The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 197
Harmony in Blue and Gold

Harmony in Blue and Gold

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1878
Collection: Whereabouts Unknown
Accession Number: none
Medium: oil
Support: unknown
Size: unknown
Signature: unknown
Inscription: unknown
Frame: unknown

Date

Harmony in Blue and Gold may date from 1878. 1

It was on exhibition in Glasgow in 1879, and described by 'Megilp' on 22 January 1879 as 'a young lady, with yellowish drapery leaning over a balcony ... fresh from the easel of this artist.' 2 It may have been defaced by Whistler at the time of his bankruptcy in 1879, and retrieved and restored at a later date.

It was exhibited at the Sixty-third Annual Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1886 (cat. no. 298) as 'Harmony in Blue and Gold'. It may have been the painting listed by Whistler among his larger pictures as 'Parasol' in 1886 or 1887. 3

Images

Harmony in Blue and Gold, Whereabouts unknown
Harmony in Blue and Gold, Whereabouts unknown

A nude girl with a parasol, The Hunterian
A nude girl with a parasol, The Hunterian

Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold', Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.
Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold', Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Subject

Titles

One title has been suggested:

Description

It was described by 'Megilp' in 1879 as 'a young lady, with yellowish drapery leaning over a balcony.' 6 It was described by the Art Journal in 1886 as 'a study of a single figure lightly draped', 7 and, more fully, by The Era as 'a girl whose form is draped, but not concealed, in blue gauze, leaning against a yellow balustrade with her back to the sea and her head set against a large yellow parasol.' 8

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

Whistler made a pen drawing of the oil painting, Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold' m1095, in 1886, signed with a butterfly, which was published in the Pall Mall Gazette. It shows a draped figure standing, with legs crossed, leaning back on a balcony, and holding in her right hand a large parasol, the handle resting on her shoulder and the parasol framing her head. She stands on a chequered pavement.

A nude girl with a parasol, The Hunterian
A nude girl with a parasol, The Hunterian

This is the only certain record of the oil, although the watercolour reproduced above, A nude girl with a parasol m1094, with a colour scheme of blue and gold, may be related to it.

It may also relate to designs in pastel, dating from 1872-1873, for a mosaic called by Whistler 'The Gold Girl', which was intended for the South Kensington Museum, but never realised. These designs – r.: A Japanese Woman; v.: Girl with parasol m0458, A Chinese lady with a parasol m0459, and Gold Girl m0461 – show a woman in Oriental robes, with a parasol.

Sitter

Unknown.

Technique

Composition

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

Whistler made a pen drawing of the oil painting, Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold' m1095, in 1886, which was published in the Pall Mall Gazette.

A nude girl with a parasol, The Hunterian
A nude girl with a parasol, The Hunterian

Although the pen drawing is the only certain record of the oil, a watercolour, A nude girl with a parasol m1094, with a colour scheme of blue and gold, may be related to it.

Technique

Unknown, although it was described by the Art Journal as 'worthy to rank among his greater productions, and presents qualities of handling, and beauties of delicate colour and of subtle tone relation, such as are marvellous.' 9

Conservation History

Unknown.

Frame

Unknown.

History

Provenance

Unknown.

Exhibitions

It was described in a Glasgow newspaper on 22 January 1879 as 'a young lady, with yellowish drapery leaning over a balcony ... fresh from the easel of this artist.' 10

Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold', Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.
Sketch of 'Harmony in Blue and Gold', Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

When it reappeared in London in 1886 (assuming this is the same painting) it was not well received. The Illustrated London News commented unfavourably, and at some length:

'In the present exhibition he is represented by a single picture, Harmony in Blue and Gold (298), in which it may be said that there is little blue and less gold. It is the not very elegant figure of a girl, slightly clad in a scanty robe, leaning against a balustrade, and holding over her head a huge stiff Japanese parasol, which occupies the centre of the canvas, like the dish on which Pantagruel was served by Gargantua. What the artist’s aim may be in this Harmony it is difficult to guess—the figure is not a classical study; the drapery is not realistic; and the parasol not imaginative: but we are assured that it is a Harmony, and with this (Chelsea) assurance we must rest satisfied.' 11

Others defended Whistler. An article by Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940), published under the heading 'Hail, President Whistler!' in the Court and Society Review on 10 June 1886, praised the new look of the Society of British Artists exhibition under their President, Whistler. 12 However, a man signing himself 'A Country Collector' responded with horror, directed specifically at Whistler's 'ill-painted, sooty-faced young woman in "blue and gold" ':

'I call this big daub simply a colossal piece of pyramidal impudence.

… so thin and feeble that I contend there was not much paint wasted on it ... an unfinished rubbishy sketch of a young woman, who, if she is not naked, ought to be, for she would then be more decent. The lady has hung the tail of her long robe over the railings of a pier, and the part of her garment that remains to cover her is transparent ... she holds an immense circular sunshade behind her head, and this forms a sort of aureole of dirty yellow. The parasol is quite the most important part of the damsel's dress. … there is neither colour, nor light, nor texture; there is neither "value", handling, nor harmony in this "Blue and Gold" affair by James Whistler. There is but little blue, and certainly there is no gold: if feeble grey is blue, then there is blue; if muddy, sickly, almost loathsome yellow is "gold", then there is gold; but, even admitting the blue and gold, one fails to notice any particular harmony, the painting is so weak. The figure, I repeat, is more naked than the nude: the colour – what there is of it – is distinctly unpleasant. ... How can they quietly stare at the ill-painted, sooty-faced young woman in "blue and gold" passes me.' 13

As Robins notes, Whistler 'challenged convention' by exhibiting several nude and semi-nude figures at the Society of British Artists in the mid-1880s, partly in response to the growing controversy over the employment of nude models, which was promoted by John Calcott Horsley (1817-1903). 14 Despite the controversy over this nearly-nude figure, Whistler retained an enthusiastic following among younger artists and this particular oil was praised by the Art Journal as 'worthy to rank among his greater productions.' 15

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Newspapers 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 197).

2: Megilp 1879a [more].

3: List, [1886/1887], formerly dated [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

4: Sixty-third Annual Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1886 (cat. no. 298).

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 197.

6: Megilp 1879a [more].

7: Art Journal July 1886 [more].

8: 'Spring Picture Shows', The Era, London, 1 May 1886, p. 13.

9: Art Journal July 1886 [more].

10: Megilp 1879a [more].

11: Illustrated London News, 8 May 1886, pp. 16-17.

12: Ms copy in GUW #11351.

13: 21 June 1886, Court and Society Review, GUW #11352; see also letters, 'A British Artist,' 'The Unknown Quantity' and 'Van Eyck' to the Editor, Court and Society Review, GUW #11353, #11354, #11355; M. C. Salaman to the Editor, GUW #11356.

14: Robins 2007 [more], pp. 58-59.

15: Art Journal July 1886 [more].