The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 236
Harmony in Black and Red

Harmony in Black and Red

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1880/1882
Collection: Whereabouts Unknown
Accession Number: none
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: ca 191 x 91 cm (75 x 36").
Signature: unknown
Inscription: unknown
Frame: unknown

Date

Harmony in Black and Red dates from 1880/1882. 1 It is dated from the costume and the date of the first exhibition, at the VI Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1882 (cat. no. 127) as 'Harmony in Black and Red.'

R. Hallward after Whistler 'Harmony in Black and Red', woodcut, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882
R. Hallward after Whistler 'Harmony in Black and Red', woodcut, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882

It is identified by a woodcut done at that time, although that was labelled incorrectly 'THE BLUE GIRL'. 2

Jacques Émile Blanche (1861-1942) recorded having seen a portrait of Maud Franklin 'en noir et rouge' at Whistler's Tite Street studio about 1884. 3 No further mention of it is known.

Images

'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph labelled 'Arrangement in Black No 6', G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art
'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph labelled 'Arrangement in Black No 6', G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art

'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph, 1880s, GUL Whistler PH4/27
'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph, 1880s, GUL Whistler PH4/27

R. Hallward after Whistler 'Harmony in Black and Red', woodcut, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882
R. Hallward after Whistler 'Harmony in Black and Red', woodcut, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882

Subject

Titles

Two titles have been recorded:

'Harmony in Black and Red' is the original and preferred title.

One photograph of the portrait is in the Glasgow University Library; another is in the Lucas Collection, Baltimore, signed on the mount with a butterfly of about 1882 and inscribed by Whistler 'Arrangement in Black No. 6'.

In calling the portrait 'Arrangement in Black No. 6' Whistler was confirming its relationship with Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux y228, which was in the same series.

R. Hallward after Whistler 'Harmony in Black and Red', woodcut, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882
R. Hallward after Whistler 'Harmony in Black and Red', woodcut, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882

A wood engraving in the Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882, listed it as 'The Blue Girl', confusing it with Scherzo in Blue: The Blue Girl y226 in the same exhibition. Whistler wrote complaining of this 'new libel' to Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894): '… doubtless the Art Director of your Contemporary can at least read, and would scarcely have offered, as the "Blue Girl," what in the Catalogue is entitled "Arrangement in Black & Red".' 7

Description

'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph labelled 'Arrangement in Black No 6', G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art
'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph labelled 'Arrangement in Black No 6', G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art

Blackburn described Harmony in Black and Red y236 as a 'single figure, in dark dress, standing, nearly life size; touches of red on hat, and coral necklace.' 8 Blanche, writing in 1905, remembered 'une face anguleuse de "Barmaid" sur un haut col paré de perles rouges de corail', and in 1919 he described it at the Grosvenor in 1882 as 'tout noir, mais d'un noir translucide, comme de l'encre sur l'or, était une figure anguleuse, au long col paré de perles de corail: Maud.' (1905, translated, 'the angular face of a barmaid, with a high collar, adorned with red coral beads'; 1919, translated, 'it was all black, but translucent black, like ink on gold, an angular figure, with a long collar adorned with coral beads.' 9

'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/27
'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/27

'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph labelled 'Arrangement in Black No 6', G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art
'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph labelled 'Arrangement in Black No 6', G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art

One photograph of the portrait is in the Glasgow University Library; another in the Lucas Collection, Baltimore, signed on the mount with a butterfly of about 1882 and inscribed by Whistler 'Arrangement in Black No. 6'. The photographs of Harmony in Black and Red y236 give its proportions. Accepting Blackburn's description of it as a portrait 'nearly life-size', these proportions would correspond to a canvas of approximately 75 x 36" (191 x 91 cm).

Sitter

Maud Franklin (1857-1939). It seems that Whistler considered his portraits of Maud "artists' pictures" (seeArrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket y181) compared to his fashionable portraits (such as Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux y228 and Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell y242).

Technique

Technique

'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph, 1880s, GUL Whistler PH4/27
'Harmony in Black and Red', photograph, 1880s, GUL Whistler PH4/27

Unknown. It appears to have been thinly painted, with the figure barely emerging from shadows, with a much lighter collar and face.

Conservation History

Unknown.

Frame

Unknown.

History

Provenance

Unknown.

Exhibitions

In the spring of 1882 Whistler wrote to Théodore Duret (1838-1927) about an exhibition in Paris, rue de Sèze, presumably at the Galerie Georges Petit,

'I see that there is to be an Exhibition in the Rue du Seze with Alfred Stevens and de Nitis at the head - Do you not think that I might send as representing America? I should very much like to let them have the other picture that you were so well pleased with / I mean the one of Madame in black - with the black hat and red feather - In a certain way you know as execution we were both of opinion that it was a progress and I think the one would appeal to the artists and explain or help the other - Will you ask about all this and let me know?' 10

The 'other' was Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux y228; in calling Harmony in Black and Red y236, 'Arrangement in Black No. 6', Whistler was confirming its relationship with that portrait. Whistler had hoped they might be seen together in Paris, but this does not seem to have happened. J. E. Blanche mentions seeing a portrait of Maud Franklin exhibited in Paris in 1883, but may have confused it with Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder y203, which was at the Petit exhibition in that year.

Meanwhile, the painting received a poor reception from art critics. The Era on 5 May enquired if Whistler painted 'with a sponge and a scrubbing brush'. Punch, on 27 May 1882, caricatured it unflatteringly as 'The Ghost in the Haunted Coalhole'. 11 Knowledge was particularly nasty in its comments, describing the portrait as:

'We are shown a sooty-faced, ill-shaped creature (do look at that left arm!), on a dirty-black background, with smears of vermillion on necklace, lips, and hat, and we are told it is – not a Horror in Soot and Ochre, as out eyes tell us – but (forsooth) a harmony in Black and Red!' 12

R. Hallward after Whistler 'Harmony in Black and Red', woodcut, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882
R. Hallward after Whistler 'Harmony in Black and Red', woodcut, Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882

A not very good wood engraving in the Illustrated London News, 22 July 1882, calls it 'The Blue Girl', confusing it with Scherzo in Blue: The Blue Girl y226 in the same exhibition. Whistler wrote complaining of this 'new libel' to Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894) of The World:

'Have you seen the woodcuts in the Illustrated London News of last week? -

I discover to my chagrin that a small monstrosity by way of new libel on my painting in the Grosvenor has found a place in that largely circulated journal -

… doubtless the Art Director of your Contemporary can at least read, and would scarcely have offered, as the "Blue Girl," what in the Catalogue is entitled "Arrangement in Black & Red" -

... here we have the blind led by the Color blind ... Useless perhaps in these days of aesthetic artisans and cultivated woodcutters to complain of the ugly work - for probably the original itself does not convey an impression of beauty to the culture crowded craftsman employed in translating us - Still I submit that - however faintly - there is yet suggested a less brutal [awkwardness] of young lady ... a less stolid capacity for murder than is to be propagated to the four quarters of the globe as the truth respecting Mr. Whistler's picture.' 13

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. 236).

2: Illustrated London News, London, 22 July 1882.

3: Blanche 1919 [more], pp. 55, 60.

4: VI Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1882 (cat. no. 127).

5: Photograph, ca 1882, Lucas Collection, Baltimore.

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 236).

7: [24/28 July 1882], GUW #07109.

8: Blackburn 1882 [more], p. 41.

9: Blanche 1905 [more], at p. 356. Blanche 1919 [more], pp. 55, 60.

10: [March/April 1882], GUW #09639.

11: Punch, 27 May 1882, caricature repr. p. 240.

12: Anon., 'The Grosvenor Gallery', Knowledge: An Illustrated Magazine of Science …', no. 32, 9 June 1882, pp. 17-18. See also Getscher 1986 [more], p. 191, J. 101.

13: [24/28 July 1882], GUW #07109. The letter was not published.