The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 081
Study of a Female Figure

Study of a Female Figure

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1865/1868
Collection: Whereabouts Unknown
Accession Number: none
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 48.3 x 19.0 cm (19 x 7 1/2")
Signature: unknown
Inscription: unknown
Frame: unknown

Date

Study of a Female Figure probably dates from some time between 1865 and 1868. 1 It is difficult to date, being known only from a photograph in the Frick Art Reference Library.

Study of a Female Figure, photograph, The Frick Collection
Study of a Female Figure, photograph, The Frick Collection

Whistler in his Studio, Art Institute of Chicago
Whistler in his Studio, Art Institute of Chicago

Symphony in Green and Violet, Freer Gallery of Art
Symphony in Green and Violet, Freer Gallery of Art

It is dated from its apparent similarity to Whistler's figure studies of the 1860s, such as The Artist's Studio y062 and The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio) y063, and the 'Six Projects' including Venus y082 and Symphony in Green and Violet y083. The technique, as far as one can judge from the photograph, and particularly the use of the palette knife, suggests a date in the 1860s.

Images

Study of a Female Figure, photograph, The Frick Collection
Study of a Female Figure, photograph, The Frick Collection

Whistler in his Studio, Art Institute of Chicago
Whistler in his Studio, Art Institute of Chicago

Symphony in Green and Violet, Freer Gallery of Art
Symphony in Green and Violet, Freer Gallery of Art

Subject

Titles

Variations on the title have been suggested:

The 1980 title, 'Study of a Female Figure' has been accepted.

Description

Study of a Female Figure, photograph, Frick Collection
Study of a Female Figure, photograph, Frick Collection

A figure study in vertical format, showing a woman dressed in a long white robe, with dark hair. She stands facing the viewer, looking slightly downwards. Her arms may have been clasped around her breast or back. She stands in front of a pale coloured wall, with a window or wall with a chequered pattern, behind her head.

There are photographs of the painting in the Frick Art Reference Library and the Pennell Collection, Library of Congress.

Sitter

Not identified.

According to an annotated photograph in the Frick Art Reference Library, New York, it was once owned by the Galerie Barbazanges, Hodebert & Cie., Paris, as a portrait of Sara Bernhardt (1844-1923). This is unlikely, mostly because this appears to have been painted fairly early in Bernhardt's career.

Sarah Bernhardt, photograph
Sarah Bernhardt, photograph

Bernhardt may have posed to Whistler briefly in the 1890s: see Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt y399.

Technique

Composition

Study of a Female Figure, photograph, Frick Collection
Study of a Female Figure, photograph, Frick Collection

There are extensive signs of alterations. There may have been a dado or step behind her legs. The woman may have had a wider skirt, or robe or scarf hanging down to left of her lower leg. The arms have been tried out in various positions. There may have been blossoms at right.

The composition is comparable to the painting Wardrobe by Albert Joseph Moore (1841-1893) (Johannesburg Art Gallery) which may be of about the same date, 1867. 6

Technique

Study of a Female Figure, photograph, Frick Collection
Study of a Female Figure, photograph, Frick Collection

It is now known only from a photograph, but it shows an interesting technique, a combination of brush and palette knife, with the leaded panes of the window scratched out while the paint was still wet. 7 Whistler rarely used a palette knife conspicuously after the 1860s.

The canvas is an unusual size, being narrow in proportion to its height, which suggests it might have been cut down. The canvas appears to have been of a coarse weave. The painting shows numerous signs of alterations, broad brushwork, and in the chequered are at the top, the pattern has been incised with a knife or the wooden end of a brush or stick. The paint appears to be thin, the consistency of thick cream, and applied on the dress in long full brushstrokes, with blobs of paint for blossoms on the right.

Conservation History

Unknown.

Frame

Unknown.

History

Provenance

According to Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) it may have been among the paintings 'more or less destroyed', by Whistler at the time of his bankruptcy, rejected by the auctioneers as unsaleable, and bought by Way's father, Thomas Way (1837-1915) from whom it passed to T. R. Way. At his death it was auctioned in 1913 and bought by 'Rothschild'. According to an annotated photograph in the Frick Art Reference Library, New York, it was once owned by the Galerie Barbazanges, Hodebert & Cie., Paris, as a portrait of Sarah Bernhardt.

Exhibitions

Unknown.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

SALE:

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: 'Probably painted in the late 1860s', YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 81).

2: Pennell Collection, Library of Congress.

3: Sotheby's, London, 1 July 1913 (lot 158).

4: Photograph in The Frick Library, 'VZ 4628'.

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 81).

6: Baldry 1894 [more], repr. f.p. 34.

7: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 81).