In 1881 Whistler wrote that a 'picture representing a girl in Japanese dress, known in Academy catalogue as the scarf, belongs to one of my clients.' 1 It is possible the client was Theodore John (Iannis) Coronio (1827-1903) and that this was A Girl by a Shelf [YMSM 048], described by Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906) as 'a girl by a shelf on which was some china'. Apparently Whistler had taken it back, hoping to improve it, 'but something had gone wrong, and they could not get it again.' 2 No further trace of it has been found.
It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1865 as 'The Scarf'. Reviews of the show were mixed but they make it clear that The Scarf [YMSM 059], like Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen [YMSM 060], was a Japanese subject. The Examiner on 6 May 1865 queried: 'Why … in the name of all the Bedlamites, such pictures as Mr Whistler's Golden Screen and Scarf, Japanese studies from a Birmingham teaboard, should be hung, and well hung, considering what sort of works must have been excluded from exhibition, we are utterly unable to divine'.
Both were apparently well hung, as Philippe Burty (1830-1890), also commented:
'ses deux Japonaises ont été justement considérées comme des mystifications, et les Académiciens, qui avaient le droit de les repousser, se sont montrés fort spirituels en les livrant au jugement des délicats par des places excellentes. Elles abondent en tons faux et délavés, choses singulières, puisque M. Whistler s'inspirait directement de ces feuilles d'albums japonais si franches et si riches.' 3 Translation: 'these two Japanese subjects are justly considered as mystifications, and the academicians, who had every right to reject them, were very spiritual in delivering them to the judgement of the refined by giving them excellent places. They abound with false and faded tones, singular things, since Mr. Whistler was directly inspired by the leaves of Japanese albums, so fresh and so rich.'
The critic of The Times magisterially grouped Whistler with 'young painters' like Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) (neither of whom had anything in the exhibition!), Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys (1829-1904), and Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1836-1904) (who also included Japanese artifacts in his Belinda (cat. no. 188). The critic commented:
'Mr Whistler is the man at once of highest genius and most daring eccentricity of this school. He is equally capable of exquisite things or of gross impertinences, and this exhibition contains instances of both; of the former, in the "Little White Girl", of the latter, in his two sketches of Japanese and Chinese fabrics and screens, accompanied by slight caricatures of maidens of the flowery land, mere plays of colour, and imitation of textures, ugly in form and unfinished in execution.' 4
The Illustrated Times, on 27 May 1865 declared that it 'abounds in delicious colour' while adding that it was 'injured by a rough carelessness of handling which almost offends as a discourtesy.' On the other hand, William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919) considered both Asian subjects 'unsurpassed in delicate aberrances and intricate haphazards of colour' although he added that, in terms of completeness, The Scarf 'might probably have been held over with advantage till next year'. 5
Last updated: 8th August 2021 by Grischka