The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 230
Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs

Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1881-1886
Collection: Whereabouts unknown, probably destroyed
Accession Number: none
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: ca 191 x 89 (75 x 35")
Signature: unknown
Inscription: unknown
Frame: unknown

Date

Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs was painted at intervals from 1881-1886. 1

1881: It was commissioned by Henry Bruce Meux (1857-1900), and paid for in advance. 2

Alan Summerly Cole (1846-1934) noted in his diary on 26 May 1881, 'Met Jimmy who is taking a new studio in Tite Street where he is going to paint all the fashionables - views of crowds competing for sittings - carriages along the street.' 3

Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26
Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26

Harmony in Crimson and Brown, private collection
Harmony in Crimson and Brown, private collection

Whistler made a drawing of it, about this time, Harmony in Crimson and Brown m0853. He also wrote to his sister-in-law,

'I have been tremendously hard at work ... Mrs Meux came to town and we had up the pictures and slaved away until one of them is supposed to be finished - though it isn't! - and then off she went again ... The World reports strangely enough - that Mr Whistler having completed the first of the Series of Mrs Meux has "gone for his holiday to the sea side!" - I wonder how these things happen!' 4

In October 1881 two portraits of Lady Meux were shown to the press in Whistler's studio, when this portrait was described by Mrs Hawthorne as incomplete, 'treated in a subdued tone of brown and brownish-red. The pose is somewhat as before, but the figure is enveloped in a long brown fur cloak reaching nearly to the feet.' 5

1883/1884: Lady Meux was sitting for a portrait, possibly this, around the same time that Théodore Duret (1838-1927) was posing for his portrait, Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret y252.

1884: on 2 November Whistler wrote to Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929) postponing a sitting for a portrait of 'Miss Kathie' until the following Tuesday because he would 'not be rid of lady M before.' 6 On 9 December 1884 Whistler made a drawing of the Meux portrait, Sketch of 'Harmony in Crimson and Brown' m0993, for Charles William Dowdeswell (1832-1915). 7

1886: Lady Meux planned to have her furs 'altered' and her dress 'made in to a cloak' and asked Whistler to send her the portrait. 8 Whistler drafted a reply, complaining that he could not paint the portrait from a substitute, Lady Meux's maid, Alice:

'Just received telegram being absent yesterday waited for your picture three weeks running absolutely impossible now must leave town cannot struggle with melting maids in alterred [sic] furs ridiculous prefer to pay back money though as always charming will paint you quite a new portrait new arrangement if you promise to stand for it yourself.' 9

Pennell stated that when the maid posed, Whistler painted her face over that of Lady Meux, and implies that this took place after Whistler and Lady Meux had fallen out. 10

1887: Edward Upton, Sir Henry Meux's solicitor, wrote to the artist asking him, if the painting was not finished, to return a proportion of the down-payment as Lady Meux was not well enough to sit again. 11 There is no record of a reply, but the money was not returned at this point.

1889: In April Sir Henry Meux suggested that 'the picture of Lady Meux in a sable dress' should be exhibited in Whistler's retrospective exhibition at the College for Working Men and Women, adding, 'If it is not yet quite finished will you ask Lady Meux to give you another sitting or send you the sables.' 12 However, there is no record of another sitting.

On 5 July 1889 Upton & Britton threatened legal proceedings against Whistler. He blamed 'the whims and uncertainties of the lady' but agreed to settle the matter amiably. 13

1890: Whistler's secretary, W. Bell, wrote to Upton that Whistler would send a cheque, and return the money. 14

1891: Lady Meux wrote that she was 'not in the mood to be painted as a Spanish female of the 15th Century', which suggests that Whistler thought she might dress as Queen Isabel I of Spain (1451-1504), for Study for Three Decorative Panels Representing 'The Landing of Columbus', 'Queen Isabel la Católica of Spain' and 'Queen Elizabeth of England' y396. 15

1892: Lady Meux told Whistler, 'If you ever paint me again I should like you to paint / me in something dreamy[.] I look best in soft colours', but she also wrote, 'I cannot stand your brushes flickering in front of my eyes.' 16 Finally she wrote, 'I fear you will never have the pleasure of painting me again now that you are not in England, as when in Paris I spend all my time at the dressmakers.' 17 She never posed to him again.

Images

Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26
Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26

Harmony in Crimson and Brown, Private collection
Harmony in Crimson and Brown, Private collection

Sketch of "Harmony in Crimson and Brown", Colby College Museum of Art
Sketch of "Harmony in Crimson and Brown", Colby College Museum of Art

Lady Meux and Sir Henry Meux, photograph, Lowewood Museum
Lady Meux and Sir Henry Meux, photograph, Lowewood Museum

Subject

Titles

Alternative titles have been suggested:

'Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs' is the preferred title.

Description

A full length portrait of a woman in vertical format. She faces the viewer, wearing a full-length brown fur coat with a broad collar, a muff, and hat.

Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26
Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26

A photograph in the Glasgow University Library gives the proportions for Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs y230. Assuming it to have been life-size, these proportions correspond to a canvas of approximately 75 x 35 (191 x 89). In 1908 the Pennells said that Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs y230 was smaller than Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux y228 and Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux y229, but in 1911 they omitted this statement. 20

Sitter

Lady Meux and Sir Henry Meux, photograph, Lowewood museum
Lady Meux and Sir Henry Meux, photograph, Lowewood museum

Valerie Susan Meux (née Langdon) (1847-1910).

This was the third of Whistler's portraits of Lady Meux, and the only one not completed (see Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux y228, Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux y229).

When she was posing for one of the portraits, Whistler wrote to her, 'I trust you will be quite well and in brilliant spirits that I may catch the particular sparkle in the wonderful eyes I mean this picture to have!' 21

Technique

Composition

Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26
Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26

Harmony in Crimson and Brown, Private collection
Harmony in Crimson and Brown, Private collection

Sketch of "Harmony in Crimson and Brown", Colby College Museum of Art
Sketch of "Harmony in Crimson and Brown", Colby College Museum of Art

The first drawing of the composition, Harmony in Crimson and Brown m0853, dating from about 1881, matches the composition of the portrait as shown in the undated photograph of it. The later drawing, Sketch of 'Harmony in Crimson and Brown' m0993, dating from 1884, shows a slightly different costume, suggesting a jacket over a dress rather than a full length fur cloak.

Technique

Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26
Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26

It appears to have been thinly and evenly painted, but it is difficult to judge from the sole photograph.

'A caricature of Whistler painting simultaneously his three portraits of Lady Meux', by Charles Hallam Elton Brookfield (1857-1913), was published in The Graphic, 25 March 1911; his illustration of Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs was based on Whistler's drawing Sketch of 'Harmony in Crimson and Brown' m0993, which was then owned by Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929). 22

Conservation History

Unknown. It was probably destroyed.

Frame

Unknown.

History

Provenance

It was commissioned by Henry Meux, who paid 400 guineas in advance, instead of the 500 Whistler wanted; according to Whistler, 'that cheery sportsman ... withdrew to the banks of the ... Nile and from the top of a distant Pyramid haggled in safety over the cheque to be payed me for my work!' 23

In 1887, Edward Upton, Sir Henry Meux's solicitor, wrote to the artist:

'Some few years ago you undertook to paint 3. Portraits of Lady Meux two of which, I believe you completed but the third remained unfinished although you were paid for the whole - Some time ago, as I am instructed, that you offered to finish the unfinished Picture or to return a pro-portion of the amount which you had received for the 3.

Sir Henry wishes the matter settled and inasmuch as Lady Meux is not in good health and cannot sit to you I should be glad to know what proportion of the total sum which you have received you are prepared to return in order that / the matter may be settled.' 24

There is no record of a reply, but the money was not returned at this point. On 5 July 1889 Upton & Britton threatened legal proceedings against Whistler. He agreed to settle the matter amiably, and referred them to his solicitor, George Henry Lewis (1833-1911). 25

In the following February, Whistler's secretary, William Bell, wrote to Upton that Whistler would send a cheque, and return the money. 26

According to Pennell, in 1905 Lady Meux offered Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux y228 and Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux y229 to the Committee of the London Whistler Memorial Exhibition 'on condition that the third [portrait] should be returned to her. This the Committee were unable to do.' 27

1910: Lady Meux bequeathed 'Whistler's "Sable Picture of Lady Meux" ' to the National Gallery, London, but the artist's executrix, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), wrote to The Times that Whistler had destroyed the picture. 28

Exhibitions

In April 1889 Sir Henry Meux suggested that 'the picture of Lady Meux in a sable dress' should be exhibited in Whistler's Retrospective Exhibition, College for Working Men and Women, London, 1889, but it was not shown. 29

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

Newspapers 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 230).

2: Whistler to Upton & Britton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

3: Ms copies, GUW #13132, #03432.

4: Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [September 1881], GUW #06694.

5: Hawthorne 1881 [more], at p. 658.

6: Whistler to W. Dowdeswell, GUW #08688.

7: Menpes 1904 A [more], repr. f.p. xx; Illustrated London News, 21 January 1911, repr. p. 89.

8: A. Harris (Lady Meux's secretary) to Whistler, 26 July [1886], GUW #02044; Lady Meux to Whistler, [29 July 1886], GUW #04067.

9: [30 July 1886], GUW #04068.

10: Pennell 1911 A [more], p. 210.

11: 1 November 1887, GUW #05894.

12: 27 April [1889], GUW #04066.

13: GUW #05896; Whistler to Upton & Britton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

14: 26 February 1890, GUL #03464.

15: Lady Meux to Whistler, [22 September 1891], GUW #04069.

16: Lady Meux to Whistler, 13 January 1892 and 12 February 1892, GUL #04071 and #04072.

17: 2 December 1892, GUW #04075.

18: Inscribed on Harmony in Crimson and Brown m0853, private collection.

19: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 230).

20: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 301-02; Pennell 1911, op. cit.

21: [1882/1883], GUW #09299.

22: 'The Lost Lady: What became of a Whistler', The Graphic, 25 March 1911, p. 18.

23: Whistler to Upton & Britton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

24: 1 November 1887, GUW #05894.

25: GUW #05896; Whistler to Upton & Britton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

26: 26 February 1890, GUL #03464.

27: Pennell 1911 A [more], p. 210.

28: 'Lady Meux's Will. The Missing Portrait by Whistler.', The Times, London, 11 January 1910, p. 8; J. and E. R. Pennell, letter to the Editor, 11 January 1911, in The Times, London, 12 January 1911, p. 8; R. Birnie Philip, letter to the Editor, 13 January 1911, in The Times, 14 January 1911, p. 8. See also 'The Lost Lady: What became of a Whistler', The Graphic, 25 March 1911, p. 18.

29: 27 April [1889], GUW #04066.