The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 066
Blue and Silver: Trouville

Blue and Silver: Trouville

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1865
Collection: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Accession Number: F1902.137a-b
Medium: oil
Support: millboard
Size: 59.1 x 72.4 cm (23 1/4 x 28 1/2")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau, F. H. Grau signature, 1892 [17.7 cm]

Date

Blue and Silver: Trouville dates from Whistler's stay in Trouville with his partner Joanna Hiffernan (b. ca 1843-d.1886) and the painter Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), probably in October and November 1865.

Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art
Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art

On 26 October 1865 Whistler wrote from the Hotel du Bras d'Or, Trouville, Calvados, 'I am finishing some important pictures which will keep me here until about the 10th of Nov … My pictures I think you will like very much - The Sea is splendid at this moment but I am anxious to get back.' 1

Whistler painted several seascapes on the coast: Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville y064, Sea and Rain y065, Blue and Silver: Trouville , Crepuscule in Opal: Trouville y067, Green and Grey. Channel y069, and Green and Grey. The Oyster Smacks – Evening y070.

Images

Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art
Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art

Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art
Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art

Blue and Silver: Trouville, frame, detail
Blue and Silver: Trouville, frame, detail

Blue and Silver: Trouville, reproduction, n.d.
Blue and Silver: Trouville, reproduction, n.d.

Blue and Silver: Trouville, photograph, n.d.
Blue and Silver: Trouville, photograph, n.d.

Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG, Tate Archive, London
Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG, Tate Archive, London

Paintings at the ISSPG, Glasgow University Library
Paintings at the ISSPG, Glasgow University Library

Subject

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

Whistler queried the title of the painting exhibited at the Society of French Artists (cat. no. 110) as 'The Yacht Race ̶ A Symphony in B sharp'. He wrote to the manager Charles William Deschamps (1848-1908),

'At first I took what the Observer of last Sunday said about Mr. Whistlers pun on "B Sharp", for some unwarrantable hoax of their own - And paid no further attention; but I find it repeated in other journals and am told that it is so in your catalogue! For this I am very sorry - I am convinced that you would not willingly have done any thing of the kind to annoy me ... but you see the names I give to my pictures really mean to indicate seriously the kind of work I am about -

And this or any other witticism from without thrown at me would do well enough, but I never joke with my own work myself and I cannot possibly let it be supposed that I should do so - The upshot of all this is that I beg you will scratch "Symphony in B Sharp" out of your catalogue - Leave 'Yacht Race' if you like - though I regret immensely having been knocked over by my illness so immediately after seeing you - and so prevented from seeing the picture and doing anything about either its name or its frame - Also that I shall probably have to write a line to the Athenaeum to explain this and that I hope you will not be vexed at my so doing.' 14

C. W. Deschamps replied that the title 'The Yacht race / A Symphony in B Sharp' was written on a label on the back and signed 'J. Whistler'. 15

Whistler wrote to the Athenaeum on 22 November 1873 protesting that this was not the original title, and adding: 'The titles I have hitherto given to my pictures have been intended by me as a key to my work simply; but I cannot expect others, who do not understand them, to refuse themselves any witticism, like the above brilliant parody, on the subject.' 16

'Blue and Silver: Trouville' is the preferred title.

Description

Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art
Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art

A view from a sandy beach, in horizontal format. The beach extends from lower right upwards to left. There are a few rocks on the beach at lower right and further out in the sea. The sea is pale blue, a few waves breaking in the shallows. A couple of sailing boats are far out to sea to left. The sky is bright, pale blue with scudding white and grey clouds.

Site

The coast at Trouville, France.

Technique

Composition

Pentimenti show that there were originally two figures on the beach to left of the rocks at lower right, the heads just visible under the surf.

Technique

Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art
Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art

As with Sea and Rain y065, the size of the canvas corresponds quite closely with that of the French 'toile de vingt', and was probably acquired in France. Sky and sea were painted with fairly thick paint, with long strokes from left to right on the sea, skipping over the canvas and leaving bare areas between brushstrokes, conveying breaking waves at the edge of the beach. Shorter, more blurred, strokes were used for the sky.

Conservation History

Blue and Silver: Trouville, reproduction, n.d.
Blue and Silver: Trouville, reproduction, n.d.

Blue and Silver: Trouville, photograph, n.d.
Blue and Silver: Trouville, photograph, n.d.

Unknown. One early photo shows considerable abrasion at the edges, which has been repaired to some extent. There is some craquelure on the sky.

Frame

In 1873 Whistler wrote to C. W. Deschamps, 'I regret immensely having been knocked over by my illness so immediately after seeing you - and so prevented from seeing the picture and doing anything about either its name or its frame.' 18 Deschamps replied, 'The Yacht Race even as it is, is a beautiful picture; for my own part I prefer the frame as it is; rough, simple, ugly even, but it holds a jewel.' 19

Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art
Blue and Silver: Trouville, Freer Gallery of Art

Blue and Silver: Trouville, frame, detail
Blue and Silver: Trouville, frame, detail

Blue and Silver: Trouville, frame, detail
Blue and Silver: Trouville, frame, detail

The current frame was probably made in 1892. The verso of the frame was signed by the frame-maker Frederick Henry Grau (1859-1892), who made most of Whistler's frames for the Goupil exhibition.

History

Provenance

There were problems in establishing this provenance and exhibition history due to the conflicting financial records and varying descriptions and titles used. 20

The London art dealer C. W. Deschamps and his wife definitely owned 'The Yacht Race - A Symphony in B sharp' before its exhibition in 1873. 'It will be delightful for me to have it back again at home' wrote Deschamps during the exhibition. 21 Deschamps owned the painting until 1890/1891, but was prepared to lend it to Whistler for exhibitions. In March 1888, for instance, Whistler promised to return 'your sea piece' to Deschamps. 22 On 7 August 1890 Deschamps was in urgent need of money and wrote to Whistler that he would have to sell it, asking if 'Mr Ionides, or some others of your friends could be tempted to purchase the picture … How I wish it were possible for you to buy!' 23 It appears that it was indeed possible, and Whistler paid down a deposit of 20 guineas (£20.0.0): a receipt signed by Deschamps on 8 April 1891 valued 'the "Yacht Race" or "Trouville" ' at £160.0.0, and noted that Whistler had paid two instalments towards this, one of £22.0.0, and a second, in April 1891, of £50.0.0. This left £88.0.0 still to pay. 24 It is not known when the final payment was made, but Whistler can only have owned the painting briefly, for within a year it was owned by James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923). 25

The similarity of subjects and titles makes it hard to associate the marines with specific owners or exhibitions. However, in February 1892 J. J Shannon was named as owner of a picture that David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) hoped to obtain for Whistler's Goupil retrospective, and which was probably Blue and Silver: Trouville. 26 In May of the same year, Blue and Silver: Trouville may have been the painting that was sent to the Paris Salon under the title 'Marine – Harmonie en bleu et argent' by Maurice Joyant (1864-1930) of Goupil's Paris office. 27 And later in the year, J. J. Shannon was mentioned as owning 'The "blue & Silver" Sea piece', which was then on show in the VI. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, although, curiously, it was marked in the catalogue as being for sale. 28 Next, the painting was listed as a 'Sea Piece – Trouville', owned by Shannon, in a preliminary list of paintings for exhibition in Chicago in 1893. 29 In January 1893 Whistler suggested to Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911) that he should borrow 'Blue Sea, Trouville' from Shannon for the Chicago exhibition. 30

A year later it appears that 'Shannon's sea piece' was being considered for purchase by someone in The Hague, and Whistler wondered if it had been seen by Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915). 31 Possibly it was with the art dealer Elbert Jan van Wisselingh (1848-1912), but in any case, it did not stay in the Netherlands. By May of the following year it had been bought by James Staats Forbes, as Thomson told Whistler, 'I sold your seaside picture the other day to Mr J. S. Forbes - I mean the one which belonged to Mr Shannon & formerly to Deschamps[.] Mr Forbes buys it for £325 to put in his collection.' 32 Finally, in May 1902 it was sold by Forbes through Agnew's (Agnew's a/c #467), to Cottier & Co., who sold it to C. L. Freer in July 1902 for $12,500.

Exhibitions

There is some confusion over the early exhibition history of this painting, but it is likely that it was exhibited by Deschamps in 1873 under the incorrect title 'The Yacht Race - A Symphony in B sharp'. The Athenaeum on 8 November 1873 described this as 'a vigorous and beautiful study of colour, and bright, yet soft tone, the subject being a contest of sailing vessels near the shore. Among the finer, if not the finest, portion of this interesting picture, is the sky, which is excellent.' The Illustrated London News of 15 November was amused by the 'punning title', found the painting 'more comprehensible than usual', and admired the 'tender harmony of grey tints'.

This may have been the 'Harmonie en bleu et argent' exhibited with the Salon de la Société des artistes français in 1883 (cat. no. 4) but it is not certain. The exhibited work was described by a journalist as 'Mer bleue où se mirent les nuages, azur du ciel, ainsi que l'argent des autres nuages dans les vagues qui viennent lécher la plage. Effet encore tendre.' 33 This description might apply to Sea and Rain y065 or Blue and Silver: Trouville y066.

In March 1888 Whistler returned 'your sea piece' to Deschamps. 34 No other details are given, but this suggests it had been on exhibition, possibly in Paris, or was being shown to a collector.

It is likely that it was shown at Goupil's in 1892, but the owner is not named in the catalogue. It is also likely that, later in the year, it was the 'Symphonie in Silber' exhibited in Munich, which was marked as for sale. When the Munich exhibition was finished, Whistler asked for 'The "blue & Silver" Sea piece' to be returned to J. J. Shannon: he did not mention a symphony in silver at all. It is not at all clear whether there was one or several 'silver' paintings involved in sales and exhibitions at this period! 35

It is certain, however, that Blue and Silver: Trouville travelled to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG, Tate Archives, London
Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG, Tate Archives, London

Paintings at the ISSPG, Glasgow University Library
Paintings at the ISSPG, Glasgow University Library

In 1899, Whistler directed the arrangement, sketching out his proposed arrangement in Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG m1582 and Paintings at the ISSPG m1583. In the sketch what Whistler described as 'Forbes' Seapiece' is placed centrally, above the rest of the paintings, tilted forward so that it can be seen properly. Whistler mentioned to John Lavery (1856-1941), ‘the Forbes' sea piece - which has never been seen - and will go with great [swing?] at the top.' 36 Why he said that it had never been seen is, to say the least, unclear, and suggests that the history of at least two paintings has been confused, possibly by the artist! The Westminster Gazette art critic appeared to think he had seen it before but dismissed it as 'not quite of his best'. 37 Other art critics were more appreciative, calling it 'fresh and lovely', 'exquisite', and 'tender'. 38

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent to another venue.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Newspapers 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

COLLECTION:

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: Whistler to L. Ionides, 26 October 1865, GUW #11311.

2: Sixth Exhibition of the Society of French Artists [Summer Exhibition], Deschamps Gallery, London, 1873 (cat. no. 110).

3: Exposition Internationale de Peinture, Galerie George Petit, Paris, 1883 (cat. no. 4).

4: Deschamps to Whistler, 8 April 1891, GUW #00833.

5: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [16 November 1892], GUW #11504.

6: Whistler to E. A. Abbey, [November 1892 / 10 January 1893], GUW #03181.

7: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 37) but see Blue and Silver y340.

8: VI. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1892 (cat. no. 1950b).

9: Whistler to Charles Frederick Ulrich, [October 1892], GUW #13148.

10: World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893 (cat. no. 768).

11: [1895], n.d., Diaries, Bk 12, Freer Gallery of Art.

12: 2nd Exhibition, Pictures, Drawings, Prints and Sculptures, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, London, 1899 (cat. no. 135).

13: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 66).

14: [9/22 November 1873], GUW #13487.

15: Deschamps to Whistler, [10/22 November 1873], GUW #00830.

16: The Athenaeum, 22 November 1873, p. 666; GUW #13150.

17: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more].

18: [9/22 November 1873], GUW #13487.

19: [10/22 November 1873], GUW #00830.

20: It was partly confused with the history of Green and Grey. The Oyster Smacks – Evening y070. See YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 66).

21: C. W. Deschamps to Whistler, [10/22 November 1873], GUW #00830.

22: [9 March 1888], GUW #07914.

23: GUW #00832.

24: C. W. Deschamps to Whistler, 8 April 1891, GUW #00833.

25: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [8 February 1892], GUW #08215. Deschamps was cited as an early owner (before J. S. Forbes), by D. C. Thomson in a letter to Whistler, 14 May 1895, GUW #05821.

26: Thomson to Whistler, 23 February 1892, GUW #05686.

27: Joyant to Whistler, 4 May 1892, GUW #00388.

28: Whistler to C. F. Ulrich, [October 1892], GUW #13148.

29: B. Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [22 October/November 1892], GUW #09703; also Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [16 November 1892], GUW #11504.

30: [November 1892/10 January 1893], GUW #03181.

31: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [7 December 1894], GUW #08292.

32: 14 May 1895, GUW #05821.

33: [1883], unidentified press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 7, p. 15.

34: [9 March 1888], GUW #07914.

35: Whistler to C. F. Ulrich, [October 1892], GUW #13148.

36: [April/May 1899], GUW #09988.

37: Westminster Gazette, London, 10 May 1899, p. 4.

38: Daily Telegraph & Courier (London), London, 10 May 1899, p. 10; Pall Mall Gazette, London, 10 May 1899, pp. 1-2; Globe, London, 9 May 1899, p. 5; and Western Times, Devon, p. 4.