The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 093
Venus Rising from the Sea

Venus Rising from the Sea

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1868/1873
Collection: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Accession Number: F1903.174a-b
Medium: oil
Support: cavas
Size: 59.8 x 49.1 cm (23 1/2 x 19 1/4" )
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau-style, ca 1903

Date

Venus Rising from the Sea probably dates from between 1868 and 1873.

Venus Rising from the Sea, infrared, 1965
Venus Rising from the Sea, infrared, 1965

Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art

1865: Venus Rising from the Sea is painted over a seascape or river scene, which is visible at right angles to the figure study. The seascape could have been comparable to those Whistler was working on in the autumn of 1865, such as Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville y064, Blue and Silver: Trouville y066, and Green and Grey. Channel y069, Green and Grey. The Oyster Smacks – Evening y070, but could be later.

1868: Whistler started at least three versions of paintings of Venus. One, Venus y082, one of 'The Six Projects', dates from 1868, and it is possible that Venus Rising from the Sea y093 also dates from that time.

1869/1870: Whistler wrote to William Grapel (1822-1887), 'The Venus is really scarcely to be judged of in its present wild rough hewn state.' 1 Venus Rising from the Sea and Venus y082 are both in what Whistler might have called a 'rough hewn state'. Furthermore, an elaborate cartoon called Venus m0357 was signed and dated '1869'.

1870: Edwin Edwards (1823-1879) wrote to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) 'j'irais voir Whistler aussitot que je peux sortir - il a presque fini quelque chose (une Venus je crois) pour l'Académie.' (Translation: 'I will go to see Whistler as soon as I can go out; he has almost finished something (a Venus I believe) for the Academy.' 2 However, no such painting was sent to the Royal Academy in May 1870.

1871: The composition, in its present form, is painted over a seascape or river scene; the canvas is the same size as Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea y103, which is signed and dated 1871. It is possible that the Venus was started as late as this date.

1873: Whistler may have continued to work on the subject even later in the 1870s. On 31 January 1873 he wrote to his patron Louis Huth (1821-1905),

'I should not exactly like to fix the price of the other two pictures until they are a little way on; However I think the Venus ought to be somewhere about 6 or 7 hundred ... But if you agree with me I think we might talk this over - The pictures anyhow are the ones that I intend now to take up directly the Academy work is over - and you can see as they progress whether you like to keep them for yourself.' 3

Images

Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art

Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art

Venus Rising from the Sea, infrared, 1965
Venus Rising from the Sea, infrared, 1965

A. L. Coburn, C. L. Freer, photograph, 1909, Freer Gallery of Art
A. L. Coburn, C. L. Freer, photograph, 1909, Freer Gallery of Art

Subject

Titles

Only two titles have been suggested:

'Venus Rising from the Sea' is the preferred title.

Description

Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art

A figure study in vertical format. A nude woman stands with hands behind her back. Her weight rests on her left leg, and her right leg is bent, slightly forward. She turns slightly to her right, and appears to be looking down. She is on a beach, which runs diagonally from lower left to right behind her. The sea is a pale blue/green, edged with white ripples along the beach. The horizon line is high on the canvas, the sky pale grey. There is blossom on some branches at upper right.

Sitter

Unidentified.

Comments

Venus, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus, Freer Gallery of Art

Other 'Venus' subjects include a cartoon, Venus m0357, two oils, Venus y082 (reproduced above), and Venus y548, and a drawing, Venus and Cupid m1699.

Technique

Composition

Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art

Venus Rising from the Sea, infrared, 1965
Venus Rising from the Sea, infrared, 1965

It was painted over a seascape or river scene, just visible with the canvas turned sideways (and seen in the infrared image above). The seascape could have been of the type Whistler was working on at Trouville in the autumn of 1865, such as Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville y064Sea and Rain y065, Blue and Silver: Trouville y066, and Green and Grey. Channel y069.

On the other hand, the canvas is the same size as Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea y103, which is signed and dated 1871. It is known that Whistler re-used canvases, and indeed a figure subject, possibly related to the 'Six Projects', is known to exist under Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights y115.

Venus, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus, Freer Gallery of Art

One of the surviving 'Six Projects', Venus y082, also shows a nude Venus with a background of water.

Technique

Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art

There are numerous signs of alterations to both sides of the figure. At one time she was much further to the left, and possibly surrounded by drapery. The position of both her arms, legs, and the angle of her head, have all been changed several times. It is thinly painted with brushes and scraped with brush and palette knife. At left, a broad stroke of brown outlines the arm and thigh.

Conservation History

According to Freer Gallery conservation files, it was in poor condition in 1921, the canvas broken and relined, with much poor inpainting; it was cleaned, repaired and retouched. In the following year it was cleaned and resurfaced. In 1942 it was again resurfaced and in 1949, retouched, cleaned and resurfaced; cleaned and surfaced in 1951. The surface still shows large areas of cracking and abrasions.

Frame

A. L. Coburn, C. L. Freer, photograph, 1909, Freer Gallery of Art
A. L. Coburn, C. L. Freer, photograph, 1909, Freer Gallery of Art

Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art
Venus Rising from the Sea, Freer Gallery of Art

The Grau-style frame has the label of Newman, Soho Square, London, on the stretcher. 6 The frame is seen above in a 1909 photograph, being admired by C. L. Freer, and in a recent photograph. 7

History

Provenance

In 1873 Whistler wrote to his patron Louis Huth (1821-1905), 'I should not exactly like to fix the price of the other two pictures until they are a little way on; However I think the Venus ought to be somewhere about 6 or 7 hundred.' 8 Whistler wrote about the same time to William Grapel (1822-1887), 'the Venus is really scarcely to be judged of in its present wild rough hewn state.' 9

It is possibly the nude referred to by the Pennells as being acquired by the London printer Thomas Way at the time of Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879. 10 It was sold by Way's son, T. R. Way, to C. L. Freer on 28 July 1903 for £400.0.0. This was a few days after Whistler's death. Freer bought an enormous number of works from T. R. Way at this time.

A. L. Coburn, C. L. Freer, photograph, 1909, Freer Gallery of Art
A. L. Coburn, C. L. Freer, photograph, 1909, Freer Gallery of Art

A photograph by Alvin Landon Coburn (1882-1966) shows Freer comparing Venus Rising from the Sea y093 to an Islamic glazed ceramic pot (F1905.61) in 1909.

Exhibitions

Edwin Edwards (1823-1879) wrote to Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) 'j'irais voir Whistler aussitot que je peux sortir - il a presque fini quelque chose (une Venus je crois) pour l'Académie.' 11 However, even if this did refer to the Venus under discussion, it was not exhibited at that time at the Royal Academy, nor is there any record of a later exhibition.

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent.

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: [1869/1870], GUW #01792.

2: Copy of letter, [February 1870], GUL, C. P. Barbier Collection, vol. 2, f. 274 v., from original in Musée de Grenoble.

3: Draft, [31 January 1873], GUW #02242. Huth replied 'I gladly accept your offer as regards the other two pictures to allow me to postpone my final decision in regard to them until they are further advanced.' 1 February 1873, GUW #02243.

4: Whistler to W. Grapel, GUW #01792.

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 93).

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

7: Lawton 1993 [more], pp. 190-91, photograph repr. p. 191.

8: 31 January 1873, GUW #02242.

9: [1869/1873], GUW #01792.

10: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 134.

11: Copy of letter, [February 1870], GUL C. P. Barbier Collection, vol. 2, f. 274 v., from original in Musée de Grenoble.