The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 048
A Girl by a Shelf

A Girl by a Shelf

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1865
Collection: Whereabouts Unknown
Accession Number: none
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: unknown
Signature: unknown
Inscription: unknown
Frame: unknown

Date

A Girl by a Shelf may date from about 1865, but little is known about it and it could well date from the 1870s. 1

Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906) told Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) about the picture bought by her husband Theodore John (Iannis) Coronio (1827-1903):

'Mr. Coronio had bought a picture of Whistler's which they liked very greatly. It was probably a very early painting – a girl by a shelf on which was some china – and Whistler thought he could improve upon it, and had it down from their walls. After a long time they asked to have it back, but something had gone wrong, and they could not get it again; instead, Whistler sent them the "Southampton Water". They said they did not care for it, it was so dark they could not see its beauties. His reply was that he "could not supply them with eyes to see with," and eventually he repaid the sum which he had originally received.' 2

At some time Mme Coronio wrote to Whistler, 'I can live no longer without my beautiful picture, and I am sending to have it taken away.' 3

A replacement, Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water y179, which was in Mme Coronio's hands by 1878, was indeed one of the darkest of dark nocturnes. Ten years later the Coronios were desperate for another replacement. On 2 June 1889 Whistler wrote to Mme Coronio offering to repay the money or replace the picture with 'another Thames picture or landscape of any kind.' 4

It was about 1889 that Mme Coronio accepted a second substitution, Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach y046. It appears that the original painting was still in Whistler's hands, for an undated draft of a letter that may never have been sent reads as follows:

'If ever I am enabled to remedy repair the damage I did to your own, I will bring back in its stead that original which even in its mutilated state I yet put on the easel from time to time to admire, - or ... I will try and paint something perhaps of its character and bring that.' 5

Nothing further is known about the painting.

Images

A Girl by a Shelf, Whereabouts unknown
A Girl by a Shelf, Whereabouts unknown

The Artist's Studio, Art Institute of Chicago
The Artist's Studio, Art Institute of Chicago

Study of a Female Figure, Whereabouts unknown
Study of a Female Figure, Whereabouts unknown

Nocturne: The Solent, Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, verso
Nocturne: The Solent, Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, verso

Subject

Titles

Whistler's original title is not known. Only one title has been suggested:

Description

It was described by the owner as 'a girl by a shelf on which was some china'. 8

Neither the description nor history fully fit any surviving work. Subjects like Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks y047 or Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl y052 include both women and shelving, but their history is too well known for either of them to have been the painting in question.

The Artist's Studio, Art Institute of Chicago
The Artist's Studio, Art Institute of Chicago

The Artist's Studio y062 and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063 involve shelves full of porcelain, certainly, but also too many figures.

Study of a Female Figure, Whereabouts unknown
Study of a Female Figure, Whereabouts unknown

Both Study of a Female Figure y081 and Tanagra y092 have one very low shelf bearing a vase, and, because they have very little provenance, might have been candidates, although Tanagra is really too small to be considered in this context.

Nocturne: The Solent, Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, verso
Nocturne: The Solent, Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, verso

Finally, on the canvas illustrated above, there was once a painting of a draped figure in an interior, possibly with shelving. However, Whistler had scraped down the figure and painted Nocturne: The Solent on the recto by 1871/1872, so it really cannot be the painting mentioned by Mme Coronio in the late 1870s.

Sitter

Unknown.

Technique

Technique

Unknown.

Conservation History

About 1889 Whistler mentioned a painting once owned by Mme Coronio, that 'it was my misfortune so long ago to destroy.' 9

Frame

Unknown.

History

Provenance

Whistler knew the Coronios in the early 1860s, and was a neighbour in the 1870s. In one letter to Mme Coronio Whistler mentioned that 'John's picture' (which might have been a portrait, or the one under discussion) was 'nearly finished.' 10

It does not look as if the Coronios ever retrieved this painting. About 1889 Whistler mentioned a painting once owned by Mme Coronio, presumably this one, that 'it was my misfortune so long ago to destroy'. 11

Exhibitions

It was not, as far as is known, exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 48) says '1863/4'.

2: Way 1912 [more], pp. 97-98.

3: [1878], formerly dated [1889], GUW #11034; Menpes 1904 A [more], p. 78.

4: 2 June [1889], GUW #00691.

5: [1889], GUW #00693.

6: Quoted by Way 1912 [more], pp. 97-98.

7: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 48).

8: Quoted by Way 1912, op. cit., pp. 97-98.

9: GUW #00693. Way 1912 [more], pp. 97-98.

10: [May 1862/1867], GUW #00794.

11: GUW #00693. Way 1912 [more], pp. 97-98.