The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 175
Panels from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate

Panels from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1876
Collection: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Accession Number: F1904.458-74
Medium: oil and gold leaf
Support: wood
Size: dimensions of panels only: 26.5 x 58.0 cm, 32.7 x 50.5 cm, 32.8 x 50.5 cm, 42.6 x 58.5 cm, 32.8 x 49.7 cm, 37.0 x 51.5 cm, 37.0 x 51.1 cm, 36.8 x 50.8 cm, 36.8 x 51.1 cm, 36.8 x 51.1 cm, 36.8 x 51.1 cm, 36.8 x 51.1 cm, 25.0 x 43.3 cm, 37.2 x 43.8 cm, 36.8 x 51.1 cm, 36.8 x 51.5 cm, 36.8 x 44.8cm. (10 3/8 x 22 7/8", 12 7/8 x 19 7/8", 12 7/8 x 19 7/8", 16 ¾ x 23", 12 7/8 x 19 5/8", 14 5/8 x 20 ¼", 14 5/8 x 20 1/8", 14 ½ x 20", 14 ½ x 20 1/8", 14 ½ x 20 1/8", 14 ½ x 20 1/8", 141/2 x 20 1/8", 9 7/8 x 17 1/8", 14 5/8 x 17 ¼", 14 ½ x 20 1/8", 14 ½ x 20 ¼" , 14 ½ x 17 5/8")
Signature: butterflies
Inscription: none
Frame: wooden

Date

Panels from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate date from 1876. 1

Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892) commissioned decorations for the hall in his London house at 49 Princes Gate.

According to Alan Summerly Cole (1846-1934), he saw the colouring of the hall, 'very delicate cocoa-colour and gold – successful', on 24 March 1876. 2 About this time Whistler also painted the panels of the dado up the staircase. He lived at Princes Gate through the summer.

The 2000 Survey of London gives extensive details of the development of Princes Gate, including No. 49, and the designs by Jeckyll and Whistler, describing the Whistler's designs for the hall as follows:

'For the walls Whistler chose contrasting shades of green, to harmonize with the gilt balustrade; his most personal contribution, however, was a series of panels along the dado. Embellished with pink and white flowers on a background of dutch metal (imitation gold-leaf) under a lightly distressed green glaze, these were in progress in March 1876.' 3

On 17 August 1876 Leyland sent Whistler £50, and suggested Whistler should wait to see how the gilding on the stairs would wear.

'Seeing the doubt there is of the gilding on the stairs standing you had better do no more there. It looks very well as it is; and had better stand over until we see whether it will be lasting enough for the work put on it.' 4

Merrill suggests that Whistler's scheme originally extended to the whole hall and was only halted at Leyland's request. 5

Images

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Sketch for hallway of 49 Princes Gate, The Hunterian
Sketch for hallway of 49 Princes Gate, The Hunterian

Designs for staircase for 49 Princes Gate, British Museum
Designs for staircase for 49 Princes Gate, British Museum

Sketch of the entrance hall at 49 Princes Gate by H. D. Nichols, from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Dec. 1890
Sketch of the entrance hall at 49 Princes Gate by H. D. Nichols, from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Dec. 1890

Subject

Titles

The suggested title is as follows:

Description

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

In 1890 Theodore Child (1846-1892) described the decorations on the staircase as, 'panels imitating aventurine lacquer, decorated with delicate sprigs of pale rose and white flowers in the Japanese taste.' 7

The panels are varying quadrilateral shapes, and are now much darkened, but the freely painted intertwined flowers and leaves of the convolvulus are visible, if faint. The gilding has darkened considerably.

Site

Formerly installed in 49 Princes Gate, London.

Technique

Composition

Sketch for hallway of 49 Princes Gate, The Hunterian
Sketch for hallway of 49 Princes Gate, The Hunterian

There are two related pencil drawings Sketch for hallway of 49 Princes Gate m0577 and Designs for staircase for 49 Princes Gate m0578. The latter gives a very cursory indication of the curving convolvulus design.

Curry described Whistler as 'a traditional minded muralist painting realistic distances glimpsed through architectural elements that act as "windows" '. 8 Furthermore, Curry commented, 'Whistler faced existing architectural elements. He avoided stylistic imitation, choosing instead to create spatial harmony. The balustrade itself was gilt bronze, brought from a recently demolished house.' 9 To some extent the colour scheme of the dining room was integrated with the 'warm gold and cooler green tonal scheme' of the hall panels. 10

The 2000 Survey of London described the remodelling of the hall:

'Jeckyll presumably had the responsibility of adapting Freake's staircase to take the balustrade from the great stairs at Northumberland House, which Leyland acquired when the historic mansion was pulled down to make Northumberland Avenue. At the sale of the materials in September 1874, the balustrade, with its Spanish mahogany handrail, was knocked down for just £360. … The balustrade is an exceptional piece of design – an enriched Vitruvian scroll highly decorated with foliage and flowers … Dating from 1822-3, it was designed by the Duke of Northumberland's architect, Thomas Cundy the elder, and made of Grecian metal, a 'refined species of brass'. …

Fitting a balustrade intended for a large imperial staircase to the shorter, steeper flights and sharper turns of a staircase in a terraced house … required both ingenuity and skill, and perhaps used up more of the original than expected. For whatever reason, the balustrade as originally installed at No. 49 extended from the entrance hall only to the second-floor landing.' 11

Designs for wall decorations: r.: Designs for 2 Lindsey Row; r. and v.: Whistler's House, 2 Lindsey Row, The Hunterian
Designs for wall decorations: r.: Designs for 2 Lindsey Row; r. and v.: Whistler's House, 2 Lindsey Row, The Hunterian

Possibly inspired by his designs for the staircase panels, a little later Whistler drew flowery designs for the staircase in his own house in Lindsey Row, Designs for wall decorations: r.: Designs for 2 Lindsey Row; r. and v.: Whistler's House, 2 Lindsey Row m0659.

Technique

Painted thinly, but quite freely, with a combination of oil paint and gilding, possibly in metallic paint rather than gold leaf (F. R. Leyland mentioned 'dutch metal in large masses' having been used on the hall dado). 12 Curry describes this fairly economical method, which used 'five-inch square sheets of Dutch metal foil, an alloy of copper and brass, laid over prepared sizing and covered with semi-opaque glazes.' 13

The Encyclopedia of Interior Design describes and comments on the techniques employed:

'To enhance the magnificent ormolu balustrade that formed its centerpiece, Whistler painted the upper portion of the walls in "shades of willow," with a darker green wainscoting that set off decorated panels … These he covered with Dutch-metal leaf, both fixing and coating the squares with a transparent green glaze that he gently abraded so the gold would flicker through; he completed the design with a Japanese-inspired pattern of pink and white morning glories entwined on a trellis. The iridescent panels reminded his contemporaries of "aventurine" lacquer, which glimmers with particles of gold and silver, though Whistler's decoration may owe more of its inspiration to the gilding on Japanese screens.' 14

Conservation History

The panels were removed from 49 Princes Gate in 1904, and sent to C. L. Freer's house in Detroit. They were later moved to the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Frame

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art
Panel from the Entrance Hall at 49 Princes Gate, Freer Gallery of Art

Parallelograms and a variety of asymmetrical four-sided frames enclose the panels.

History

Provenance

In March 1892 the auctioneers Osborn and Mercer wrote to Whistler:

'We beg to inform you that we have received instructions from the Solicitors acting on behalf of the Executors of the late F. R. Leyland Esq. to dispose of that charming residence 49 Princes Gate which owes so much to your care attention and advice. Should you know of anyone requiring such a model of tasteful refinement we shall be much obliged if you will acquaint us when we will send descriptive particulars and the necessary card to view.' 15

In June 1904 Messrs Obach held an exhibition at 168 New Bond Street, London, The Peacock Room painted for Mr. F. R. Leland by James McNeil Whistler, removed in its entirety from the late owner's residence and exhibited at Messrs Obach's Galleries. C. L. Freer bought Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room y178 as well as the staircase panels. The panels arrived in America in August 1904. 16 Several panels from the hall remained in London, and are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Exhibitions

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

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

SALE:

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. 175).

2: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, p. 203. Ms copies with variations, GUW #12986, #13132, #03432.

3: Greenacombe, John (ed.), 'Princes Gate and Princes Gardens: the Freake Estate, Development by C. J. Freake', in Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge, London, 2000, pp. 191-205, in British History Online website at http://www.british-history.ac.uk.

4: GUW #02569.

5: Merrill 1998 [more], p. 183.

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 175).

7: Child 1890 [more].

8: Curry 1984 [more], p. 160.

9: Curry 1987 [more], at p. 74.

10: Singletary 2017 [more], p. 20.

11: Greenacombe, John (ed.), 'Princes Gate and Princes Gardens: the Freake Estate, Development by C. J. Freake', in Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge, London, 2000, pp. 191-205, in British History Online website at http://www.british-history.ac.uk.

12: Leyland to Whistler, 26 April 1876, GUW #02567.

13: Curry 1984 [more], pp. 160-61, plate 72.

14: Banham, Joanna (ed.), Encyclopedia of Interior Design, London & Chicago, 2 vols., 1997.

15: 4 March 1892, #12697.

16: Freer to R. Birnie Philip, 11 August 1904, GUL BP III 4/60.