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

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Purple and Gold: Phryne the Superb! - Builder of Temples

Purple and Gold: Phryne the Superb! – Builder of Temples was painted from at intervals from 1898 until 1901.

1898: It was started in Paris at the end of January 1898. Whistler wrote to William Heinemann (1863-1920) that 'Phryne' had been admired by the sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies (1863-1937):

'[T]he beautiful condition of work is at last quite laughable ... I sit in the studio and could almost laugh at the extraordinary progress I am making and the lovely things I am inventing! - I have now in the studio a Phryne - a Dannae - an Eve - an Odalisque - and a Bathsheba - that carried out ou[gh]t to bring in two or three thousand apiece! - MacMonnies says he has never seen anything like the Phryne - which I am going to do large - after completing the little one - which by the way will make two - so that I see excellent business if I can only hold on!... All these inventions are since you left me the other day!' 1

1899: Whistler intended to send it to the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in May but did not do so. 2 Instead he continued to work on it.

1901: It was shown at the ISSPG (cat. no. 37) and returned after the exhibition to Whistler. In August he mentioned to his Massières at the Académie Carmen that, despite problems with the proprietor Carmen Rossi (b. ca 1878, 'we would no more harm [her] than we would destroy the Phryne'. 3 He continued to work, despite difficulties, on the portrait in September 1901, telling his sister-in-law, 'I think this once I will stay over & work a bit tomorrow on the Phryne - Things are perhaps not quite so bad after all.' 4 In October, Inez Eleanor Addams (1874-1958), the Massière of the women's class at the Académie Carmen, sent Whistler some flowers, and he thanked her: 'I have to thank you for the beautiful offering from Inez to Phryne! ... the thought was graceful as the flowers were exquisite!' 5

1902: It was again exhibited, this time in the Douzième Exposition, Ouvrages de Peintures, Sculpture, Dessin, Gravure, Architecture et Objets d'Art, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Grand Palais, Paris, 1902 (cat. no. 1194). It was sold by Whistler to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in June 1902, but it was still in Whistler's studio at his death in 1903. 6


1: Whistler to W. Heinemann, [31 January 1898], GUW #10803.

2: Letter to J. Lavery, [April/May 1899], GUW #09988; Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG [M.1582]. Listed, Paintings at the ISSPG [M.1583], and list, GUW #12718.

3: Whistler to C. and I. Addams, 27 [August 1901], GUW #00124.

4: Whistler to R. Birnie Philip, [14 September 1901], GUW #04813.

5: [21 October 1901], GUW #00091.

6: R. B. Philip, 'May 1902' in account, [June 1902], GUW #04333; Whistler to Freer, May 1902, in account [23 March 1900/June 1902], GUW #13883. Note by Freer, 18 June 1902, GUW #11698.

Last updated: 17th December 2020 by Margaret