The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 017
Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou'

Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou'

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1857/1858
Collection: Colby College Museum of Art
Accession Number: 2005.041
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 91.5 x 61.0 cm (36 x 24")
Signature: 'Whistler'
Inscription: 'Odier'

Date

Whistler, Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art
Whistler, Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art

Whistler's Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou' probably dates from 1857. 1

On 17 June 1856, Whistler, sponsored by Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre (1806-1874), obtained permission to enter the Musées Impériaux, Paris, 'pour les jours d'étude' (on study days). 2 There is, however, no record in the Archives du Louvre of Whistler having requested permission to copy any painting by Edouard-Alexandre Odier (1800-1887).

On 6 August 1900 Whistler told the Pennells that when he was first studying in Paris, he received a commission from 'Captain Williams' of Stonington, Connecticut,

'to copy as many pictures as I chose for twenty-five dollars a piece, and I copied a picture, I cannot remember whom it was by, of a snow scene, with a horse and a soldier standing by it and another in the snow at his feet.' 3

Two of Whistler's copies for Captain Williams are dated 1857 (Copy after Schnetz's 'Les Adieux du consul Boëtus à sa famille' y013, and Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' y015). The other copies were almost certainly painted in that year, or very early in 1858, and were back in Stonington by March 1858. 4

Images

Whistler, Copy after  Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art
Whistler, Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art

 E. A. Odier, Episode de la retraite de Moscou, Musée de Picardie (thumbnail image)
E. A. Odier, Episode de la retraite de Moscou, Musée de Picardie (thumbnail image)

Attr. to E. A. Odier, Episode de la retraite de Moscou, Aguttes, auction, 21 December 2011
Attr. to E. A. Odier, Episode de la retraite de Moscou, Aguttes, auction, 21 December 2011

Subject

Titles

Alternative titles include:

The preferred title is 'Copy after Odier's "Episode de la retraite de Moscou" '.

Description

Whistler, Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art
Whistler, Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art

A composition in vertical format, showing a French dragoon standing in the snow beside his horse, against a dark grey background. The horse, at left, is injured, with blood dripping from its front right leg. The reins hang from its drooping head across the snow in the foreground. The man has a dark red cap, and a scarf (or hood) wound round his head, a medal (a white cross with gold roundel) hanging on his grey waistcoat, an off-white belt with gilt buckle, cream/beige breeches, and a grey cloak lined with red. He stands looking down, with his right arm leaning on his saddle. He has a black riding boot on his left leg, but the right leg, possibly injured below the knee, appears to be swathed in ragged cloth. His gilt centurion-style helmet hangs from the saddle. Behind the horse, at left, is the indistinct grey shape of a man's body lying in the snow. The sky is very dark grey, with a faint orange line at the horizon at right.

Technique

Composition

Whistler, Copy after  Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art
Whistler, Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art

 E. A. Odier, Episode de la retraite de Moscou, Musée de Picardie (thumbnail image)
E. A. Odier, Episode de la retraite de Moscou, Musée de Picardie (thumbnail image)

Whistler, in 1900, remembered it as 'a snow scene, with a horse and a soldier standing by it and another in the snow at his feet.' 7 .

The subject is taken from the Episode de la retraite de Moscou of 1832 (261 x 198 cm; Musée de Picardie, Amiens) by Edouard-Alexandre Odier (1800-1887), which was shown at the Salon of 1833 as 'Dragon de la garde impériale – étude', was awarded a second-class medal, and went on exhibition in the Musée du Luxembourg in the same year.

In 1833 Charles Paul Landon in his Annales du musée et de l'école moderne des beaux-arts: Salon, described Odier as 'amateur', his works either being the product of his imagination, or offering technical challenges. He described Dragon de la Garde impériale blessé as the latter, and as a study comparable to those of Théodore Géricault (1791-1824),

'M. Odier parâit avoir cherché à surmounter une difficulté, celle de détacher une figure vêtue d'un manteau blanc de dessus un fond de neige. Sa tentative n'a produit qu'un effet général triste et sans ressort. Mais nous devons des éloges à la figure du dragon, dont l'expression d'affaissement, de souffrance et de résignation, est rendue avec beaucoup de talent, et à l'exécution de plusieurs parties qui décèlent une habileté peu commune; seulement, le cheval sur lequel s'appuie le dragon nous semble avoir les jambes de devant trop écartées.' 8

This translates roughly as follows: 'M. Odier seems to have sought to overcome a difficulty, that of distinguishing a figure in a white coat from a background of snow. His attempt only produced a generally sad effect. But we owe praise to the figure of the dragoon, whose expression of weariness, suffering and resignation, is rendered with great talent, and to the execution of several parts that reveal an unusual skill; on the other hand, the horse on which the dragoon leans seems to have the front legs too far apart.'

Attr. to E. A. Odier, Episode de la retraite de Moscou, Aguttes, auction, 21 December 2011
Attr. to E. A. Odier, Episode de la retraite de Moscou, Aguttes, auction, 21 December 2011

A version attributed to (and said to be signed by) Odier, Cavalier sur la neige, canvas, 98 x 77 cm, was sold at auction by Aguttes, Neuilly-sur-Seine, 21 December 2011 (lot 31).

The subject seems to have been popular with American collectors. William Thompson Walters (1820-1894) claimed to have spent the first five dollars he earned in about 1847 to buy a copy of Odier's painting. 9

Technique

Whistler, Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art
Whistler, Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou', Colby College Museum of Art

Whistler thought his copies for Captain Williams were 'wonderful things.' 10 This copy was painted carefully, with long, free brush strokes on areas like the clothes, and a small brush used to apply highlights on, for instance, the gilt buttons and medal. The mane of the horse was painted with drier, less liquid brush strokes.

Conservation History

Ultra-violet light revealed many small spots of repair, possibly replacing paint loss. There may have been some damage at the lower edge, where the snow is roughly painted and impasted. It may have been touched up by another hand. Likewise the inscription and signature may have been touched up or even replaced. It is surprising that the date is not included, and again, this implies the canvas could have been damaged at the lower right corner.

Frame

Nothing is known of the original frame, which was probably made in Connecticut in 1858.

History

Provenance

Whistler's account of his commission from C. P. Williams is as follows:

'Then in Paris, when I was first studying, Captain Williams from Stonington, Stonington Bill they called him, got me to paint his portrait, and then gave me a commission to copy as many pictures as I chose for twenty-five dollars a piece, and I copied a picture, I cannot remember whom it was by, of a snow scene, with a horse and a soldier standing by it and another in the snow at his feet; a second of St. Luke, with his halo and draperies; a third of a woman holding up a child toward a barred window and a man seen looking through the bars; and a fourth of an inundation. I have no doubt I made something very interesting out of them. There were very wonderful things even then, the beginning of harmonies and purple schemes. I suppose it must have been intuitive. … Probably all these are still at Stonington and are shown as wonderful things by Whistler!' 12

Exhibitions

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

On Odier:

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

On Odier:

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 17).

2: Card No. 3338, Comte Alfred Émilien O'Hara van Nieuwerkerke (1811-1892) to Whistler, GUW #04523.

3: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

4: A. M. Whistler to J. Whistler, 29 January 1857 and 25 March 1858, GUW #06480, and #06495.

5: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 17).

7: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

8: Landon 1833 [more], p. 136, plate 68, line image,'Fremy Del, Normand fils sc.'.

9: Johnston 1999 [more], p. 12.

10: Pennell 1921, op. cit., p. 171.

11: Warren Adelson, New York, to Pamela Robertson, The Hunterian, Glasgow, 17 September and 4 October 2010, p. 11, Hunterian files.

12: Quoted in Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.