The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 412
Dark Blue and Silver

Dark Blue and Silver

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1893
Collection: Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT
Accession Number: 46-1-0021
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 50.8 x 72.4 cm (20 x 28 1/2")
Signature: butterfly
Inscription: none

Date

Dark Blue and Silver dates from September 1893. 1 According to Whistler his exhibits at the Grafton Gallery in 1894, Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411, Dark Blue and Silver y412 and Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers y413 were 'three sea pieces - quite new - fresh and beautiful.' 2

Dark Blue and Silver, Hill-Stead Museum
Dark Blue and Silver, Hill-Stead Museum

It was painted 'at the Isle de Bréha, Brittany' – off the northernmost point of Brittany – in September 1893, according to the first owner of the painting, Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913) of Cleveland, Ohio. 3

Images

Dark Blue and Silver, Hill-Stead Museum
Dark Blue and Silver, Hill-Stead Museum

Dark Blue and Silver, photograph, 1980
Dark Blue and Silver, photograph, 1980

Subject

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

'Dark Blue and Silver' is the preferred title.

Description

Dark Blue and Silver, Hill-Stead Museum
Dark Blue and Silver, Hill-Stead Museum

A seascape in horizontal format, seen from a low, sea-level viewpoint. The sea is dark blue-green with a few white waves, with a sailing boat to right of centre and two distant sails on the horizon. The pale blue sky is scattered with big white and grey clouds.

Site

It was painted at 'at the Isle de Bréha, Brittany', which is off the northernmost point of Brittany. 11 Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) suggested that, like Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411 and Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers y413, it was 'painted off-shore while the boatman steadied his boat.' 12

Technique

Technique

Dark Blue and Silver, Hill-Stead Museum
Dark Blue and Silver, Hill-Stead Museum

As with Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411, the size corresponds quite closely to the French 'toile de vingt' (50 x 73 cm) and the canvas was probably acquired in France.

It is painted with broad, free brushstrokes, and appears very fresh and spontaneous. Some areas are free of paint, the canvas providing a base colour. The paint is mostly thin, except for the touches of white on the rollers. Whistler described it as having been 'simply and directly painted, One painting only - no second coat of any kind or retouching.' 13

Conservation History

Whistler sent detailed instructions to Stephen Richards (1844-1900) regarding his recent seascapes, Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411 and Dark Blue and Silver y412:

'Two paintings of mine - sea pieces - I am sending to the Grafton Gallery. … I want you to have them on their arrival ...

The pictures are quite new, having been painted only this autumn - I have put a thin coat of varnish on them about a month or six weeks ago - I don't think any harm can come to them because of it - for they are so simply and directly painted, One painting only - no second coat of any kind or retouching - so that there really is nothing to crack!

Now I just want you to take them out of their frames - and give them a beautiful coat of varnish - not too thick - but you know what pleases me - so that the surface shall be perfect -

Don't venture otherwise to touch anything!

Clean well the glass, and frame perfectly the pictures again - after they have dried sufficiently - and paste the stre[t]cher into the frame at the back - you know - a strip of brown paper to keep out the dust & damp -

... You will notice that one of the pictures has been slightly torn - up in the right hand corner - by the scoundrel who stretched it - and there is the mark of a nail that the brute drove at the time into the stretcher -

However I don't think I would touch this at present. ... the frame just covers the tiny hole of the nail.' 14

Whistler suggested to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) that he should go and see the paintings at the Grafton, after treatment: 'You will see there the two sea pieces that I showed you in their unvarnished and comparatively undressed state in the Studio - I hope you will like them - I do!!' 15

History

Provenance

In 1894 it was twice offered for sale to Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), New York print dealer: 'I have two beautiful new sea pieces in the Grafton Gallery of the size of some of those you have seen in the Salon - 400 gs. each - I suppose you don't want to speculate!' 16 He complained about Kennedy's demand for 'new work':

'I wonder what you think I can be about, in the Studio, if you believe that I am not painting "new pictures!" - At the present moment there are, in The Grafton Gallery, three pictures of mine - brand new - and finer, so they say, than anything I have ever done of their kind before - Two of them I want four hundred guineas apiece for ... Do you want to buy them? - But you tell me you cannot ... Why this chalange [sic] for new work? There is plenty of it in the Studio now - Do you know any one in America wanting it?' 17

Whistler also offered Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411 and Dark Blue and Silver y412 to Messrs Graves, London dealers, for £400 to set against his debts:

'At the present moment I have in the Grafton Gallery three sea pieces - quite new - fresh and beautiful - I want four hundred apiece for them - Suppose you buy one and send me a cheque for two hundred - and deduct the other two hundred from your account.' 18

Having exhibited it at the Salon, Whistler offered it to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930). 19 Later that year, on 12 September 1894, A. A. Pope paid Whistler 400 guineas (£420) for 'Bleu et violet - En Danger'. 20 According to Pope's daughter, 'when he bought Violet and Blue, Mr. Whistler said to him, "Oh, Mr. Pope, you do not want another marine." Father said, "Yes, I do, because they are so different in treatment." ' Whereas Blue and Silver: Blue Wave, Biarritz y041 showed the influence of Courbet, Pope thought Dark Blue and Silver y412 showed 'the influence of the Japanese,' but Whistler replied, 'Oh, they are all the same'! 21

Whistler reported to E. G. Kennedy, 'Just sold one of the two larger sea pieces you remember at the Champs de Mars - the "Violet & Blue" one with the big wave - £420.' 22

Exhibitions

The Globe asserted that Whistler's 'two sea studies, “Dark Blue and Silver” and Violet and Silver a Deep Sea,” [were] both vividly suggestive of irresistible movement and vast space.' 23 The art critic of The Athenaeum commented that the style, 'though rather heavier and rougher than usual with [Whistler], embodies much of his sympathy for nature and his rare sense of homogeneous colours and tones in perfect harmony.' 24

According to Whistler his exhibits at the Grafton, Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411, Dark Blue and Silver y412 and Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers y413 were 'three sea pieces - quite new - fresh and beautiful.' 25 The three seascapes were Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411, Dark Blue and Silver and Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers y413.

In February of the same year, The Sketch mentioned Dark Blue and Silver and Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea as being on show at the Fine Art Society, but this may have been a mistake. 26

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. 412).

2: Whistler to A. Graves, [January 1894] formerly dated [12/15 December 1893], GUW #01834.

3: Quoted by La Farge, John & Jaccaci, August F. (eds.), Noteworthy Paintings in American Private Collections, New York, 1907, pp. 30-32.

4: Fair Women, Grafton Galleries, London, 1894 (cat. no. 49).

5: List, [March 1894], GUW #07457.

6: Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ de Mars, Paris, 1894 (cat. no. 1182).

7: Whistler to A. A. Pope, [12] September 1894, GUW #13069, according to La Farge, John, and August F. Jaccaci (eds), Noteworthy Paintings in American Private Collections, New York, 1909, pp. 30-32.

8: Second Annual Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1897 (cat. no. 234).

9: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 30)

10: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 412).

11: Whistler to A. A. Pope, 12 September 1894, GUW #09342.

12: Eddy 1903 [more], pp. 274-75.

13: Whistler to S. Richards, [9 January 1894], GUW #10719.

14: [9 January 1894], GUW #10719.

15: [21 January 1894], GUW #08288.

16: 22 January 1894, GUW #09714; See Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411.

17: 1 March 1894, GUW #07232.

18: Whistler to A. Graves, [January 1894] formerly dated [12/15 December 1893], GUW #01834.

19: [15 July 1894], GUW #08255.

20: GUW #09342.

21: Theodate Pope Riddle (Mrs J. W. Riddle) to J. W. Revillon, 26 March 1946, GUL WPP files.

22: Whistler to Kennedy, 22 September 1894, GUW

23: Anon., 'The Grafton Gallery', Globe, London, 22 January 1894, p. 3.

24: The Athenaeum, London, 27 January 1894, p. 119.

25: Whistler to A. Graves, [January 1894] formerly dated [12/15 December 1893], GUW #01834.

26: 'Art Notes', The Sketch, London, 7 February 1894, pp. 24-25.