The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 071
Nocturne: The Solent

Nocturne: The Solent

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1871/1872
Collection: Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, Tulsa, OK
Accession Number: GM 0176.1185
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 50.2 x 91.5 cm (19 3/4 x 36")
Signature: none
Inscription: none

Date

Nocturne: The Solent probably dates from 1871 or 1872.

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

The painting was dated 1866 by earlier writers, including Andrew McLaren Young (1913-1975), and thought to date from Whistler's trip to Valparaiso. 1 It was therefore assumed to predate the Nocturnes of the 1870s. 2 However, Robert H. Getscher has pointed out that several factors point to a later date, and to a different site, probably the Solent, which is the waterway between the Isle of Wight and Southampton. 3

Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea, Tate Britain
Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea, Tate Britain

Stylistically a date of 1871/1872 is indicated. 4 The Nocturne shows similarities in colour and handling to Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea y103. This still means that it is among the earliest as well as one of the most atmospheric Nocturnes.

Images

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

Nocturne: The Solent, X-radiograph
Nocturne: The Solent, X-radiograph

Nocturne: The Solent, photograph, n.d.
Nocturne: The Solent, photograph, n.d.

Variations in Blue and Green, Freer Gallery of Art
Variations in Blue and Green, Freer Gallery of Art

Symphony in White and Red, Freer Gallery of Art
Symphony in White and Red, Freer Gallery of Art

Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Southampton Water, Art Institute of Chicago
Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Southampton Water, Art Institute of Chicago

Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea, Tate Britain
Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea, Tate Britain

Subject

Titles

Two titles have been suggested:

Whistler's original title is not known. The first title that definitely applies to this painting was published in 1935: ‘Nocturne, the Solent’. 11 It was suggested in the 1980 catalogue raisonné that the title 'Nocturne: The Solent' could have been derived from one of the ships, the Solent, on which Whistler travelled to Valparaiso in 1866. Whistler could have painted the Solent in the West Indies, or at Colon, or in one of the South American ports, or, indeed, back in Southampton. The Solent was built in 1857, to a new design, by J. & R. White of Cowes. She was a ship of 1804 tons built for the Royal West Indian Mail Company and could conceivably have been one of the ships in the picture.

However, it is now thought that the picture dates from 1870/1871. The site is therefore likely to be the waterway called the Solent, between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. 12 Whistler painted two other Nocturnes in that area (Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water y117 and Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water y179). However, it remains unclear how the site was identified as the Solent in the 1930s, and if there were earlier records of its title, now lost. However, to avoid confusion, 'Nocturne: The Solent' has been retained until the original title can be established.

Description

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

A seascape in horizontal format, showing, at left, three sailing ships out at sea. There is a another ship on the horizon, and at far right, the faint indication of land. The sea is very calm.

The ships all appear to be sailing more or less towards the viewer, the foremost from left to right, the next from right to left, and the third directly towards the viewer but very slightly from right to left. The nearest ship is probably a small two-masted fore-and-aft schooner, although the configuration of the sails is confusing. The second is a two-masted, square-rigged brig, probably a small merchant ship. The third ship, sailing towards the viewer, is again a small two-masted, square-rigged brig. Whistler may have used artistic license in depicting the lights, both in colour and position. 13

Site

There has been some confusion about whether this painting represents a ship called the Solent en route to Valparaiso, or the strait between the Isle of Wight and the mainland at Southampton, of that name.

It is now thought most likely that it was painted on the Solent near Southampton in the early 1870s. Two other Nocturnes were painted there, namely Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water y117 and Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water y179.

Comments

The early history is uncertain, but it was immediately accepted as an authentic Whistler painting by both Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) and Théodore Duret (1838-1927). 14

Technique

Composition

Nocturne: The Solent, X-radiograph
Nocturne: The Solent, X-radiograph

On the back of the canvas, at right angles to the seascape, is a very dilapidated sketch. It shows a single draped figure with bent head, climbing some steps, which appear to be constructed of thin wooden struts, like the platforms in Pink and Grey: Three Figures y089. There appear to be blossoms in front of the steps.

Variations in Blue and Green, Freer Gallery of Art
Variations in Blue and Green, Freer Gallery of Art

Symphony in White and Red, Freer Gallery of Art
Symphony in White and Red, Freer Gallery of Art

The pose of the woman on the verso resembles that of the left-hand figure in Variations in Blue and Green y084 and of the central figure, who is climbing steps, in Symphony in White and Red y085. Technically, although the authenticity of this sketch can hardly be judged in its present state, it appears to be related to the 'Six Projects', which were started in the late 1860s (see Venus y082).

Technique

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

It is painted thinly, the paint like thick cream, with long flowing strokes of the brush right across the canvas, from left to right, indicating sky and waves. The ships are painted freely and fluidly, the lights added boldly, with blobs and dashes of colour. Several extra light dots on the sea could come partly from buoys or floats, or possibly from ships that have been painted out.

Conservation History

Nocturne: The Solent, photograph, n.d.
Nocturne: The Solent, photograph, n.d.

Unknown. The painting does show faint signs of damage, as if it had been rolled or scraped in some way, and repaired. There are areas of craquelure. However, an early photograph suggests the painting has not altered much in recent years.

History

Provenance

Possible provenance:

Documented provenance:

The early history of this painting is confusing, to say the least, and there are big gaps in the alternative histories suggested above.

Some dealers' records suggest that this was owned at some time by Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890) and, after his death, sold at auction, Christie's, London, 13 November 1890 (lot 438) as 'A Portuguese Coast Scene' for £3.13.6. However, there is no corroboration of this in Whistler's records or elsewhere.

Another version of provenance was suggested by the Pennells, who stated that ‘a marine’, possibly this, was bought by Messrs Dowdeswell in 1910 from Mme Frida Strindberg who had acquired it from W. T. Spencer, a second-hand bookseller. It was seen by the Pennells on 15 September 1910 at Dowdeswell's in London. Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) claimed that he saw the same 'marine' in America, in the following year:

'In Chicago, in the autumn of 1911, J. [Pennell] was shown a marine, one of the canvases bought by the Dowdeswells from Madame Strindberg and sold by them to another dealer. Everybody who saw it declared it a genuine Whistler. The fact coming to the knowledge of Madame Strindberg, led to trouble over the question of payment, and she demanded all the canvases back from the Dowdeswells including this marine which had passed into the possession of Messrs. Reinhardt. The Dowdeswells then withdrew their collection from exhibition and sale.' 15

If it was the painting seen by the Pennells in 1910, then it was the only one of the 'fifty' canvases at Messrs Dowdeswells that has been accepted as being by Whistler. This is, to say the least, disconcerting, and it may be that the Pennells were mistaken.

The documented history of the painting starts in 1935, when, after the death of William H. Sage, it was sold with his collection at the American Art Association, 15 November 1935 (lot 20), and bought by Julius Weitzner for $12,000. It was bought from him in 1936 by Washington University, St Louis, according to the Art News, with money donated by William Herbert Bixby (1849-1928) of St Louis. The University sold it at auction at the Kende Galleries, 4 May 1945 (lot 148) when Joseph Whistler Revillon (1886-1955) records it as being bought by Knoedler's for $3600. 16

It was then apparently passed around several art dealers, and it is not entirely clear who actually owned it and when. It was lent by Levy to an exhibition in New York in 1947 and by Knoedler to exhibitions in Brooklyn 1948-1949 and New London in 1949. 17 However, according to Knoedler's own records (a/c #A4786), they bought it in December 1951 from Reinhardt. 18 It was finally sold by Knoedler's to Thomas Gilcrease in January 1955 and passed with his collection to the City of Tulsa.

Exhibitions

According to the Bulletin of the City Museum of St. Louis (1937), the painting was designated by Whistler as ‘Nocturne en bleu et argent’, which suggests a French exhibition. 19 Most of the Nocturnes shown in Paris during Whistler’s lifetime have been identified, including the two shown at the Exposition Brown, Boudin, Caillebotte, Lepine, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Whistler, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1888, but it is possible that this Nocturne was one of the unidentified paintings shown in 1873 at the Galerie Durand-Ruel. One of the seven exhibits was a 'Nocturne en bleu argent'. 20

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:

SALES:

Journals 1906-Present

Newspapers 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 71).

2: Exhibition catalogue London and New York 1960 [more] (cat. no. 16), Exhibition catalogue London, Paris & Washington, DC, 1994 [more] (cat. no. 43), and Exhibition catalogue Atlanta, After Whistler, 2003 [more] (cat. no. 3) discuss this work as dating from 1866 and presaging the Nocturnes of the 1870s.

3: Getscher 2004 [more], pp. 13-14.

4: It was dated 'circa 1872-74' in the Exhibition catalogue New York 1947 [more] (cat. no. 4).

5: New York Times, 16 October 1935 [more].

6: Bulletin of the St Louis Art Museum 1937[more], p. 44.

7: Bulletin of the St Louis Art Museum 1937[more], at p. 44.

8: Exhibition catalogue New York 1947 [more] (cat. no. 4).

9: Exhibition catalogue New London 1949 [more] (cat. no. 32).

10: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 71).

11: New York Times, New York, 16 November 1935, p. 13, op. cit.

12: Getscher 2004 [more], pp. 13-14.

13: Many thanks to Iain P. MacInnes, naval architect and historian, for this information.

14: Copies of letters from Pennell and Duret, 1910, Whistler Paintings Project files, Glasgow University Library.

15: Pennell 1921C [more], pp. 134-36.

16: Revillon records in Whistler Painting Project files, Glasgow University Library.

17: Whistler Loan Exhibition, Macbeth Gallery, New York, 1947 (cat. no. 4); The Coast and the Sea: A Survey of American Marine Painting, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, 1949 (cat. no. 127); James McNeill Whistler Seventeenth Anniversary Exhibition, Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, CT, 1949 (cat. no. 32).

18: Other dealers’ inventory numbers are CA 3067 and 2495; 12120 and 4763.

19: Bulletin of the St Louis Art Museum 1937[more], p. 44.

20: Chesneau, Ernest, 'Le Japonisme dans les arts', Musée Universel, vol. 2, 1873, pp. 214-18, at p. 216.