The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 058
Study of Draped Figures

Study of Draped Figures

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1864/1865
Collection: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
Accession Number: GLAHA 46335
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 39.7 x 57.5 cm (15 5/8 x 22 5/8")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau-style

Date

Study of Draped Figures probably dates from between 1864 and 1865.

Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian
Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian

It is dated from its relationship to other figure compositions: Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056, on which Whistler was working between 1864 and 1870, and also to The Artist's Studio y062 and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063, which date from 1865.

Study of Draped Figures is also related in subject matter and technique to the 'Six Projects', particularly Variations in Blue and Green y084, which date from the late 1860s.

Images

Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian
Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian

Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian
Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian

Study of Draped Figures, frame detail
Study of Draped Figures, frame detail

A group of figures, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute
A group of figures, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute

Whistler in his Studio, Art Institute of Chicago
Whistler in his Studio, Art Institute of Chicago

Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, Freer Gallery of Art
Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, Freer Gallery of Art

Subject

Titles

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

Description

Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian
Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian

A figure composition in horizontal format, showing three women on a balcony overlooking a river: the woman at left, seated on a couch, bends to her left, towards the woman standing to right. At far right, a woman stands leaning on the railing looking left over the river. The seated woman has a grey robe over a white dress, and the central figure is similarly dressed. The woman at right has a peach-coloured robe over a white dress. Across the river are the grey shapes of buildings. The picture is unfinished at right.

Site

The river Thames as seen from Whistler's house in Lindsey Row, Chelsea, London.

Sitter

The models have not been identified.

Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian
Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian

Whistler in his studio, Art Institute of Chicago
Whistler in his studio, Art Institute of Chicago

The pale peach-pink kimono worn by the central model in two studio compositions (The Artist's Studio y062 and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063, reproduced above) is seen again on the right in Study of Draped Figures. Whistler referred to her as 'la Japonaise'. 3 She may also be the woman lying down in Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056; however, in no instance are her features clear.

Comments

The Hunterian website draws attention to the links between Whistler's work at this period and that of Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893):

'The theme of idealised women, draped in loose robes, and set on a balcony - a subject without a specific narrative or locale - preoccupied Whistler in the mid 1860s. This study is reminiscent of oil sketches by his friend, the artist Albert Moore ... Both drew inspiration from Japan and from the delicate beauty of Greek terracotta figures of the Hellenistic period from Tanagra, though Moore's finished oil paintings were more finely detailed than Whistler's.' 4

Technique

Composition

Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian, GLAHA 46335
Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian, GLAHA 46335

A group of figures, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, m341
A group of figures, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, m341

A drawing, r.: A group of figures; v.: Figure m0341 may have been a preliminary study for this painting, or a related composition.

The oil Study of Draped Figures is related to the so-called 'Six Projects', particularly Variations in Blue and Green y084, and to another figure composition, Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056 and Sketch for 'The Balcony' y057.

There are a number of obvious points of comparison between three of these (Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056, Sketch for 'The Balcony' y057 and the painting under discussion, Study of Draped Figures), and two paintings of Whistler's studio (The Artist's Studio y062 and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063).

Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony , Freer Gallery of Art
Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony , Freer Gallery of Art

The composition of Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056, with the balcony itself, the dark green blinds, and the view across the river, corresponds in part to the roughly sketched out design of Study of Draped Figures.

In Study of Draped Figures, the balcony, the sofa, and the women at the sides were originally painted nearly 12 mm higher (the woman on the right was leaning with her right arm on the railing). The line of the railings and floor can be seen going right through the two women at left. There appears to have been a standing figure or another seated figure at far left, on the bench. The draperies over the sofa originally extended further right, and a round object, possibly a vase, stood in the centre of the floor.

Whistler in his studio, Art Institute of Chicago
Whistler in his studio, Art Institute of Chicago

The pale pink or peach-coloured kimono of the model at right in the Study of Draped Figures appears on the central model in The Artist's Studio y062 and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063: Whistler referred to the latter model as 'la Japonaise'. 5 She may also be the woman lying down in Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony y056. However her features are so generalised that it is not possible to be sure of this.

Similarly, the blue robe, embroidered with red and white flowers, is seen on the musician in The Balcony and the seated woman in Study of Draped Figures.

Finally, the sofa in the Study of Draped Figures appears to have had a high rounded back on the left, just like the white couch in The Artist's Studio y062 and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063.

Technique

Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian, GLAHA 46335
Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian, GLAHA 46335

Study of Draped Figures is painted on a tabby linen canvas with white commercial priming. There is a pinkish-mushroom imprimatura. 6

The two figures at left were painted with a brush 6.4 mm (¼" wide), using a megilp-type medium that has become more transparent. The woman on the right appears to have been added later than the others; she was painted with a larger brush, and the grey floor and water were painted up to her. The thin paint is built up with delicate brush-strokes, capturing the changing light on flesh and shimmering robes. It is not clear what happened at the far left and right, which basically look scraped down and unfinished.

This canvas was neatly trimmed with scissors and is some 5 mm smaller on all sides than the lining canvas. It was lined onto a pale straw-coloured, fine plain-weave canvas lapping some 15 mm onto the reverse of the stretcher and likely glued down. It is lined onto cream-coloured tape on the tacking margins. At the back, this tape is overlain by grey/brown tape and later by brown tape. Both tapes overlie a partial label for Gladwell Brothers in Gracechurch Street, London, who were in business 1880-1892 at that address. The cream tape has numerous tacks fixing it to the stretcher margins, placed with equal spacing roughly 3 cm apart. Hence there was a lining and taping treatment, likely in 1880-1892, carried out in order for Whistler to rework it. 7

At a point on each of the lower and left edges, the paint runs onto a gap in the tape, and onto the tape, respectively. Thus, it would appear that Whistler reworked it after it was lined and restretched.

Conservation History

The paint is rubbed badly at the edges, and has been scraped off down the right side. It seems possible, from its dilapidation, that it was one of the canvases partially destroyed by Whistler at the time of his bankruptcy in 1879.

The canvas was lined with a tabby linen, probably in Whistler's time, as discussed above. Professor Townsend adds:

'There are pinholes within the sight area, and within 10 mm of the cut edges, along the top and bottom edges. At the sides, there are even more pinholes, irregularly spaced and up to 20 mm into the sight area. All the pins went through some existing priming and almost certainly existing paint too. None is covered over with paint from the reworking.' 8

There are a few old paint losses and scratches, and craquelure at left, but it is basically in good condition. 9

Frame

Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian
Study of Draped Figures, The Hunterian

Study of Draped Figures, frame detail
Study of Draped Figures, frame detail

It is in a Grau-style frame. There is a partial 'City of London' label on the back, as well as a label bearing the name and address of Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) .

History

Provenance

Unfinished works, and paintings destroyed by the artist, were not sold at the time of his bankruptcy. Some were retained for safe-keeping by Whistler's family, friends, and even creditors, and some of these paintings were returned to him later.

Exhibitions

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime. Under the terms of Miss Birnie Philip's Gift to the University of Glasgow, it cannot be lent to other venues.

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: James McNeill Whistler, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 1936 (cat. no. 38).

2: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 58).

3: Whistler to H. Fantin-Latour, 16 August [1865], GUW #01147.

4: The Hunterian website at http://collections.gla.ac.uk.

5: Whistler to H. Fantin-Latour, 16 August [1865], GUW #01147.

6: Condition report by Clare Meredith, 8 May 2001, Hunterian files. Profesor Joyce H. Townsend, Tate Britain, report on examination of the canvas, July 2017.

7: Townsend, 2017, op. cit.

8: Townsend, 2017, op. cit.

9: Meredith, 8 May 2001, op. cit.

10: n.d., Freer Diaries, Bk 13, Freer Gallery of Art.

11: [1903], GUL Whistler LB6/9.