paintings in 1886.
Whistler said, in February 1864, that he found the subject difficult to paint, and he kept rubbing parts out: 'Mais c'est dificile! et je gratte tant! - Il y a des fois où je crois avoir apris des choses - et puis je suis fort découragé.' 2 Whistler's mother lengthy description of the painting in February 1864 confirms Whistler's comment: 'Jemie is not a rapid painter, for his conceptions are so nice, he takes out & puts it over & off until his genius is satisfied.' 3
The 1980 catalogue summarised the subject and technique as follows:
'A European model is posed in a studio, painted with a robust, European technique, and with, for Whistler, a high degree of finish. The difficulties Whistler found in achieving this finish are revealed in his own letters and those of his mother but are not reflected in the work. It is a complex and satisfying composition, painted carefully but with rich brushwork and a glowing harmony of colour.' 4
The brushwork is discussed further in Whistler, Women and Fashion:
'The sultry pink of the robe's broad sleeve-band with its black and white border is painted with broad brushes; patches of short strokes, scumbled over the grain of the canvas, convey the texture of material catching the light, while longer strokes convey the fabric folds. Single strokes with narrower round bristle and fine pointed sable brushes define the individual shape of leaves and buds. The vigorous technique, thick paint and vibrant colour were entirely in the Western tradition. The robes inspired a range of brushstrokes and attention to colour and detail new in Whistler’s work.' 5
When Whistler asked the owners to lend the painting to his Goupil exhibition in 1892, he mentioned cleaning it as a priority:
'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]
All paintings require this attention for the sake of their own preservation, and I am happy to say that all the owners of my various works are glad that I should in this way care for them.' 6
The painting was cleaned and revarnished before its exhibition, but James Leathart (1820-1895) refused to pay for this, and wrote to Boussod, Valadon & Co.:
'If you washed and cleaned my picture by Whistler it was not done on my behalf. I lent the picture for your Exhibition at Mr Whistler's desire supported by you, and I am surprised that after having favoured you & him by the loan of the picture, you should now claim of me some expense incurred by its exhibition!!' 7
The company replied:
'It was at the instigation and under the careful superintendence of Mr Whistler that the careful and, as he considered, absolutely necessary process of cleaning was carried out. Your telegram consenting to the cleaning seemed to us to imply your willingness to bear the expense. As this work has certainly improved both the condition and appearance of the "Lange Leizen", we would ask you to reconsider whether it could not be charged to your account.' 8
Leathart refused to reconsider. 9 Whistler held this against him for some time!
'Mr. Leathart refused absolutely to pay for the cleaning & varnishing of his picture, "The Lange Leize of the Six Marks," which came from his home in a filthy condition of grime & neglect. - He sold it for six or eight hundred - He had paid me £80 - or 60.' 10
Surprisingly, the Pennells in 1921 described the painting as 'a wreck', commenting, 'The restorer too is abroad and works have been utterly ruined, notably The Lange Leizen in the Johnson Collection, all the skin cleaned, scraped, scrubbed off it.' 11 This is an exaggeration, because it has by no means been skinned and scraped.
1864: Whistler frame, incised decoration: raised flat outer edge with applied cross-hatch/lacquer box pattern composition; inner frieze of incised whorls and six incised roundels of Chinese characters; incised astragal site edge. 12
It was possibly made by Joseph Green, the preferred frame maker for Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and the Pre-Raphaelites, in 1864.
The six roundels are placed at each corner and at the left/right midpoints. Each are incised with a different Chinese character, resembling the six marks often located on the underside of a piece of blue-and-white porcelain. These marks indicate the reign or date on which an individual piece of porcelain was made, plus additional details regarding the producer or craftsman. Whistler may have seen these marks on the underside of a dish he collected and simply applied them to the surface of his frame.
The Chinese symbols on the frame have been translated as: (right side, top to bottom) Great, Ch'ing, K'ang; (left side) Hs'I, Year, Made: this therefore reads 'Made during the reign of Emperor K’ang and H’si of the great Ch’ing [Manchu] Dynasty.' 13
The Philadelphia handbook comments:
'Although Whistler's depiction of a Chinese pottery shop is much more akin to contemporary genre scenes than to his later, more adventurous compositions influenced by Japanese prints, he carved the potter's marks into the gilded frame to enhance the exoticism of the subject.' 14
However Whistler definitely did not do the carving himself.
The frame is believed to have remained on the painting since 1864 and surprisingly remained untouched during the Goupil Gallery preparations of 1892.
The museum gives the size framed as 118.3 x 87.3 x 7 cm (46 9/16 x 34 3/8 x 2 ¾").
4: YMSM 1980, op. cit., (cat. no. 47).
5: MacDonald 2003 [more], pp. 58-61. See also MacDonald, Margaret F., Joanna Dunn, and Joyce H. Townsend, 'Painting Joanna Hiffernan', in Margaret F. MacDonald (ed.), The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and Washington, 2020, pp. 33-45.
13: Translated by F. Fischer and C. Wilson of the Philadelphia Museum, and John Scott, Department of Chinese Studies, Edinburgh University.
14: Sewell, Darrel, Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections, Philadelphia, 1995, p. 283.
Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret