The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 413
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1893
Collection: Detroit Institute of Arts
Accession Number: 2006.87
Medium: oil
Support: wood
Size: 17.8 x 25.4 cm (7 x 10")
Signature: butterfly
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau-style, 1893

Date

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers was probably painted in Brittany in September 1893.

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, Detroit Institute of Arts
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, Detroit Institute of Arts

In October 1893 Whistler sent 'Violet and Blue – among the Rollers' to the art dealer David Croal Thomson (1855-1930). 1 On 11 December at Whistler's request, Goupil's wrote to the St James's Gazette asserting that the 'sea-piece' had been 'painted in Brittany a few weeks ago.' 2

Images

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, Detroit Institute of Arts
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, Detroit Institute of Arts

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, verso
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, verso

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, frame detail
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, frame detail

Subject

Titles

The suggested titles are follows:

'Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers' is the original and preferred title.

Description

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, Detroit Institute of Arts
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, Detroit Institute of Arts

A seascape in horizontal format, showing deep green blue waves under a cloudy sky of pale turquoise and pinkish grey clouds. The waves are white-topped, and there are two sailing ships (one near. one far) on the horizon at right.

Site

The artist wrote to his picture restorer, Stephen Richards (1844-1900), that he had 'painted the panel out in the full sea.' 8

It was probably painted in Brittany in September 1893 (see The Bathing Posts, Brittany y409) although on 10 December 1893 Whistler wrote to D. C. Thomson of Goupil's, London dealer, that it 'was painted in Brittany a few weeks ago.' 9

The Art Journal described the three sea-pieces exhibited at the Grafton Galleries in 1894 incorrectly as having been painted the previous autumn on the coast of Normandy. 10 Geffroy was probably correct in saying all three (which he saw in Paris) were painted in the summer on the coast of Brittany (see Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411). 11

Technique

Technique

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, Detroit Institute of Arts
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, Detroit Institute of Arts

It is painted very freely, with comparatively broad rounded brush strokes and vivid colour. The white breaking waves, and the ships, were painted with smaller, narrow brushes. The larger of the two boats appears to have been partly rubbed out and repainted, very summarily.

Conservation History

The edges of the painting are a little rubbed, possibly from being put away in a paint box while still wet, or possibly from the frame.

In January 1894 Whistler wrote to Stephen Richards (1844-1900), asking him to collect the painting:

'bring away from the Grafton Gallery a smaller painting of mine that they have placed upon an easel - It is called "Blue & Violet - Among the Rollers" - I have/written to Mr Prange to tell him that you would take it - Bring it home and if you think it dry enough, give it a rapid and even coat of varnish - for I know it would be much more brilliant with it - But this is what I want you to understand - I painted the panel out in the full sea - and some of the spray got upon it - and the salt made it a very long time in drying - and the last time I examined it - some two or three months ago, the surface seemed to me still sticky - so that I did not touch it, & it has never been varnished[.]

Dont rub it in any way - Perhaps you might gently wash it with a little beer in a soft brush - and that might take off any salt - I would dry it over hot air - only I fear the panel would warp - However you know all these things and in your hands I know I am perfectly safe - Therefore I say, if possible, varnish it - Then put it nicely back in the frame with the little board at its back, & paste it in, and take it to the Gallery all right - the same evening - so that it may be in time for the Press View.' 12

Frame

1893: Grau-style frame. 13

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, detail
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, detail

Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, verso
Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers, verso

On 30 October 1893 Whistler instructed D. C. Thomson:

'Now about the "Violet & Blue - among the Rollers" - I am glad that you have it all right - now dont neglect the fitting it perfectly in the frame - and putting the panel at the back - well pasted in - and all ship shape - with frame cleaned & retouched.' 14

History

Provenance

In October 1893 Whistler sent 'Blue & Violet, - Among the Rollers' to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930), asking 200 guineas for it. 15 Thomson decided to try to sell it in Glasgow. He wrote to the artist:

'The "Violet & Blue' Among the rollers" has come to hand. It is superb; & we are taking it to Glasgow when we go at the end of the week. The quality of the colour is without exaggeration perfectly wonderful & heart-warming. We shall make a dead set amongst the Scottish folk with it.' 16

Having failed to sell it in Glasgow, Thomson proposed to raise the price of £180 to £200. 17 Whistler then made various stipulations about the possible sale:

'What are you asking for it? - I said Two hundred - net - for me -

I should think after this you would sell it - and mind you stipulate as Mr Whistler's condition to any one, a line in writing agreeing to let him have the picture once in every two years for inspection, that he may see to its state (whether well cared for, or neglected and requiring cleaning etc - ) and for purposes of Exhibition -

This last of course you could say I should not [at] all abuse - though I like my things seen abroad - and to begin with, I should certainly insist upon sending it to the Salon this next Spring - and doubtless meanwhile to the coming Grafton -

As to the keeping in order - this naturally ought to be a source of great satisfaction to the owner.' 18

Thomson promptly attempted to clarify the price:

'Will you kindly say exactly what is the cost price to us of the 'Violet & Blue'. You have said it was £180. If this is not correct please say what is.

As you know we may ask what we like & we very carefully explained this in the last note.

We have very little chance of selling it at the present even at £180 to you for the buyers are too shy.

We ask £300 - but £315. from outsiders - from buyers £250- (this was expressly set forth) & we would take £200 if we had the chance. But that is all on the definite understanding declared in your letter that £180 is the highest price you ask from us for it.' 19

In January and March 1892, Whistler offered Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411 and Dark Blue and Silver y412 to the New York dealer, Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), with 'a smaller panel, and a beauty' (Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers) at 250 guineas. 20 He also offered it to Algernon Graves, London dealer, for £400, to set against his debts. 21 On 22 July 1894 Whistler informed Kennedy:

'The third sea piece has sold - You remember the little one, "Among the Rollers", on panel, that hung in the Champs de Mars as pendant to Lady Eden's tiny portrait [Brown and Gold: Portrait of Lady Eden y408] - It is bought for £210.' 22

The first owners were Martin Brimmer and his wife. He was one of the first trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and its president from 1870 to 1895. The panel was lent by Mrs Martin Brimmer (née Mary Ann Timmins) to the Boston Whistler memorial exhibition as 'Study of the Sea from a boat' and was 'on loan in Boston Museum' in 1904, according to C. L. Freer's annotated copy of the 1904 Boston Memorial Exhibition catalogue. 23 In a copy of the same Boston catalogue, originally owned by Frank Gair Macomber, the title was given as 'The Sea', the size and support as 7 ½ x 11", and it was described as 'Dark green sea with gray & blue sky', valued at $2500. 24

Part of the Brimmer collection was bequeathed to the Museum of Fine Arts and Mrs Brimmer's estate was distributed among a number of indirect heirs. According to her executors, Welch & Forbes of Boston, who were trustees of her estate, a 'Small marine by Whistler' was included in an undated list among 'Articles borrowed by the Museum from other heirs' of Mrs Brimmer. Its location was not known for many years although it had remained in the family. 25

Exhibitions

According to the Glasgow Herald, 'a small seascape, the deep blue-green water holding patches of white foam' was exhibited in Glasgow in 1893 by Boussod, Valadon & Cie. A few weeks later it was in London, described by the Herald's London correspondent as 'a small sea-scape; swaying foam-topped billows of the open sea under a clear wind-swept sky.' 26 According to the St James's Gazette , 'a fine sea-piece ... one of his earlier period ... a panel painting of cabinet size, a stormy sea of deep (lapis-lazuli) blue, full of clever work and of beautiful colour' was on show at the Goupil Gallery in 1893. 27 On 11 December the firm replied (at Whistler's request) that the 'sea-piece' had been 'painted in Brittany a few weeks ago.' 28

The Art Journal described the three sea-pieces exhibited at the Grafton Galleries in 1894 incorrectly as having been painted the previous autumn on the coast of Normandy, and praised 'Violet and Blue - Among the Rollers', 'the colour ... being a veritable tour de force.' 29 The three seascapes were Violet and Silver: A Deep Sea y411, Dark Blue and Silver y412 and Violet and Blue: Among the Rollers.

Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) was probably correct in saying all three (which he saw in Paris in the same year) were painted in the summer on the coast of Brittany and he described all three as paintings of ships in high seas, under a cloudy sky. 30

It was listed by Whistler as 'Among the rollers', among pictures to be sent to Antwerp for exhibition in 1894, but was not sent. 31

It was lent by Mrs Martin Brimmer (née Mary Ann Timmins) to the Boston memorial show, and was 'on loan in Boston Museum' in 1904, according to C. L. Freer's annotated copy of the 1904 Boston Memorial Exhibition catalogue. 32

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Newspapers 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

SALE:

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, (16, 20 October 1893, GUW #08249, #08247.

2: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [10 December 1893], GUW #08287. St James's Gazette, 12 December 1893.

3: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [16 October 1893], GUW #08249.

4: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, (20 October [1893], GUW #08247.

5: Fair Women, Grafton Galleries, London, 1894 (cat. no. 70).

6: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 13).

7: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. nos. 413, 517).

8: [16 January 1894], GUW #02903.

9: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [10 December 1893], GUW #08287. St James's Gazette, 12 December 1893.

10: Art Journal March 1894 [more], at p. 89.

11: Geffroy 1895 [more], at pp. 140-41.

12: [16 January 1894], GUW #02903.

13: Dr S. L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017.

14: GUW #08245.

15: 16 October 1893, GUW #08249.

16: 23 October 1893, GUW #05790.

17: 15 November & 13 December 1893, GUW #05791.

18: [10 December 1893], GUW #08287.

19: 13 December 1893, GUW #05796.

20: 22 January 1894, GUW #09714; 1 March 1894, GUW #07232.

21: [12/15 December 1893], GUW #01834.

22: GUW #09718.

23: Freer Gallery of Art Archives.

24: Boston Public Library.

25: MacDonald 2007 [more].

26: Glasgow Herald, Glasgow, 9 November 1893 and 'Our London Correspondent', Glasgow Herald, 18 December 1893, p. 7.

27: St James's Gazette , London, 6 December 1893.

28: St James's Gazette, London, 12 December 1893.

29: Art Journal March 1894 [more], at p. 89.

30: Geffroy 1895 [more] at pp. 140-41.

31: Draft letter to a newspaper, [1/8 March 1894], GUW #07457.

32: Freer Gallery of Art Archives.