The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 511
Brun et or: De race

Brun et or: De race

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1896/1900
Collection: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
Accession Number: GLAHA 46327
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 51.5 x 31.0 cm (20 1/4 x 12 1/4")
Signature: butterfly
Inscription: none
Frame: Grau-style, 1890s

Date

Brun et or: De race dates from the late 1890s, between 1896 and 1900. 1

Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian
Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian

It is dated from the technique and from its relationship to another portrait of the same sitter, The Boy in a Cloak y512, as well as to portraits of the model's brother and sister, The Little Faustina y510 and Vert et or: Le Raconteur y513.

Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) of Detroit recorded seeing a portrait of a 'little boy with fine eyes' in Whistler's studio in 1903 and thought it was intended for George Washington Vanderbilt (1862-1914). 2

Images

Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian
Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian

Brun et or: De race, photograph by Henry Dixon & Son, 1902
Brun et or: De race, photograph by Henry Dixon & Son, 1902

The Boy in a Cloak, The Hunterian
The Boy in a Cloak, The Hunterian

Subject

Titles

Only one title, with variations in language and punctuation, has been suggested:

'Brun et or: De race' is the generally accepted title.

Whistler not only added monetary value to the title, with the word 'gold', but described the sitter as 'de race', which suggested that he was born of pure blood, i.e. a thorough-bred, of aristocratic appearance. For example, in describing the reaction of Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921) and Marie Louise Hortense Madeleine de Montebello (1853-1930) to Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac y398, Whistler told his wife,

'[T]hey gloried in the picture as an apotheosis of themselves, their birth their "race"! - "It is the sense of pride" said the Count, "unstained with vanity"!!! - "C'est noble" said the grande dame with a sort of religious intonation - and there they were really worshipping before a sort of monument of their blue blood!' 7

The boy was not the only sitter virtually ennobled by Whistler, who often called a sitter 'princess', while his landlady's daughter became 'Rose and Gold: The Little Lady Sophie of Soho y504.

Description

Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian
Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian

A half-length portrait in vertical format. It shows a young boy with fine features facing the viewer. He has olive skin, dark brown hair with a central parting. He wears very dark clothes, and is seen against a dark khaki green background.

Sitter

Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian
Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian

The Boy in a Cloak, The Hunterian
The Boy in a Cloak, The Hunterian

Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) of Detroit recorded seeing a portrait of a 'little boy with fine eyes' in Whistler's studio in 1903. 8 Freer also noted that Whistler had painted another portrait of this boy, The Boy in a Cloak y512. The sitter, a young Italian boy, was the brother of The Little Faustina y510 and of 'Le Raconteur' in Vert et or: Le Raconteur y513.

Technique

Technique

Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian
Brun et or: De race, The Hunterian

It is painted on a fine weave canvas and is thinly painted as well as being rubbed in many areas as part of the painting process resulting in smooth modelling of the face and an unusually highly level of finish, plus careful attention to detail in the boy's coat.

Conservation History

Brun et or: De race, photograph Henry Dixon & Son, 1902
Brun et or: De race, photograph Henry Dixon & Son, 1902

Frame

Grau-style frame, dating from the 1890s. 83.7 x 63.8 x 8.2cm. Like The Boy in a Cloak y512, the frame bears the label of Frederick Henry Grau (1859-1892), Whistler's frame-maker in London. 9

History

Provenance

Exhibitions

The high level of finish and the existence of a butterfly signature imply that this work was ready for exhibition in Whistler's lifetime, but no such exhibition has been identified. It has been suggested that it was The Golden Lily y542, which was exhibited in 1901, but descriptions of that painting do not tally with the appearance of this boy.

It was, however, shown both at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in London and the Whistler memorial exhibition in Paris in 1905. The Pall Mall Gazette on 9 November described it as 'inimitable'.

When it was shown in Loan Collection of Works by James McNeill Whistler, Tate Gallery, London, 1912 it caught the attention of Ezra Pound (1885-1972), whose poem includes the lines:

You also, our first great, / Had tried all ways; / Tested and pried and worked in many fashions, / And this much gives me heart to play the game.

Here is a part that’s slight, and part gone wrong, / And much of little moment, and some few / Perfect as Dürer!

"In the Studio" and these two portraits, if I had my choice!' 10

The 'two portraits' are identified in a note as Grenat et or: Le Petit Cardinal y469 and Brun et or: De race y511.

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

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

Newspapers 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 511).

2: [1903], Diaries, Bk 13, Freer Gallery Archives.

3: 15th Exhibition, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1905 (cat. no. 30).

4: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 36)

5: James McNeill Whistler, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 1936 (cat. no. 36).

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 511).

7: J. Whistler to B. Whistler, [31 January 1892], GUW #06003. Whistler also used the phrase 'of race' and 'born' in reference to Montesquiou's approval of A. de la Gandara, in another letter to B. Whistler, [30 January 1892], GUW #06608.

8: [1903], Diaries, Bk 13, Freer Gallery Archives.

9: Dr S. L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017. See also Parkerson 2007 [more].

10: Beasley, Rebecca, 'Ezra Pound's Whistler', American Literature, vol. 74 (3), 2002, pp. 485-516, fig. 1; online at London: Birkbeck ePrints, http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/archive/00000541. See Pound, Ezra., Poetry, October 1912, p. 7; Pound, Ezra, Personae, New York, 1949, p. 243, and London, 1952, p. 243; Pound, Ezra, Patria Mia, Chicago, 1950, pp. 50-51; Pound, Ezra, Patria Mia and the Treatise on Harmony, London, 1962, pp. 34-35.