The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 062
The Artist's Studio

The Artist's Studio

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1865
Collection: Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane
Accession Number: Reg. 6
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 62.2 x 46.3 cm (24 1/2 x 18 1/4" )
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: not original

Date

The Artist's Studio was probably painted in London in 1865, and relates closely to The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063. 1

The Artist's Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane
The Artist's Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane

It is possible that it was painted from 1865 to 1866 and was continued into the early 1870s, as was The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063.

Both The Artist's Studio and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063 relate to a large picture that Whistler intended to submit to the Salon in 1866. He described the proposed figure composition to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) on 16 August 1865:

'J'ai pour le salon une réunion de nous autres à mon tour - j'en ai fait une esquisse qui est bigrement bien - ca représente l'intérieur de mon atelier - porcelaine et tout! Il y a toi et [Albert] Moore, la fille blanche assise sur un canapé et la Japonaise qui se promène! … c'est en hauteur, et aura à peu près dix pieds de haut, sur six ou sept de large.' 2

Translation: 'In my turn I have a reunion of all of us for the Salon - I have done a sketch of it which is really good - it shows the interior of my studio - porcelain and all. You are there, and Moore, the white girl sitting on the couch, and the Japanese girl walking around! ... It's upright, and will be about ten feet high, and six or seven wide.'

Both Whistler in his Studio and The Artist's Studio differ from this description, in that neither Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893) nor Fantin-Latour are now visible. The phrase 'à mon tour' refers to Fantin-Latour's group portraits, Hommage à Delacroix (Salon 1864; Musée d'Orsay, Paris) and Hommage à la Verité: Le Toast, in both of which Whistler's portrait appeared. Le Toast was shown at the Salon in 1865, then cut into fragments by the artist. Some of the portrait heads survive, the self-portrait and the portrait of Whistler being in the Freer Gallery of Art. There is, however, no record of Whistler going on to paint the large picture mentioned in his letter to Fantin-Latour.

Images

The Artist's Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane
The Artist's Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane

The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), Art Institute of Chicago
The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), Art Institute of Chicago

D. Velásquez, Las Meninas, detail, photograph, GUL Whistler PH3/8
D. Velásquez, Las Meninas, detail, photograph, GUL Whistler PH3/8

Dining-room in Whistler's first house in Lindsey Row, photo, Pennell 1921,  f.p. 153
Dining-room in Whistler's first house in Lindsey Row, photo, Pennell 1921, f.p. 153

Subject

Titles

One main title has been suggested:

Description

The Artist's Studio, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin
The Artist's Studio, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin

An interior scene in vertical format, showing the corner of a studio. The artist stands at right, looking at the viewer, holding a brush and palette and in the act of painting, though the easel and canvas are out of the picture to right. He wears a pale grey jacket, white shirt, short black cravat, and darker grey trousers. At left is a white sofa with a young woman in a white dress seated looking up at another woman. The standing woman is dressed in a pale pink-flesh-coloured robe that trails behind her. She holds a white fan up in front of her face, and is turning away from the viewer. Behind the sofa at left are four shelves of blue and white porcelain. High on the wall at upper left, just to right of the shelves, are three narrow picture frames or hanging scrolls. Behind Whistler is a large mirror, slightly tilted forward at the top and streakily reflecting the room; to its right, just to right of the artist's head, is a small framed picture or print. The walls are grey, the floor a light brown. The picture is rather dark.

Site

The same scene is shown in The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063, which, according to Whistler's biographers, the Pennells, was painted 'in the first house in Lindsey Row' (7 Lindsey Row, Chelsea, London). 5

Dining-room in Whistler's first house in Lindsey Row, photo, Pennell 1921,  f.p. 153
Dining-room in Whistler's first house in Lindsey Row, photo, Pennell 1921, f.p. 153

The photograph reproduced above shows porcelain arranged on the wall in the Lindsey Row house. 6

Sitter

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and two models: the woman on the sofa was Joanna Hiffernan (b. ca 1843-d.1886). The standing woman was described by Whistler as the 'Japonaise'. 7 She may have been Emelie 'Millie' Eyre Jones (1850-1920), who also posed for Symphony in White, No. 3 y061 in a similar setting, sitting on the floor by the studio sofa. 8 Sittings for the two paintings, and indeed for a third, The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063, may have overlapped.

This is partially confirmed by Mary Glenn Perine (1822-1896) , who visited Whistler's mother at 2 Lindsey Row and described seeing a model, the wife of an 'Ethiopian minstrel', posing for Whistler in Chinese drapery. 9 Emelie Eyr Jones was married to Frederick Henry Robson, an actor or 'black and white minstrel', and may have been posing for The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) or The Artist's Studio at the time of Mrs Perine's memoir.

Comments

The Dublin City Gallery website comments:

'Whistler earned a significant portion of his income through portrait commissions and he maintained an elegant studio where his sitters could pose. This setting is evoked in this work but not in a literal manner ... on the left is his collection of blue and white porcelain. The Japanese costume, fan and graceful posture of the standing woman attest to Whistler’s interest in Asian art; this model converses with Hiffernan who sits in a casual pose. In this work, Whistler subtly displays his creative concerns and comments on his self-image as an artist who is inspired by muses of his own choosing. There is a sense of immediacy and spontaneity to this intimate scene in the thin, gestural application of paint. Originally, he intended to make a monumental, ten-foot-high painting that would, in size and subject, refer to Diego Velázquez’s famous studio scene, Las Meninas (1656; Madrid, Museo del Prado), the Spanish artist’s controversial exploration of artistic identity, but never realised his ambition. Whistler appears less confident in this painting than in many other self-portraits and seems to define himself less by his likeness than by the objects of beauty with which he has surrounded himself ... one cannot see what he is painting; it is almost as if it is the viewer he has taken as his subject, as he peers straight out of the canvas as if at a sitter.' 10

Technique

Composition

D.  Velásquez, Las Meninas, detail, Photo owned by Whistler, GUL Whistler PH3/8
D. Velásquez, Las Meninas, detail, Photo owned by Whistler, GUL Whistler PH3/8

MacDonald discussed the two compositions:

'Whistler’s oil group portrait is often cited as homage to Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656- 1657, Prado, Madrid). His pose, with palette and brush in hand, the flash of white from his shirt echoing the slash of white on Velázquez’s sleeve, the studio setting and mirror, the colour and interaction of the models, reinforce this assumption. However, it also referenced Chinese blue and white porcelain and Japanese dress placing the artist in an Aesthetic setting. The group represented a meeting of East and West, of the New World and the Old. It showed men in contemporary dress, the artist at work, and women relaxing, one in a European summer dress of muslin and the other dressed-up in a Japanese kimono, in a harmonious composition that emphasized the separation of the sexes.

... Such art historical references helped critics to place Whistler, the alien American, within the European artistic tradition. Whistler’s position vis-à-vis his famous predecessors - Velásquez and Rembrandt – could be read as admiring – that of the ‘follower’ – or ambitious – an attempt to compete, to show his competence or superiority. It was a dangerous practise, but it worked quite well for Whistler. His paintings were frequently compared to Velásquez, his etchings to Rembrandt.' 11

The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), Art Institute of Chicago
The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), Art Institute of Chicago

The Artist's Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane
The Artist's Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane

The Artist's Studio y062 and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063 were preliminary studies for a much larger picture that Whistler intended to paint for the Salon of 1866. He described it in his letter to Fantin-Latour of 16 August 1865:

'… j'en ai fait une esquisse qui est bigrement bien … les couleurs choisies sont charmantes. moi en gris clair - la robe blanche de Jo - la robe couleur de chair de la Japonaise (vue de dos) toi et Moore en noir - le fond de l'atelier gris - c'est en hauteur, et aura à peu près dix pieds de haut, sur six ou sept de large.' 12

Translation: '... I have done a sketch of it which is really good ... the colours I have chosen are charming - Me in light grey - Jo's white dress - the flesh-coloured dress of the Japanese girl (seen from behind) you and Moore in black - the studio background grey - It's upright, and will be about ten feet high, and six or seven wide.'

According to Sir Hugh Lane, Whistler liked The Artist's Studio y062 'as a sketch, and eventually painted Mr Freshfield's picture [The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063] from it.' 13 However, both are clearly unfinished, and there is no way to tell which came first. 14

Technique

The Artist's Studio, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin
The Artist's Studio, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin

In their biography of Whistler, the Pennells comment:

'He holds the small palette he sometimes used with raised edges to keep the liquid colour from running off, he wears the long-sleeved white waistcoat in which he worked, and he painted from the reflection in the mirror, for his brush is in his left hand.' 15

The palette detail is more obvious in The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063 than in the painting under discussion, The Artist's Studio y062. There are signs of alterations in both.

The Artist's Studio is rather more loosely handled on the women's dresses, but the level of finish on Whistler's head is similar to that in The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio). The Dublin City Gallery website comments: 'There is a sense of immediacy and spontaneity to this intimate scene in the thin, gestural application of paint.' 16

Conservation History

The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), Art Institute of Chicago
The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio), Art Institute of Chicago

The Artist's Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane
The Artist's Studio, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane

The Artist's Studio is much darker than The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063 and it is possible that it has darkened.

Frame

Unknown.

History

Provenance

According to the Pennells, The Artist's Studio y062 was first owned by C. A. Howell, but was 'left ... as security with a lawyer', and Howell's executrix, Miss Alice Chambers, put it up for auction by Robinson & Fisher, about 1901, with a startling lack of success:

'… in the middle of the sale, Whistler came in, declared the picture [was] not by him, and the result was that it did not sell. After Whistler's death the lawyer made a statutory declaration that Whistler said the picture was his work, it was sent again to Robinson & Fisher's and was sold for a comparatively small sum.' 17

If this story is true, it was not a unique occasion. An unidentified three-quarter-length 'Portrait of a Lady' had been withdrawn from a sale by Robinson and Fisher on 30 July 1896 (cat. no. 179), after Whistler declared it was not by him. 18 However, there is no reference in Whistler's letters or documents to a later auction.

According to Lady Gregory, when Sir Hugh Lane was seeking support for the foundation of a Gallery of Modern Art for Dublin, the artist John Lavery (1856-1941) approached Whistler, who agreed to give a picture, but it seems he did not fulfil the offer. 19 According to Lane himself, Whistler had refused to sell The Artist's Studio y062 because 'he liked it as a sketch, and eventually painted Mr Freshfield's picture [The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063] from it.' 20 It is likely that it was actually bought by Hugh Lane, after Whistler's death, from the sale in the following year, 1904, and was exhibited with Pictures presented to the City of Dublin to form the Nucleus of a Gallery of Modern Art, at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, in that year.

Exhibitions

It was not exhibited, as far as is known, 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. 62).

2: Whistler to Fantin-Latour, 16 August [1865], GUW #11477.

3: Pictures presented to the City of Dublin to form the Nucleus of a Gallery of Modern Art, also pictures lent by the executors of the late James Staats Forbes and others, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, 1904 (cat. no. 77).

4: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 62).

5: Pennell 1911 A [more], p. 129.

6: Pennell 1921C [more], repr. f.p. 153.

7: Whistler to Fantin-Latour, 16 August [1865], GUW #11477.

8: The Pennells considered that the models were the same woman who had posed for Symphony in White, No. III, namely Hiffernan and Jones: Pennell 1911 A [more], p. 129.

9: [20 July 1868], Diary, Maryland Historical Society Library, Manuscripts Division, Baltimore, MD.

10: Dublin City Gallery, website at http://emuseum.pointblank.ie/online_catalogue.

11: MacDonald 2015 [more].

12: Whistler to Fantin-Latour, 16 August [1865], GUW #11477.

13: Gallatin 1913 B [more], pp. 154-55.

14: See MacDonald, Margaret F., Joanna Dunn, and Joyce H. Townsend, 'Painting Joanna Hiffernan', in Margaret F. MacDonald (ed.), The Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan and James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and Washington, 2020, pp. 33-45.

15: Pennell 1911 A [more], p. 129.

16: Dublin City Gallery, website at http://emuseum.pointblank.ie/online_catalogue.

17: Pennell 1921C [more], pp. 69-70.

18: Whistler to W. Webb, 28 July 1896, GUW #06236 see also #06237.

19: Gregory, Lady Isabella Augusta, Hugh Lane’s Life and Achievement, London, 1921, p. 243.

20: Gallatin 1913 B [more], at pp. 154-55.