The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 090
Girl with Cherry Blossom

Girl with Cherry Blossom

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1867/1879
Collection: Private Collection, on long-term loan to The Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London
Accession Number: n/a
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 139.2 x 73.7 cm (54 3/4 x 29")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Flat Whistler with incised frieze, 1868/1878 [5 cm]

Date

Girl with Cherry Blossom dates from some time between 1867 and 1879, but most likely between 1871 and 1878.

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection

The first owner, Charles Benjamin Bright McLaren (1st Lord Aberconway) (1850-1934) (later Lord Aberconway) wrote the following note, dated 5 October 1924, which is attached to the stretcher,

'I saw this picture in Whistler's studio while being painted there was a standing figure also on the canvas holding the umbrella of which a portion is left when the picture was cut in two. I lived next door to Whistler & knew him well.'

Girl with Cherry Blossom appears to be a fragment of The Three Girls y088, which, at least in its original concept, was begun in 1867. If the fragment was cut from a revised composition, possibly on a new canvas, it was begun about 1871. Due to discrepancies in the provenance it is difficult to tell when (and if) it was cut from a larger composition and perhaps reworked by Whistler, and when Whistler stopped working on it.

Images

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Studio, vol. 30, 1904, p. 20
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Studio, vol. 30, 1904, p. 20

Girl with Cherry Blossom, framed
Girl with Cherry Blossom, framed

Girl with Cherry Blossom, frame, detail
Girl with Cherry Blossom, frame, detail

The White Symphony: Three Girls, Freer Gallery of Art
The White Symphony: Three Girls, Freer Gallery of Art

Pink and Grey: Three Figures, Tate Britain
Pink and Grey: Three Figures, Tate Britain

Crouching figure in 'The White Symphony: Three Girls, 1867/1870, Freer Gallery of Art
Crouching figure in 'The White Symphony: Three Girls, 1867/1870, Freer Gallery of Art


The Lily, 1870/1872, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Lily, 1870/1872, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

 Rose et argent: Fleurs de printemps, 1893, The Hunterian
Rose et argent: Fleurs de printemps, 1893, The Hunterian

Subject

Titles

Suggested titles include:

'Girl with Cherry Blossom' is the generally accepted title.

Description

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection

A composition in vertical format. A young woman in diaphanous robes, wearing a red patterned kerchief, crouches in profile to right. Her arms reach out to right to tend a small flowering tree in an orange pot standing on a small platform. Behind her is a white fence, and above it, a white awning seen against a blue sky. At upper right is the semi-circular edge of a red parasol. In front, some material is lying on the white carpeted floor.

Sitter

Unknown. The models for what may have been the original painting, The Three Girls y088, probably included Matilda Maria Gilchrist née Potter (1826-1886) and Emelie 'Millie' Eyre Jones (1850-1920).

Technique

Composition

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection

Girl with Cherry Blossom was probably cut by Whistler from The Three Girls y088. This is confirmed by X-radiographs that show the presence of part of the standing figure from the original composition, standing to the left of the crouching figure.

The presence of paint on the stretcher, carried over from the canvas, suggests that Whistler finished work on Girl with Cherry Blossom y090 only after cutting it from the original canvas. It is difficult to establish when this occurred because of discrepancies in the provenance.

Pink and Grey: Three Figures, Tate Britain
Pink and Grey: Three Figures, Tate Britain

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection

Girl with Cherry Blossom y090 is more thickly painted, brightly coloured, and highly finished than the copy made by Whistler in 1879, Pink and Grey: Three Figures y089.

The White Symphony: Three Girls, Freer Gallery of Art
The White Symphony: Three Girls, Freer Gallery of Art

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection

Pink and Grey: Three Figures, Tate Britain
Pink and Grey: Three Figures, Tate Britain

The crouching girl in The White Symphony: Three Girls y087, which was a study for the original canvas of The Three Girls y088, shares details of pose and dress with Girl with Cherry Blossom y090. However, the crouching figure in Pink and Grey: Three Figures y089, which was a copy of The Three Girls, is slightly different. On the other hand, the extremely diaphanous dress in Girl with Cherry Blossom is similar to that in the copy.

 The Lily, 1870/1872, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Lily, 1870/1872, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

 Rose et argent: Fleurs de printemps, 1893, The Hunterian
Rose et argent: Fleurs de printemps, 1893, The Hunterian

Drawings such as The Lily m0364, and the much later Rose et argent: Fleurs de printemps m1391, show that the subject of a crouching figure and flowers was one to which Whistler frequently returned.

Technique

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Private Collection

The Freer Gallery of Art website states categorically:

'This fragment, cut from the original canvas, is all that remains of Whistler’s painting The Three Girls. The ghostly silhouette of brushstrokes around the girl’s head and the overworked yet still unresolved forms of her fingers and toes confirm the artist’s struggle to perfect each detail. They also suggest that even at this advanced stage, the painting remained unfinished.' 5

The paint was mostly applied quite thinly, but then reworked. Areas on and around the figure were painted, rubbed down, and sometimes retouched, producing a curious mixture of blurred and finished areas. Some details, such as the blossom, were painted with blobs of thicker paint from a rounded brush. Paint on the stretcher, carried over from the canvas, suggests that Whistler continued to work on the fragment after it was cut from the original canvas.

Conservation History

The Freer Gallery website comments:

'From 1867 until 1877, Whistler painted, scraped, repainted, and finally destroyed The Three Girls, even though Leyland had already paid him for the picture. The artist was never satisfied with a work of art that appeared supremely beautiful to all eyes but his own. Whistler’s mother Anna, who was then living in London, astutely identified the problem: the painting eluded him precisely because “he had tried too hard to make it the perfection of art.”' 6

Frame

Girl with Cherry Blossom, Studio, vol. 30, 1904, p. 20
Girl with Cherry Blossom, Studio, vol. 30, 1904, p. 20

Girl with Cherry Blossom, framed
Girl with Cherry Blossom, framed

Girl with Cherry Blossom, frame, detail
Girl with Cherry Blossom, frame, detail

A Flat Whistler frame, the frieze decorated with an incised whorl motif. 7 This painting was probably cut down from the larger figure composition, The Three Girls y088, and was not exhibited by Whistler. He may have used the frame from another painting or had one cut down to size.

History

Provenance

According to the Pennells, 22 February 1878 Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890) recorded in his diary the purchase of five paintings from Whistler for £50.0.0, including 'a large picture of apple blossoms.' 8 This 'large picture' may have been Girl with Cherry Blossom y090, which is thought to have been cut from the central section of The Three Girls y088, and if the Pennells got the diary entry date right, this means The Three Girls was cut up in or before February 1878. In which case Howell could have sold the fragment, either on his own behalf, or acting as an agent, either directly or through an art firm such as Messrs Dowdeswell.

However, this scenario is contradicted by the record of a journalist, who saw The Three Girls, with the canvas still intact, in Whistler's studio in the White House in March 1879. 9 Whistler was declared bankrupt in May 1879. By 1880, he was trying to locate the whole, unfragmented canvas and mentioned that he had left it in the White House in the previous year, expecting it to be sold at his bankruptcy sale. It was not sold and he suspected Howell might have had a hand in removing it, as he wrote, 'The 3 girls may be in pawn or otherwise disposed of by Howell, or kept by him for future transaction!' 10 Thus Whistler thought that Howell could have acquired it (he was one of Whistler's creditors), and pawned or sold it. But did Howell or someone else return the canvas to Whistler in 1880, or later? did Howell or Whistler or someone else cut it up? Was the fragment Girl with Cherry Blossom y090 saved and perhaps touched up and sold by the artist?

Family records are contradictory: Christabel Aberconway (1890-1974) thought that Whistler had sold it to her father-in-law, Charles Benjamin Bright McLaren (1st Lord Aberconway) (1850-1934), 'before he married and when he was studying for the Bar' (McLaren became a Barrister at Lincoln's Inn in 1874 and married in 1877). 11 This would imply that Girl with Cherry Blossom y090 was cut from the original canvas before 1874, which is unlikely. Charles McLaren, who owned the painting fragment for many years, wrote, 'I bought this picture after [Whistler's] bankruptcy from Dowdeswell, then of Chancery Lane.' 12 This seems slightly more likely: Charles William Dowdeswell (1832-1915) had a print shop at 36 Chancery Lane, London, from 1865 on, and the firm was still there at the time of Whistler’s bankruptcy in 1879 (they had moved to 133 New Bond Street by 1880). Furthermore, Messrs Dowdeswell bought The Gold Scab y208 at Whistler's bankruptcy sale in 1879, and could have been involved in moving canvases out of the White House after Whistler left for Venice in 1880.

Exhibitions

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 69.

2: Way 1904 [more], repr. p. 20.

3: Robinson & Fisher, London, auction, 5 April 1934.

4: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 90).

5: Freer Gallery of Art, 2016, website at https://asia.si.edu/exhibition/girl-with-cherry-blossom.

6: Freer Gallery of Art website at http://www.asia.si.edu.

7: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more].

8: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 69; the other paintings may have been Nocturne y114 or Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach y119, and Study for the Head of Miss Cicely H. Alexander y128, Nocturne: Grey and Gold - Chelsea Snow y174, and Sketch for a Portrait of Henry Greaves y198. None of these sales have been confirmed.

9: A. de G. S., New York Herald, New York, 18 March 1879.

10: Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [March 1880], GUW #06689.

11: Undated note by the Lady Aberconway, GUL WPP files.

12: GUL WPP files.