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Two pastel drawings, Study in Grey and Pink [M.0470], and Study for 'Harmony in Grey and Peach Colour' [M.0469], are similar in colour and arrangement. They are undoubtedly studies for the oil painting.
Several attempts have been made to restore and repaint the canvas and it is impossible to establish to what extent its present condition represents Whistler's original work. It is apparent that the composition has been extensively altered, but whether these alterations were made by Whistler, T. R. Way, or later restorers, is difficult to tell.
The model's left hand may have originally been holding a hat, or a pink cloak, but has been almost completely destroyed. Her right hand is not much clearer: it was originally several inches lower, and to the left, holding the black fan, but now it stops short of the fan, which itself has been partially erased. The model's face has been defaced by a series of scratches. The figure appears at one time to have been further to the left, at another, further to the right, or to have had a much wider skirt. The hem of the skirt was about 4.5 cm (2") longer and the pink cloak, shorter. The vase on the floor, which is so prominent in the pastel drawings, has almost disappeared.
The canvas is a fairly fine weave.
Some areas appear totally fresh and unspoilt. The white fan with pink spots, the thickly painted blossoms in pink, gold and deep scarlet, and the broad, confidently handled picture frame appear untouched. The cloak was painted freely with a broad brush, and thinly, dripping down over her feet. The red and black pattern on the floor is incomplete, particularly on the right and between her feet.
The shoulders and parts of the head are the most thickly worked areas. Yet, despite the obvious reworking and rubbing down, the face is delicately finished, with softly blended shadows, and the pale pink flesh tones are set off by the fluffy grey ruff edged with black, inset with a touch of darker pink, possibly a ribbon or necklace.
According to T. R. Way, Harmony in Grey and Peach Colour was 'more or less destroyed' by Whistler at the time of his bankruptcy in 1879, and when Whistler saw it in Way's possession about 1883, Way 'suggested trying to clean it, and he [Whistler] made no objection. But the defacing had been so thorough that it was most difficult to reach the original painting'. 1 Years later, Whistler's biographers, the Pennells, stated that Whistler had objected 'and Way cleaned off his own work'; then, according to both the Pennells and C. L. Freer, it was repainted by Way to some extent. 2
Hugh Blaker (1873-1936) wrote to Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) that he had tried to buy 'the White Girl, No. IV' at Way's sale in 1916, and added 'It was a wreck then.' He thought that Way had repainted it after Whistler's bankruptcy, and wondered if it had since been restored. 3
After it was bought by John F. Braun, he 'had the picture restored to its original condition by Hannah Mee Horner: Pa.' 4 Hannah Mee Horner (1885-1961) was a Philadelphia-based artist and restorer, working in the 1920 and 1930s. It is not known what she actually did in order to restore this painting.
1874: it may have had a painted frame, but this has not survived.
It was recorded in the 1980 catalogue raisonné that the painting was framed with 'alternate panels decorated with a check and basket work pattern'. 5 Motifs in the carpet on which the model stands do show these patterns, but if the painting originally was in a frame with corresponding patterns, this is now missing. 6
Size: 219.7 x 127 x 8.9 cm (86 1/2 x 50 x 3 1/2"). A label reads ' "A White Lady" by J. M. Whistler / Belonging to the Misses Way / 21 Brunswick Sqr. / D.C.'
It is now in a Portrait Whistler frame, made in America, dating possibly from the 1940s, and therefore possibly added when it was acquired by Grenville Lindell Winthrop (1864-1943).
1: Way 1912 [more], pp. 135-37.
2: Pennell 1921C [more], pp. 134-35; Freer to R. Birnie Philip, 29 June 1910, GUL Whistler MS BP III 4/ 16.
3: Letter dated 8 March 1922, Pennell Collection, Library of Congress.
4: Mrs Edith Braun to J. Revillon, 28 December 1945, GUL WPP files, Rev 1955.
5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 131).
6: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017. See also Parkerson 2007 [more].
Last updated: 13th May 2021 by Margaret