Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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Harmony in Red: Lamplight

Harmony in Red: Lamplight was probably started in 1884 and completed in 1886. 1

Harmony in Red: Lamplight, The Hunterian
Harmony in Red: Lamplight, The Hunterian

1884: According to Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913), he visited Whistler's new studio at 454 Fulham Road, by December 1884 (the lease was signed in October but alterations continued for months):

'Whilst we were at the studio he showed us ... a portrait of a lady done by gaslight. It was a curious idea of his to attempt such a thing, as it was, of course, before the days of incandescent gasburners or electric light, and he had had a sort of chandelier of argand burners made which gave a very yellow light, and consequently would falsify the appearance of the colours used when compared with their effect in daylight. I do not think he was very well satisfied with the result. Later on he made many lithographs by fire and candle light, and suggested their qualities perfectly, but these were in black and white only, which is quite another matter.' 2

1886, July: Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940) described seeing, 'A superb portrait of Mrs. Godwin ... painted in artificial light,' in Whistler's studio. 3

1886, October/November: After the death of Edward William Godwin (1833-1886) on 6 October 1886, his widow continued to pose. Whistler wrote to her when she was staying with friends:

'Do take your courage in both hands and come over to the Studio at once - by at once I mean when you have had your comfortable breakfast - Do be so nice and good and kind - and we may run right through with it this morning! - We can darken the place and turn the gas ... Of course I forgot to say that the Lady Colin has just sent word that she cannot come - Do not desert me! William brings this so send word that you are coming - The place shall [be] nice and warm.' 4

Sittings overlapped with those by Janey Sevilla Campbell (Lady Archibald Campbell) (ca 1846-d.1923) for Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell [YMSM 242].

Sittings also overlapped with those by Gertrude Elizabeth Campbell (Lady Colin Campbell) (1857-1911) for Harmony in White and Ivory: Portrait of Lady Colin Campbell [YMSM 354]. Both were exhibited in the Winter Exhibition of the Society of British Artists in November 1886, by which time the portrait of Mrs Godwin was probably – though not certainly – complete. 5


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 253).

2: Way 1912 [more], p. 79.

3: Salaman 1886 B [more], at p. 589.

4: [October/November 1886], GUW #06575.

5: See Whistler's letters to Mrs Godwin, 20 September and 19 October 1886, GUW #03329 and #03332. Winter Exhibition, Society of British Artists, London, 1886 (cat. no. 227).

Last updated: 31st December 2020 by Margaret