There is extensive documentation on the commission and history of this painting, as well as Whistler's book on the subject, and an edited summary is given below:
1892: In 1892 the London dealer D. C. Thomson told Whistler that Sir William Eden wanted him to paint a portrait of his wife, and Whistler suggested Eden should come to Paris where he would paint her head for 500 guineas, in his new studio. He wrote, 'Sir - Eden About the portrait of his wife - the head for 500. Guineas. Don't you think that you might ask whether they wouldn't come over here and have it painted in my new studio?' 1
1893: Accordingly Thomson wrote again to Eden, who replied,
'I fully recognise and appreciate Mr. Whistler's merits, but I hoped his charge for a head only would have been much less than 550. I cannot therefore at that price think of it ... If you would kindly send me Mr. Whistler's address in Paris I would try and call on him on my way through.' 2
1894: According to Whistler, Eden considered that £525 was 'too much for a head' and persuaded George Moore (1852-1933), to ask Whistler to 'make very liberal concessions.' 3 Whistler agreed to meet Eden, and wrote accepting the commission, but the exact details of their agreement were not made clear. In a draft of his letter, Whistler wrote,
'All right about the little sketch - and I daresay there will be no difficulty about the sum - The only point of real moment is that I should be enabled to produce the charming picture that with Lady Eden's kind assistance ought ... to be expected[.] Once undertaken, Call it sketch or whatever you will, ... however slight, for me, one work is as important as another ... As to the "figure" - whatever you thought of will do - Moore I fancy said something about a hundred or a hundred & fifty gns.' 4
As published by Whistler, however, the letter he actually sent read slightly differently:
'It is quite understood as to the little painting, and I think there can be no difficulty about the sum. The only really interesting point is that I should be able to produce the charming picture, which, with the aid of Lady Eden, ought to be expected. Once undertaken, however slight, for me, one work is as important as another ... As for the amount, Moore, I fancy, spoke of one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds.' 5
Lady Eden first sat to Whistler in his studio in the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs on 9 January 1894. 6 According to Whistler (1899), the portrait was 'all but finished' by 14 February 1894 when Eden sent a cheque for 100 guineas. Whistler accepted the cheque, writing in acknowledgement:
'I have your Valentine -
You really are magnificent! - and have scored all round -
I can only hope that the little picture will prove, even slightly worthy of all of us - and I rely upon Lady Eden's amiable promise to let me add the few last touches we know of - She has been so courageous and kind all along in doing her part.' 7
Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) later pointed out that the amount mentioned for the portrait in 1894 'was less than he ordinarily asked for a water-color sketch.' 8 At the time, Eden clearly understood Whistler's irony and visited the artist in his studio, but both parties could not agree on a price. The matter remained unresolved when Eden went on a trip to India. In the meantime, the picture was exhibited at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, after which, on 20 July 1894 Lady Eden asked Whistler to return it. 9 A couple of days later, on 22 July 1894, Emil Heilbut (1861-1921) of Hamburg suggested Whistler paint a copy of 'ce portrait tout à fait charmant de la femme assise' that he had seen in Whistler's studio, for 300 guineas. 10
Three months later, on 24 October 1894, Eden's lawyers requested delivery of the picture. 11 Whistler's lawyers then returned the original sum paid, £105. Whistler retained the picture and claimed to be 'relieved from obligation', but Eden's lawyers would not accept the cheque. 12
Whistler then painted out the face and figure of Lady Eden and substituted a portrait of Margaret Curzon Hale, Mrs H. D. Hale (1872-1948) , and, at the Civil Tribunal of the Seine on 27 February 1895, Mrs Hale sat beside Whistler and wore the brown costume in which she had posed. 13 On 20 March 1895 Whistler was ordered by the court to hand over the portrait, to refund the £105, and to pay damages of 1000 francs. He appealed against the verdict. 14
Since Mrs Hale had posed for the picture after Lady Eden, so that the portrait was now one of Mrs Hale, Whistler suggested that her husband might intervene to prevent the picture going to Eden. Whistler's lawyer, replied:
'I understood from you that it is not and is not going to become the property of Mrs. Hale or of Mr. Hale. Is it then going to remain your property? I point out to you that in my opinion Mrs. Hale has an interest in preventing this portrait going into the hands of some stranger. At the same time she is in a much stronger position if she contracted to purchase it than if even the understanding was that it was to be painted and remain in your studio.' 15
Whistler's appeal was heard in the appeal court, the Cour de Paris, on 17 November 1897. 16 On 2 December 1897 Whistler was granted the picture so long as he did not 'make use of it, public or private', or let it look like Lady Eden, and he was ordered to return the money with 5 per cent interest, plus £40 damages. 17
Eden's final appeal to the Cour de Cassation was rejected in March 1900. 18 The case remains important for the modern understanding of author's rights and has repeatedly been referenced in legal literature. 19
It was exhibited only once, in Paris at the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1894, where it was partly identified as a 'Portrait de Lady E.' Apparently Sir William Eden expected it to be sent to the exhibition of 'Fair Women' at the Grafton Gallery, but it was not exhibited there. 20
The Morning Post, commenting on the Exhibition of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Knightsbridge, London, 1898, related Whistler's self-portrait Gold and Brown [YMSM 462] to the recent case involving Brown and Gold: Portrait of Lady Eden which was referenced but not actually exhibited in the show:
'Gold and Brown is the name given to a sketch-portrait of the painter, his hand raised as gesticulating responsively to an utterance of his that may be assumed to have gleeful reference to the result of his litigation in Paris, since the catalogue contains extracts from the summing up of the Advocate-General and the judgment of the President of the Court of Appeal.' 21
By the explicit terms of Miss Birnie Philip's gift, it can neither be lent or exhibited, although it has occasionally been shown in the Hunterian itself.
3: Ibid., p. 5.
14: The verdict by the Tribunal de la Seine is unpublished but quoted extensively in the decision of the appeal court, Cour de Paris (Whistler v. Eden), 2 December 1897, Recueil Sirey 1900, 2e partie, pp. 201-04; see also Whistler 1899, op. cit., p. 21.
21: 'The International Gallery', Morning Post, London, 19 May 1898, p. 8.
Last updated: 21st November 2020 by Margaret