The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 281
La petite maison rouge

La petite maison rouge

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1884/1886
Collection: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
Accession Number: GLAHA 46347
Medium: oil
Support: wood
Size: 21.5 x 12.4 cm (8 1/2 x 4 7/8")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau-style, ca 1892

Date

La petite maison rouge may date from between 1884 and 1886, but could be later. 1

La Petite Maison rouge, The Hunterian
La Petite Maison rouge, The Hunterian

Low Tide, Freer Gallery of Art
Low Tide, Freer Gallery of Art

The technique and style are unusual and difficult to date. The fascination with colour and texture is akin to that seen in Low Tide y280. It is possible it was painted in St Ives in 1884, or on the continent later, as late as the 1890s (the frame appears to date from ca 1892).

Images

La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian
La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian

La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian
La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian

La petite maison rouge, frame detail
La petite maison rouge, frame detail

Low Tide, Freer Gallery of Art
Low Tide, Freer Gallery of Art

Subject

Titles

Whistler's own title is not known. The only known title is as follows:

There are variations in capitalisation; the preferred title is 'La petite maison rouge' as published in 1905. The title of this painting translates as 'The little red house'.

Description

La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian
La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian

A vertical panel showing the backs of several two-storey houses. At right is a red-brick house with red-tiled roof and chimneys. The other buildings appear to be grey or back, constructed of painted or tarred wood, again with brick chimneys. A small hut in the centre has a white roof, perhaps metal, and untreated wood around the near corner. A grey fence surrounds the area at the back of the houses. In front of this, in the foreground of the picture, is a grey wall surrounding a muddy yard, with stacks of lumber and a manger at right, and, at left, several animals – it is not entirely clear if these are cows, donkeys, mules or horses.

Site

The exact location of the house is not known, though it may be in Hastings, England, where Whistler's mother stayed from 1874 until her death in 1881. The grey huts could be smoke-houses for smoking fish. It is possible it was painted in Hastings in 1881, in St Ives, Cornwall, in 1884, or even later.

The title by which the painting was shown in 1905, 'La petite maison rouge', may have been suggested by Whistler to his sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958). However, it is possible that the scene itself, as well as the title, is French. Whistler was frequently in French ports and fishing villages, either on holiday or en route to Paris, from the mid-1880s and through the 1890s.

Technique

Technique

La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian
La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian

It is painted on a thin softwood panel, probably pine, about 3 mm thick, which has been roughly bevelled at top and bottom. The thin, mid-grey priming was applied with randomly swirled brushstrokes, unusual in Whistler's panels, and possibly concealing an earlier composition. 5

The paint is freely applied and the brushwork remarkably diverse. The paint is of pasty consistency, possibly with an added 'sauce', and thinner in the foreground than on the sky. The paint runs over the edges, at all sides. On the houses, the bricks, tiles, and weathered wooden planking are built up carefully with short strokes of a soft, round-ended brush, 2 mm wide. The artist may also have used a longer brush, since a hair 7 mm long is trapped in paint in the foreground. The animals are painted much more freely in long wriggly brushstrokes of brown and grey – presumably because they would not keep still. On the left, the chimneys have been painted over the sky; on the right, the sky was painted over the chimneys, showing that the panel was painted in two separate sessions.

Conservation History

The panel is thin and fragile, and very slightly warped. Despite minor paint losses at the edge, the paint is relatively stable, as is the thin glossy varnish, although it is slightly yellowed. 6

Frame

La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian
La petite maison rouge, The Hunterian

La petite maison rouge, frame detail
La petite maison rouge, frame detail

Grau-style frame, 46.9 x 37.9 x 7.2 cm. 7

History

Provenance

Exhibitions

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime. It was first shown in the Whistler memorial exhibition in Paris in 1905.

By the terms of Miss Birnie Philip's gift to the University of Glasgow, it is not lendable.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: 'Possibly painted in the early 1880s' according to YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 281).

2: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 80).

3: James McNeill Whistler, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 1935 (cat. no. 5).

4: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 281).

5: Clare Meredith, condition report, 8 May 2001, Hunterian files. Dr Joyce H. Townsend, Tate Britain, Report of Examination, July 2017.

6: Meredith 2001, op. cit. Townsend 2017, op. cit.

7: Dr S. L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more].