The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 076
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1866-1874
Collection: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Accession Number: F1909.127a-b
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 75.6 x 50.1 cm (29 3/4 x 19 3/4")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Flat Whistler, date unknown

Date

1866: Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay dates originally from Whistler's trip to Valparaiso from March to September 1866 but was almost certainly completed in the 1870s. 1 It has been assumed that this was the earliest of Whistler's Nocturnes, 2 but in its early state it was probably not a nocturne at all, but became one as it was reworked over subsequent years.

1874: Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay may be the picture referred to in a letter from Whistler to Alfred Chapman (1839-1917) of Liverpool, on 22 July 1874, 'I had once promised to let Grapel have the first chance at the Valparaiso if I ever finish it.' 3 The reference is to the dealer and collector William Grapel (1822-1887). Stylistically it is likely that the painting was worked on at this time, before being exhibited in the following year.

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

1875: It was first exhibited in the Second Annual Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Water Colour, Royal Pavilion Gallery, Brighton, 1875 (cat. no. 158) as 'Nocturne in blue and silver'.

Images

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

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, framed
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, framed

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL Whistler PH 5/2
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL Whistler PH 5/2

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, 1898?
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, 1898?

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, n.d., GUL Whistler PH 4/8
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, n.d., GUL Whistler PH 4/8

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

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay,  Smithsonian American Art Museum
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress
Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress

Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress
Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress

Subject

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' is the preferred title, based on the 1887 title.

Description

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

A nocturnal view in vertical format, looking down on a pier or jetty and across a bay to hills in the distance. There are people on the pier and several tall masted ships in the bay.

Site

Valparaiso, Chile. W. McQueen (dates unknown) told Pennell that 'his father was in Valparaiso when Whistler was there, that he put Whistler up at his Club, and that it was from the Club windows that the beautiful upright Valparaiso was painted.' 16

In 1887 Whistler described it as 'one of my very finest nocturnes - the Valparaiso'. 17

Comments

A watercolour, 'Nocturne, Valparaiso Silver and Gold', said to be by Whistler, was exhibited at the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in 1905 (cat. no. 122; whereabouts unknown); it is possible that this was a copy of the oil by another hand.

Technique

Composition

This is one of 'the three Valparaiso pictures that are known', as Whistler told the Pennells. 18 The other two are Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean y072 and Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso y073.

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

Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, Smithsonian American Art Museum

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

With its nocturnal atmosphere and additional figures on the pier, it is the most elaborate of the three upright compositions of Valparaiso painted by Whistler (see The Morning after the Revolution, Valparaiso y075 and Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' y074).

It is possible that Whistler worked on Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay in the early 1870s, and that it was the unfinished Valparaiso picture referred to a letter from Whistler to Alfred Chapman on 2 July 1874. 19

The main differences in detail between The Morning after the Revolution, Valparaiso y075 and Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay are the omission in the latter of the small boats by the pier, and of the white sail on the foremost ship. The angle of the pier is also different, being more steeply angled in Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay and in Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay'. The obvious difference between Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay and the other Valparaiso paintings is that it is a very dark Nocturne.

Technique

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

The matrix pigment was established as white lead.

Bernhard Sickert (1862-1932) noted in 1908 that the canvas appeared to have been primed in black, and the crepuscular blue glazed over it. 20

The detailed and sensitive description of Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay by Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) in 1890 suggests that the details of the scene were then clearer than they are now:

'une jetée s'avance au-dessus d'une eau d'un bleu pâle. Des personnages vont et viennent, ils sont d'un noir transparent, leurs vêtements plus clairs sont des taches livides … Sur l'eau, des bateaux se profilent en coques et en mâtures, striés de feux rouges, jaunes, bleus, blancs. Un pluie d'étincelles espacées tombe ... La nuit est claire.' 21 Translation: 'a pier juts out over water of a pale blue. People come and go, they are of a transparent black, their lighter clothes are livid spots ... On the water, boats appear in hulls and masts, streaked with red, yellow, blue and white lights. A shower of scattered sparks falls … The night is clear.'

Conservation History

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, n.d., GUL Whistler PH 4/8
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, n.d., GUL Whistler PH 4/8

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL Whistler PH 5/2
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, Goupil Album, 1892, GUL Whistler PH 5/2

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, 1898?
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, 1898?

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

The quotations published in the Goupil exhibition catalogue in 1898 suggest that the picture had darkened; the Western Morning News on 5 March 1898, for example, wrote:

'A dark blue patch in the left hand corner eventually becomes more defined until it is seen to be a pier crowded with people watching the phantom ships at anchor in the harbour ... One detects a flaw in the top corner of the picture before one has grown conscious that it is the spray from a spent rocket.'

These reviews confirm the evidence of early photographs (including those dating from 1892 and about 1898 reproduced above) that the condition of the painting had deteriorated.

The Freer conservation files mention that the surface had been abraded, and showed signs of frequent cleanings. In 1965 the entire painting was cleaned of old varnish and retouches by Ben Johnson, and it was then restretched, revarnished and inpainted.

Frame

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, framed
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, framed

Flat Whistler frame, date unknown. 22

History

Provenance

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay may have been the painting promised to William Grapel (1822-1887) when finished, as Whistler told Alfred Chapman on 22 July 1874. 23

However, according to Ward, it was first offered to Sir Thomas Sutherland (1834-1922) for 700 guineas, and subsequently acquired (according to Ward, 'commissioned') by 'Capt.' Henry Hill, of Brighton (former Bond Street tailor). 24 Hill owned it by 1875 when he lent it to an exhibition in Brighton. After Hill's death, it was sold at Christie's, 25 May 1889 (lot 80) and bought by Alexander Ionides for £67.4.0. In 1892 several collectors, including Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918), were interested in buying it, and by the end of May the Goupil Gallery reported to Whistler, 'The Valparaiso has been bought by one of our English Customers together with other pictures and an exchange, we paying Mr Ionides £300.' 25

Six years later George McCulloch bought it from Sir John Day, and lent it to the ISSPG in 1898 (cat. no. 183). 26 In the following year, 1899, Whistler thought that McCulloch intended to sell it (he confused it with Variations in Pink and Grey: Chelsea y105), and wrote to the Scottish collector John James Cowan (1846-1936), 'the "Nocturne Valparaiso" - very beautiful certainly - but so they all are in time ! ... this Valparaiso Nocturne, has belonged to several - sold over and again - the last owner was Mr. McCullough [sic] - the rich man from somewhere.' 27 However, McCulloch had not sold it; after his death on 12 December 1907 it passed to his widow. Finally it was bought by C. L. Freer of Detroit in 1909 for £3000. 28

Exhibitions

'Capt.' Henry Hill, of Brighton (former Bond Street tailor), lent it to the Brighton exhibition in 1875.

At the Royal Society of British Artists in 1887 it was commended by the art critic of Truth, 'Of Mr. Whistler's own pictures, I infinitely prefer his “Nocturne in blue and gold, Valparaiso Bay", an effective night-scene, with a crowded quay and shadowy vessels, lit up by masthead lights.' 29 Marion Henry Alexander Spielmann (1858-1948) called it 'an extremely beautiful and subtle night- piece, an alluring vision of transpicuous darkness and infinite aerial space.' 30 Other art critics gave it brief, and sometimes favourable, notices. According to the Hampstead and Highgate Express of 9 April 1887, it contained 'many touches of beauty', while the Tablet of 23 April described it as a tour de force. 31

Alexander Ionides lent the painting to the Paris Salon in 1890 where it was well hung, and much admired by Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926).

'une jetée s'avance au-dessus d'une eau d'un bleu pâle. Des personnages vont et viennent, ils sont d'un noir transparent, leurs vêtements plus clairs sont des taches livides. Ils bougent réellement, ils se silhouettent en ombres mouvantes. Sur l'eau, des bateaux se profilent en coques et en mâtures, striés de feux rouges, jaunes, bleus, blancs. Un pluie d'étincelles espacées tombe. Des collines, au fond, montent sur le ciel. La nuit est claire, elle n'est assombrie que par les fantômes de barques et les étranges promeneurs de la jetée, si impalpables et si actifs.' 32
Translation: 'a pier juts out over water of a pale blue. People come and go, they are of a transparent black, their lighter clothes are livid spots. They really move, they are silhouetted in moving shadows. On the water, boats appear in hulls and masts, streaked with red, yellow, blue and white lights. A shower of scattered sparks falls. Hills, in the distance, rise to the sky. The night is clear, it is darkened only by the ghosts of boats and the strange walkers on the pier, so insubstantial and so dynamic.'

Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, Goupil Album 1892, GUL Whistler PH 5/2
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay, photograph, Goupil Album 1892, GUL Whistler PH 5/2

Seeing it on view in 1892 at Goupil's, Whistler described it to his wife as 'The Valparaiso Nocturne! simply glowing.' 33 The Globe, however, it its review of the show on 21 March, described it as 'subtle in tone'.

He immediately wanted to borrow it for exhibition in Munich, 'if it has not already been there - of this am not sure.' 34 Instead it went to Philadelphia and to Chicago in 1893, where Charles McMeen Kurtz (1855-1909) reported to E. G. Kennedy on the hanging of the Whistler panel in the World's Columbian Exposition:

'The Whistler paintings are all in one room, with a single exception -- "The Nocturne, Valparaiso" -- which is in an adjoining gallery ... I, personally, plead guilty to the hanging of the pictures in the United States section. When we began the hanging, we had the intention of hanging each artist's works in a group by themselves, allowing space between the different groups, as in the salon of the Champs de Mars; but, owing to the enormous number of works sent by American artists, we found it was utterly impossible to do this in the space at our command. ... the next thing was to hang the pictures in such a manner as to give the best ensemble to the walls and to place each picture in such a way as to show it at its best. I think you will agree with me that Mr. Whistler's paintings certainly show to excellent advantage as they have been placed.' 35

Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) saw Whistler's paintings at the World's Fair and told Whistler he thought the Valparaiso 'supremely fine': he seized the opportunity to buy it five years later. 36

The painting had a busy life in 1898. At the Goupil Gallery it was described succinctly in The Times as 'the exquisite "Valparaiso" ' and by the Daily Telegraph as 'A famous Whistler—and one that deserves its fame.' 37

Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress
Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress

Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress
Arrangement of pictures at the ISSPG, Library of Congress

Shortly afterwards, Whistler was greatly concerned about the hanging of his works at the ISSPG and sent drawings (reproduced above) of his proposed group:

'1. Rose Corder. 2. Princess. 3. Portrait. 4. Piano. 5. Oval. 6. Thames in ice. 7. Philosopher. 8. Nocturne Valparaiso. 9. Petite Souris (girls head with feather boa) 10. "Etchings by Mrs McNeill Whistler".

Or [sketch of pictures numbered left to right:] 2 10 7. 8 9.

Yes this * last way I prefer - and it gives you no trouble - ... Hang all my pictures on the line - excepting the Holloway (Philosopher) just a tiny bit up to make the line pretty - and perhaps the Petite Souris - also slightly - a matter for your eye - And be sure to see to the proper tilting over - so that can be well seen … Hang nothing under any of the pictures.' 38

Rose and Brown: The Philosopher, Private Collection
Rose and Brown: The Philosopher, Private Collection

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

Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris, The Hunterian
Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris, The Hunterian

Thus Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay was to hang between two small recent portraits, Rose and Brown: The Philosopher y472 and Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris y502, as seen above. Again, it received good reviews, the Pall Mall Gazette describing it as 'delicious' and the Glasgow Herald as 'beautiful and much-discussed'. 39

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay cannot now 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: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 76).

2: For example, in Curry 1984 [more], p. 119.

3: GUW #11251.

4: Second Annual Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Water Colour, Royal Pavilion Gallery, Brighton, 1875 (cat. no. 158).

5: 64th Annual Exhibition, Royal Society of British Artists, London, 1887 (cat. no. 156).

6: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 105th exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris 1890 (cat. no. 2439).

7: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [4 January 1892], GUW #08214.

8: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 28).

9: World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893 (cat. no. 787).

10: A Collection of Selected Works by Painters of the English, French & Dutch Schools, Goupil Gallery, London, 1898 (cat. no. 21).

11: Exhibition of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Knightsbridge, London, 1898 (cat. no. 183).

12: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 16) in ordinary and deluxe edition respectively.

13: Exhibition of Modern Works in Painting and Sculpture forming the Collection of the late George M. McCulloch, Esq., Winter Exhibition 40th year, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1909 (cat. no. 249).

14: Curry 1984 [more], pl. 22.

15: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 76).

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

17: Whistler to Theodore Child, [October/November 1889], GUW #09264.

18: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 43.

19: GUW #11251.

20: B. Sickert 1908 A [more], p. 113.

21: Geffroy 1890 [more], at p. 294.

22: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017.

23: GUW #11251.

24: E. A. Ward 1923 [more], p. 265. Ward confused Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay y076 and Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Southampton Water y117.

25: 28 May 1892, GUW #05742. D. C. Thomson to Whistler, 31 May 1892, GUW #05743. Whistler later said it was sold for £400.0.0, letter to G. Coronio, [1/15 August 1892], GUW #00694.

26: An error in the 1st edition of the catalogue gives the owner as William Burrell (1861-1958).

27: [30 May 1899], GUW #00734.

28: Freer to Miss R. Birnie Philip, 6 July 1909, GUL Whistler MS BP III 4/10.

29: 'Mr Whistler's and other shows', Truth, vol. 21, 7 April 1887, p. 556.

30: Spielmann, M. H., 'Art in April', Magazine of Art, vol. 10, 1887, p. xxv.

31: See also Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Leeds, 2 April 1887, p. 6; 'Society of British Artists', Globe, London, 4 April 1887, p. 6; 'Sensation in Suffolk Street', The Era, London, 9 April 1887, p. 7; 'Society of British Artists', Graphic, London, 9 April 1887, p. 12; 'Art Exhibitions', Illustrated London News, London, 9 April 1887, p. 6..

32: Geffroy 1890 [more], at p. 294.

33: [14 March 1892], GUW #06613.

34: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [1/8 April 1892], GUW #08210.

35: 4 October 1893, GUW #00605.

36: 9 January 1894, GUW #01506.

37: 'Art Exhibitions', The Times, London, 21 March 1898, p. 14; 'Art Exhibitions', Daily Telegraph, London, 10 March 1898, p. 10.

38: Whistler to A. Ludovici, [April/May 1898], GUW #10694. Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG m1540.

39: Reviews include 'The International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers', Pall Mall Gazette, London, 16 May 1898, pp. 1-2; 'The International Society of Art', Glasgow Herald, Glasgow, 17 May 1898, p. 4; and 'The International Gallery', Morning Post, London, 19 May 1898, p. 8.