A related pen drawing Two figures [M.0311] shows the central, seated figure, while, on the left, instead of the other seated woman, there is a woman standing, seen from behind, in a similar costume, except for a narrower skirt.
The canvas, nearly square, is in vertical format. It is freely and roughly painted, with vigorous brushstrokes in thick creamy paint. Five additional fans were drawn in crayon on the wall, overlapping with the painted ornaments. Only the face of the central figure is defined in any detail. There are numerous pentimenti, which suggest the central figure was painted before the woman on the left was added, and that the artist was in the process of changing the outlines of the figure on the right.
In addition, a number of vertical lines are visible under the figures, particularly under the skirt of the central woman and through the figure at right: these suggest that either there was a completely different composition underneath, or even that there was a landscape subject painted at right angles to the current work.
An early photograph from Whistler's collection shows that the butterfly was absent: it is a later addition by an unknown hand. The photographic process may have changed the apparent colour emphasis in the painting, but the brushstrokes look more or less the same as now.
Since the early provenance of this painting is unknown, it is not clear if the current frame does actually date from the 1870s, or when it was added, or by whom.
1: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017.
Last updated: 4th June 2021 by Margaret