The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 074
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay'

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay'

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1866
Collection: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Accession Number: 1929.6.159
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 76.6 x 51.1 cm (30 1/8 x 20 1/8")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau-style, American, ca 1920s [14.9 cm]

Date

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' dates from 1866. 1

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay', National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay', National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution

Whistler spent six months in Chile in 1866 at the time of a brief confrontation between Chile and Spain. 2 According to Whistler's diary for the trip to South America, he left Southampton on 2 February 1866 and arrived in Valparaiso on 12 March, where he remained, except for occasional visits to Santiago and the surrounding countryside, until sailing for England early in September 1866. 3

Images

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay', National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay', National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, n.d.
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, n.d.

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, frame
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, frame

The Morning after the Revolution, Valparaiso, 1866, The Hunterian
The Morning after the Revolution, Valparaiso, 1866, The Hunterian

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Freer Gallery of Art
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Freer Gallery of Art

Subject

Titles

Suggested titles are as follows:

'Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' is the preferred title.

Description

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay', National Collection of Fine Arts
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay', National Collection of Fine Arts

A view of a bay with hills in the background, in vertical format. Diagonally across the foreground below the viewer a pier or jetty stretches into the bay, with figures on it and small boats beside it. At the far right end of the pier is a small white sail. Several tall sailing ships are moored in the bay.

Site

The port of Valparaiso, Chile.

W. McQueen (dates unknown) told Pennell (1921) that 'his father was in Valparaiso when Whistler was there [in 1866], that he put Whistler up at his Club, and that it was from the Club windows that the beautiful upright Valparaiso was painted'. 7 Since that painting, Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay y076, shows the same view, this must have been painted from the same spot.

Technique

Composition

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, National Collection of Fine Arts
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, National Collection of Fine Arts

The Morning after the Revolution, Valparaiso, 1866, The Hunterian
The Morning after the Revolution, Valparaiso, 1866, The Hunterian

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Freer Gallery of Art
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Freer Gallery of Art

Way & Dennis, and the Pennells, considered this to be an unfinished study for the upright Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay y076, which shows the same view of the pier, shipping and hills, although clearly the effect here is of day rather than of night. 8

However, Getscher disputed the idea that this was a sketch for Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, because 'the sense of space is entirely different in the two paintings.' 9 The two pictures clearly show the same view, and there is the possibility that Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' and Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay were originally much more alike, and that the latter was completely reworked, making what had been a daylight scene into a nocturnal one.

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' also relates to The Morning after the Revolution, Valparaiso y075, which has similar daylight lighting, shipping and figures, but with two additional ships in the background, and small boats to right of the pier.

Technique

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay', National Collection of Fine Arts
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay', National Collection of Fine Arts

It is painted on a fine weave canvas, with a dark ground. There are numerous pentimenti, or areas where a previous object, boat, sail, or figures, has been painted over. It is not known if it was Whistler or another artist who did some of the retouching and reworking of the canvas.

It is likely that the increasing transparency of the paint has changed the appearance of the picture. For instance, there appear to have been steps at the right side of the pier or jetty in the foreground, that are now partially concealed.

The painting appears to have been tidied up, with the jetty, sea, hills and sky covered with thinned paint. Long brushstrokes run right across the canvas from left to right, in the sky. The hills, when completed, partially covered the masts of the ships, which were then repainted over the hills and the sky. The sailing ship, by the jetty in the middle distance, is in a partially overpainted state, and it is not entirely clear what is ship, and what, sea. Probably in an attempt to clarify the subject, some elements have been outlined: the bow of the sailing ship, for instance, and the outline of the right side of the jetty.

Conservation History

According to gallery records, it was relined, varnish was removed, it was cleaned, retouched and revarnished in 1966 by Ben E. Johnson, Virginia.

Frame

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, frame
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, frame

History

Provenance

After the death of Coats on 31 August 1926 his collection was put up for sale and Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' y074 was again bought by Paterson and exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists in 1927 (cat. no. 270) as 'Valparaiso Harbour'. In the same year it was bought from D. C. Thomson by E. & A. Milch; it was sold the following year to John Gellatly for $32,000.

Thomas Way and T. R. Way and Whistler's Bankruptcy, 1879.

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' y074 was bought at the time of Whistler's bankruptcy by Thomas Way, the London printer who taught Whistler the rudiments of lithography, printed most of his lithographs and catalogues, and also bought a number of his pastels and oil paintings, and who was one of Whistler's chief creditors in 1879. He acquired thirty paintings at that time, including this painting. 10

T. R. described what happened at the time of the bankruptcy:

'all the other loose canvases which [Whistler] more or less destroyed at the time of his bankruptcy, before he handed them over as part of his "assets" to his creditors ... were rejected by the auctioneers as unsaleable ... and finally they were bought by a picture dealer for my father [Thomas Way].' 11

T. R. Way specifically named 'Cremorne Gardens', 'Venus', 'unfinished portraits of two of [Leyland's] daughters', 'a little sketch of [Leyland]', 'a white girl', the 'Loves of the Lobsters' and 'Mount Ararat'; the rest of the canvases were mostly portraits and Thomas Way 'had offered to give these portraits back to Whistler.' Altogether he probably acquired Cremorne Gardens, No. 2 y164, Venus Rising from the Sea y093, Portrait of Miss Leyland (1) y109, Portrait of Miss Leyland (2) y110, The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland y111, Portrait Sketch of F. R. Leyland y096, Harmony in Grey and Peach Colour y131, The Loves of the Lobsters y209, and Mount Ararat y210.

When Whistler returned from Venice in 1880, T. R. Way showed him a number of the paintings, which he had hung in his room at their house in Hampstead. Then when Whistler needed canvases for his portraits of Lady Meux about 1883 (Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux y228, Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux y229, and Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs y230) he looked at Way's canvases but found none suitable – but he may have retrieved five of the 'Six Projects' (Venus y082 et seq) at this time as they appeared in his studio in 1881.

Others probably acquired about that time included Arrangement in Yellow and Grey: Effie Deans y183, and Harmony in Blue and Gold y197), both painted long before his bankruptcy, and both exhibited in 1886.

On 31 October 1887 T. R. Way wrote to Whistler that they had cleared out a roll canvases: 'I have a large roll of old unfinished and blank Canvasses to bring you which you might like and we have been clearing out lately, (of course they are all painted by you).' 12 In November 1887 Whistler exhibited The White Symphony: Three Girls y087 at the RBA, and in 1888, A White Note y044 at the NEAC. Both dated from the 1860s, and their reappearance in Whistler's possession might be explained by the return of canvases by Way.

Way hung some of the remaining canvases in the firm's printing room at Wellington Street in 1892 but Whistler asked him to take them down :

'I was very much troubled, when last in Wellington Street, to see all those old destroyed paintings of mine hanging up again in the printing room!

We had got so nearly through with the matter before - Do please meanwhile take them all down and roll them up and stow away until I come over some day soon and then I can carry them off myself.' 13

A number of works painted before 1879 and sold by Whistler after 1892 (Nocturne: Battersea y120, Nocturne: Westminster - Grey and Gold y144, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach y152, and Nocturne: Grey and Silver y156) may have been retrieved at this time.

In 1896 T. R. Way and Whistler quarrelled over the publication of Way's catalogue of Whistler's lithographs. As part of the final settlement of their account, Thomas Way agreed to hold to his earlier offer of returning a number of canvases, and Whistler's lawyers, G. & W. Webb, urged Whistler to accept this offer. On 11 August 1897 the canvases were handed over, and on the following day the lawyers wrote to Whistler that they had at their office '10 large canvas portraits, 10 small canvases & 7 blank canvases.' 14

There is little evidence to show what pictures were returned by Thomas Way. Pennell wrote that a roll of six-foot canvases returned to Whistler contained the portraits of three 'Miss Leylands' (Portrait of Miss Florence Leyland y107, Portrait of Miss Leyland (1) y109, Portrait of Miss Leyland (2) y110), Portrait of Sir Henry Cole y180, and Miss May Alexander y127. Whistler promptly exhibited Miss May Alexander in London and returned it to W . C. Alexander who had commissioned it some twenty-five years previously. 15

Possibly a number of other paintings that date from before 1879, and were reworked by Whistler after 1896, such as Annabel Lee y079, or which were in his estate at his death (such as Sketch for 'The Balcony' y057, Annabel Lee y079, Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' y080, Grey and Silver: The Thames y121, Blue and Silver: Screen, with Old Battersea Bridge y139, Nocturne y172, and Harmony in Flesh Colour and Black: Portrait of Mrs Louise Jopling y191), made up the balance of the paintings returned by Way to Whistler.

Thomas Way clearly did not return all the paintings that he had bought at the time of the bankruptcy. Some had been given to his son and were sold by T. R. Way after Whistler's death (Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' y074, Study of a Female Figure y081, Venus Rising from the Sea y093, Cremorne Gardens, No. 2 y164, Portrait Sketch of a Lady y184, and possibly Maud Franklin y132).

Exhibitions

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

COLLECTION:

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Newspapers 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 74).

2: Sutherland 2008 [more]; Sutherland 2014 [more], pp. 95-98.

3: Diary, GUW #04335.

4: Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1927 (cat. no. 270).

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 74).

6: Smithsonian American Art Museum website at http://americanart.si.edu.

7: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 48.

8: Way & Dennis 1903 [more], p. 63. Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 134-35, 140, 258.

9: Getscher 1991 [more], p. 190, n. 5.

10: Label on back of stretcher by Way's son, T. R. Way, May 1907.

11: Way 1912 [more], pp. 135-36.

12: GUW #06088.

13: 27 May 1892, GUW #03307.

14: GUW #06241.

15: Pennell 1921C [more], pp . 43, 134.