The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 080
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee'

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee'

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1868/1877
Collection: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
Accession Number: GLAHA 46378
Medium: oil
Support: wood
Size: 30.7 x 22.6 cm (12 1/8 x 8 7/8")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau-style, date unknown

Date

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' is difficult to date, with suggested dates spanning a period of nearly thirty years from 1868 to 1900, with a certain amount of evidence pointing to the earlier period, between 1868 and 1877, and some to a later period. 1

The painting incorporates items similar to those in other paintings: for instance, the model is standing on a white rug with a blue pattern, somewhat similar to that in Sketch for 'La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine' y049, which dates from 1863/1864. However, the technique is different.

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian

Annabel Lee, The Hunterian
Annabel Lee, The Hunterian

1869: The title, which is of fairly recent origin, suggests that this was a study for Annabel Lee y079, which has similarities in composition. This might indicate a date between 1869 and 1877. However, Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' is painted thinly, with fluid, expressive brushstrokes, which suggests a slightly later date.

Morning Glories, Freer Gallery of Art
Morning Glories, Freer Gallery of Art

1871/1873: The pattern of the balcony railings is similar to that seen in the recto of a pastel, r.: Morning Glories; v.: Nude study m0410, which has been dated 1871/1873, although it may have been touched up later. In its turn this drawing is closely related to r.: Study for 'Morning Glories'; v.: Standing nude m0411, which is signed with a butterfly that indicates a date of 1873/1874.

Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold, Sterling and Francine Clerk Art
Institute
Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold, Sterling and Francine Clerk Art Institute

1879/1886: Whistler painted a model in a similar pose, but holding a parasol and standing on a plaited rug by a balcony, in Harmony in Blue and Gold y197, which was exhibited in 1879, but may date from earlier. It is only known through a drawing, Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold' m1095, that has been dated, from the butterfly signature, 1886.

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian

Ariel, The Hunterian
Ariel, The Hunterian

1883/1884: There are similarities in subject, pose and colour to the oil, Ariel y318, which may date from 1883 or 1884.

The thin paint, which resembles Whistler’s thinned ‘sauce’ rather than megilp, suggesting a late rather than a very early date. 2

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian

Annabel Lee, The Hunterian
Annabel Lee, The Hunterian

1896/1900: However, it is also just possible that Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' dates from between 1896 and 1900, when Annabel Lee y079, is said to have been rubbed down for reworking.

Images

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , frame detail
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , frame detail

'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian
'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian

Morning Glories, Freer Gallery of Art
Morning Glories, Freer Gallery of Art

Ariel, The Hunterian
Ariel, The Hunterian

Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold, Sterling & Francine Clerk Art Institute
Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold, Sterling & Francine Clerk Art Institute

Subject

Titles

Whistler's original title is not known. This has become known by only one title:

The title is based on the similarity of the composition to that of Annabel Lee y079, which itself was not necessarily so named by Whistler. It may have been a 'Sketch for' that painting or a reworking of the pose and subject.

These titles, now generally accepted, derive from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), who, like Whistler, was a (failed) West Point man. 5 Whistler's long-standing enthusiasm for Poe's writing was shared by his friends in Paris in the 1890s, and in particular by the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) and his circle. In 1889 Mallarmé presented Whistler with a copy of his translation of Les Poèmes d'Edgar Poe, including 'Annabel Lee'. Mallarmé's translation, which could have inspired Whistler to return to the subject, is as follows:

'Il y a mainte et mainte année, dans un royaume près de la mer, vivait une jeune fille, que vous pouvez connaître par son nom d’Annabel Lee, et cette jeune fille ne vivait avec aucune autre pensée que d’aimer et d’être aimée de moi.

J’étais un enfant, et elle était un enfant, dans ce royaume près de la mer ; mais nous nous aimions d’un amour qui était plus que de l’amour, - moi et mon Annabel Lee ; d’un amour que les séraphins ailés des Cieux convoitaient à elle et à moi.

Et ce fut la raison qu’il y a longtemps, — un vent souffla d’un nuage, glaçant ma belle Annabel Lee ; de sorte que ses proches de haute lignée vinrent et me l’enlevèrent, pour l’enfermer dans un sépulcre, en ce royaume près de la mer.

Les anges, pas à moitié si heureux aux cieux, vinrent, nous enviant, elle et moi. Oui ! ce fut la raison (comme tous les hommes le savent dans ce royaume près de la mer) pourquoi le vent sortit du nuage la nuit, glaçant et tuant mon Annabel Lee.

Car la lune jamais ne rayonne sans m’apporter des songes de la belle Annabel Lee ; et les étoiles jamais ne se lèvent que je ne sente les yeux brillants de la belle Annabel Lee ; et ainsi, toute l’heure de nuit, je repose à côté de ma chérie, — de ma chérie, — ma vie et mon épouse, dans ce sépulcre près de la mer, dans sa tombe près de la bruyante mer.

Mais, pour notre amour, il était plus fort de tout un monde que l’amour de ceux plus âgés que nous ; — de plusieurs de tout un monde plus sages que nous, — et ni les anges là-haut dans les cieux, — ni les démons sous la mer, ne peuvent jamais disjoindre mon âme de l’âme de la très belle Annabel Lee.' 6

Description

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian

A figure study in vertical format. A young woman stands in front of a railing, with her arms extended on the rail at either side. She faces the viewer, her head slightly tilted. Her weight rests on her left leg, and her left leg crosses over in front of it. She wears a diaphanous close-fitting robe tied across the breast with yellow ribbon. A dull pinkish/mauve cloak hangs on the railing. She has a bright yellow ribbon in her short hair. She is standing on a white carpet with a woven blue pattern. Behind the railing is the pale blue sea and a cloudy sky streaked with pale blue, cream and grey. The railing is yellow, with a rectangular grid of rails.

Sitter

Unknown.

Technique

Composition

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' , The Hunterian

Annabel Lee', The Hunterian
Annabel Lee', The Hunterian

In colour and composition this young woman on a balcony resembles Annabel Lee y079, although the colour of the dress in Annabel Lee inclines more to shades of green and blue. The woman in the 'sketch' has a yellow ribbon in her hair, and her cloak is tinged with lilac.

Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold, Sterling & Francine Clerk Art Institute (m1095)
Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold, Sterling & Francine Clerk Art Institute (m1095)

Whistler painted a model in a similar pose, standing on a plaited rug by a balcony, in a painting exhibited in 1879, Harmony in Blue and Gold y197, which was perhaps reworked and exhibited again in 1886. It has disappeared but is recorded in a drawing, Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold' m1095, where the figure stands in a similar pose to the Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', with the addition of a parasol.

Technique

Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian

It is painted on an oak or mahogany board, 5-6 mm thick, with beveled edges on the verso. It may be a single section of wood, radially cut; the grain of the wood is prominent, running diagonally left to right. The wood shows through in places, particularly around the figure. 7 It has a very thin absorbent priming of lead white and chalk. The thin paint, which resembles Whistler’s thinned ‘sauce’ rather than megilp, suggests a late rather than early date; it has sunk into the absorbent priming. The yellow paint for the balcony rails includes zinc yellow and the flesh paint probably includes natural red ochre; Prussian blue is probably present. 8 The robe is of flesh colour and dull, light pink, with a yellow ribbon; the sky, lemon, pink and turquoise. The brushstrokes run from left to right across the background, and stop abruptly at the right edge.

Whistler used very small round brushes (1-2 mm). The figure was painted first, then the fabric over the rail, the sky and water, the verticals, and finally the horizontals of the railing, with the paint drying fast. The head and hands are painted rather untidily. The background sea and sky were painted together, wet-in-wet, and the vertical railings were added while the water was till wet; however, it was drying fast since the horizontal rails dragged the paint of the water less. The sky was painted round the figure, the horizontal brush strokes creating an uneven outline around the girl's head and arms.

Her limbs are very thin and angular. There are signs of changes around her head, which suggest that either her robe originally billowed out around her head, or that she was shown undressing.

Conservation History

The panel is in fair condition (some fine abrasions may date from the artist's working process). 9

Frame

It is in a Grau style frame, date unknown , 54.0 x 46.0 x 7.0 cm.

History

Provenance

This painting may pre-date Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879, but there is no record of it at that time. Unfinished works, and paintings destroyed by the artist, were not sold at the time of his bankruptcy. Some were retained for safe-keeping by his family, friends, and even creditors, and some of these paintings were returned to him later.

Exhibitions

It was not exhibited 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

COLLECTION:

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 80) dated 'late 1860s … or about 1896'.

2: Examination by Professor Joyce H. Townsend, Tate Britain, July 2017.

3: Young, A. McLaren, James McNeill Whistler, Arts Council Gallery, London, and Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1960 (cat. no. 21).

4: YMSM 1980 [more], cat. no. 80.

5: Kobbé, Gustave, 'Whistler at West Point,' The Chap Book, vol. 8, no. 11, 15 April 1898, pp. 439-42.

6: Les Poèmes d'Edgar Poe (Brussels 1888). Inscribed copy, GUL Whistler; poem ed. Griswold, Willis & Lowell.

7: Conservation report by Clare Meredith, 29 May 2001, Hunterian files; visual examination by Robert Anderson, The Hunterian, and Prof. Joyce H. Townsend, Tate Britain, 2017.

8: Technical examination at Natural History Museum, London, and report by Prof. Joyce H. Townsend, July 2017.

9: Meredith, 29 May 2001, op. cit.

10: Note made in 1904, Diaries, Bk 14, Freer Gallery Archives.