The expenses of Whistler's libel case against John Ruskin (1819-1900), and the building of a new house and studio in Chelsea, the White House, plus his own inability to live within his admittedly irregular income contributed to Whistler's bankruptcy. He was declared bankrupt in May 1879.
This essay gives an overview of what happened to at the time of the sale of his belongings, and the after-life of the works involved.
Well before the bankruptcy, several pictures, including Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [y101], Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel [y169], Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder [y203], had been deposited with Messrs Graves as security for loans to Whistler, and were therefore safe from any question of being sold to pay Whistler's other debts.
Whistler was declared bankrupt in May 1879.
Extensive documents in the Special Collections of Glasgow University Library, and in the Pennell Collection, Library of Congress, give an account of his legal and financial affairs, (including his fish-monger's bills!), and these are published in The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler, 1855-1903, edited by Margaret F. MacDonald, Patricia de Montfort and Nigel Thorp; Online edition, University of Glasgow, 2004 at http:www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/correspondence.
As part of the bankruptcy agreement, the Receiver, James Waddell (1838-1892) gave 'permission to destroy unfinished work, that it might not be displayed to the public. ... pictures [were] painted out with gum, stripped off their stretchers, and rolled up.' 1
Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) said his father Thomas Way (1837-1915), as one of Whistler's chief creditors, bought canvases, which had been rubbed or scraped down to more or lesser extent, and it is known that some were returned to Whistler as part of the settlement agreed between them in 1896. The Pennells write:
'For a guinea old Way purchased Whistler's unfinished canvases which were rubbish to the auctioneer. Way's story was that Whistler told him to take the rolls, Whistler's that he asked Way to purchase them and keep them for him. Years afterwards Whistler claimed them. Way refused to return them all. And that was the end. When Whistler thought his confidence had been abused, he could say things that hurt, and now he said it was only what was to be expected, his mistake had been to associate with tradesmen, and he would have nothing more to do with father or son.'
'Some years later on, Thomas Way gave him back one roll of large six-foot full-length portraits: the Sir Henry Cole 2 , a Miss May Alexander, three Miss Leylands. One of these three is probably the painting in the Brooklyn Museum.' 3 The latter is reproduced above.
The Pennells continue:
'... Other rolls which Way had divided with his son, they refused to give up. Out of these came an unfinished Valparaiso now in the National Collection; a Cremorne now at the Metropolitan; a nude; a portrait of Miss Leyland, a Blue Girl, in such a state that only the flowers in one corner could be saved a fragment Freer bought; the Lobsters and Mount Ararat which Thomas Way was asked to trace but apparently could not and we believe they too were sold to Freer.' 4
'T. R. Way told us that Whistler, looking over the canvases, saw on one, emerging from the muck with which it was covered, two black slippers against a white ground, and recognized the feet of a White Girl shown in his 1874 exhibition in Pall Mall. 5 That made Way set to work to clean and repaint it. For long this portrait, for which he thought Jo must have posed, hung in his father's house in Brunswick Square. Whistler saw it there after the repainting, objected, and Way cleaned off his own work. "The over-painting was removed with the painter's knowledge," according to a note in the catalogue when Way sent it to the Fair Women show held in London in 1910. "A sadly battered ghost of a Whistler," was E.'s impression; "a peculiarly poor Whistler, a shadow and not significant at that," was the prevailing opinion among the critics. It was again repainted by T. R. Way, sold by his sisters after old Way's death, brought to New York, bought by Mrs. Thaw, from whom the portrait, or what is left of it, passed into the possession of Mr. John F. Braun of Philadelphia.* That no Thames nocturnes were in his father's rolls had always been a wonder to T. R. Way, he wrote to a London paper after the discovery of the rolls at Spencer's. And it is astonishing, for during the years when these unfinished portraits were begun, Whistler gave as much time to the river as to his sitters.' 6
Whistler's creditors included Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), who may have acquired canvases - he certainly told Whistler that he could do so. For instance he implied in a letter to Whistler on 25 August 1879 that he could rescue certain paintings: 'Also state "distinctly and in writing" what you will give in work if I secure for you - the Connie - The three girls - and the blue girl' (that is, Harmony in Yellow and Gold: The Gold Girl - Connie Gilchrist [y190], The Three Girls [y088] and possibly The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland [y111]). 7
Furthermore (although there are various versions of this story) it is possible that Howell, after claiming that he had bought Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain [y187], was allowed to take it. At the aauction after Howell's death there were beach scenes sold: A Coast Scene [y201] and A Symphony in Sand [y202]: it is not known when Howell acquired them or indeed if they were by Whistler, nor where they are now. Howell is an elusive figure and his collection even more elusive than he was himself.
Whistler's White House in Tite Street was sold at auction on 18 September 1879 and bought by Henry Quilter (1851-1907), but by that time Whistler was in Venice.
The sale of Whistler's effects took place at Sotheby's, London, 12 February 1880, and included Harmony in Yellow and Gold: The Gold Girl - Connie Gilchrist [y190] and some drawings and prints; several other paintings, at one time thought to have been in the sale, are not included in the catalogue. Probably they were rejected by the auctioneers as unsaleable.
Whistler deposited some canvases with his brother, William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900), with the approval of the receiver appointed by the Bankruptcy Court, James Waddell (1838-1892). As Whistler told his sister-in-law, Deborah Delano Haden (1825-1908), 'surely Waddell said that all the scratched and destroyed stretchers &c &c &c were to be left out - and the best answer to all is that everything of the kind was sent by them or their permission to you after I had left the White House.' 8
Matthew Robinson Elden (1839-1885) helped arrange matters, reporting to Whistler, 'all frames &c have been sent to the Doctors save a few which Pellegrini borrowed & of which I have an account.' 9 Whistler felt rather guilty about burdening his brother, and wrote to his sister-in-law,
'I am awfully sorry that you should be bothered with all the canvases about the place - don't you think Elden could show how to take them off their stretchers and roll them all up together and then they with their stretchers in pieces might be put quite out of the way in a corner.' 10
The pictures kept by his brother may well have included Harmony in Flesh Colour and Black: Portrait of Mrs Louise Jopling [y191], The Blue Girl: Portrait of Connie Gilchrist [y207] and Blue and Silver: The Devonshire Cottages [y266]. The first two appear to have been returned to Whistler and the latter kept by his brother for many years until he sold it in the 1890s.
Whistler had also deposited canvases with the banker William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) at some time, possibly at the time of his bankruptcy, and these were seen in Alexander's possession in 1903 by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), who told Miss Birnie Philip, who asked, and was granted, their return.
Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) suspected everyone involved with Whistler's bankruptcy of making off with canvases. It is not clear what canvases were destroyed, which were rescued, hidden, and /or returned to Whistler, or after his death, to his executrix and sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958).
Pink and Grey: Three Figures [y089], a copy by Whistler of the destroyed painting The Three Girls [y088], went on sale at Messrs Dowdeswell. On 5 August 1891 Quilter wrote to Edward Tyas Cook (1857-1919), journalist, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette :
'Will you kindly allow me to add my testimony to that of the Modern Velasquez in the matter of a pictureby him, which he declares to be worthless "in its present state", but which, nevertheless, an enterprising firm ... are endeavouring to sell in Bond-street? I have the best reason to know that in this instance Mr Whistler's opinion is not only correct, but was formed many years ago; since, when on the occasion of his bankruptcy, about eleven years since, I bought his house in Tite-street, the work in question was one of a batch of clearly experimental canvases which he left after the sale upon the premises, and which I had, unless my memory deceives me, to request him to remove. The artist is quite right ... in resenting the public display, with a price attached "in the way of trade" of a fanciful sketch, which he did not consider sufficiently satisfactory to finish or exhibit; and it might be well if more artists would plainly express their opinion as to the permissibility of "enterprising firms" submitting for sale works of this character, which have presumably been purchased "for a song", as genuine specimens of the art produced by them.
... I write [this] simply as a matter of justice to an artist, who, whatever may be his deficiencies of temper and character, is at least too capable and sincere to exhibit for sale as satisfactory and creditable work which is on the face of it a "rejected essay".' 11
Twenty years later Messrs Dowdeswell were involved in a very peculiar affair, involving a large group of canvases, the provenance of which is unclear. It is not known where these canvases, that turned up at Dowdeswell's in 1910, had been between 1879 and Whistler's death in 1903, or between 1903 and their reappearance in 1910. Quilter had admitted (in the letter quoted above) that he was not entirely sure if Whistler removed canvases from the White House, and it is just possible that Messrs Dowdeswell had obtained some canvases from the White House shortly after the bankruptcy. However, according to the Pennells (their account is quoted below), the Dowdeswells were genuinely delighted at the discovery of this cache when they revealed it in 1910.
They showed the paintings to Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1855-1936) and Joseph Pennell (1860-1926), who considered them as, ‘exactly as T. R. Way had ... described the canvases bought by his father when he served with Howell and Leyland on the Committee of Examiners to settle up Whistler's affairs at the bankruptcy’, namely ‘loose canvases’ which Whistler 'more or less destroyed.' Joseph Pennell thought that these rolls of canvases might have come from Walter Greaves (1846-1930), or 'directly or indirectly, from Howell or his heirs.' 12
According to the London art dealer Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929), these canvases found their way to Walter Thomas Spencer (1864-1936), a second-hand bookseller at 27 New Oxford Street; 13 Spencer sold 'rolls of canvases' - supposedly there were about fifty canvases in all - to Frida Uhl Strindberg (1872-1943) 'for nothing.' 14 About September 1910 Messrs Dowdeswell acquired the paintings , which they described as 'shockingly dirty but they saw passages that were unmistakably Whistler', from Mme Strindberg, and showed some to Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1855-1936) on 15 September 1910. 15
Elizabeth R. Pennell recorded visits to Messrs Dowdeswell at some length. Her account, with additional material by her husband, 'J' - Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) - was published in the Whistler Journal in 1921. It is reproduced below with some additional notes and illustrations, and some titles in bold to mark identified pictures:
'Thursday, September 15th, 1910. Walter Dowdeswell wrote to me on Tuesday that he had something of extraordinary interest to put before us, and would we be in town in two weeks' time. I wrote at once that J. was sailing for New York on Saturday, couldn't he put the something before us at once? Yesterday he telegraphed asking us to come to-day at noon; we said yes, but when noon came to-day, J. was so busy I went alone. Walter Dowdeswell took me upstairs into the front room on the first floor told me he had something by way of a sensation for me that in our Life of Whistler we referred to rolls of paintings carried off at the time of the bankruptcy; well, some of those had been brought to him, they had been in a cellar for years; a most romantic story altogether but he couldn't tell it yet. Then he took me into a part of the back room curtained off, where the window is, and there in a semicircle were some ten or twelve canvases he said were Whistlers, most of them nocturnes and in the centre a full length portrait of a small boy in blue sailor dress. The nocturnes were almost all of the Battersea shore, but there was one something like Mrs. Potter Palmer's, 16 one with a few figures in the foreground, and one in a gold, grey, and brown scheme. Several looked to me far too vivid and blue and hard for Whistler, but Dowdeswell said all had been in a shocking bad condition and had had to be cleaned and restored so that the vividness and hardness might be the restorer's.
Then he brought in one after another, and these were finer: a Westminster; a large greenish-blue Battersea with wide foreground of water and the bridge in the distance to the right; another Battersea, apparently, with a big red-gold moon rising over the houses to the left; a grey stretch of river and banks with a little white yacht stranded in the foreground; there was also a little interior, a woman, with black hair done up high on her head, wearing a grey dress, standing in front of a Japanese screen, a mantelpiece not unlike the mantelpiece in The Little White Girl behind it, not particularly good but the skirt was absolutely the Whistler of The Six Projects: evidently a study of Miss Spartali for La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine. 17 None of these were signed. There was also in the front room a full length of a lady in brown velvet, with white lace fichu and white lace collar, standing, her face in profile to the right, her golden hair in a coil with a gold band about it and in her hand, held a little out in front of her, a bit of fine linen embroidery in a long narrow piece hanging, and the hand beautifully drawn. If by Whistler, a perfect knock down for Kenyon Cox and all the other fools who said he couldn't draw a hand. A gold buckle fastens the dress at the side. The pose is like Whistler, the painting of lace and embroidery fine, but the head is too sharply cut out from the canvas to be like his work, though something like the Rosa Corder, and the treatment is still more unlike, though all this may be the restorer. On the left about the centre of the canvas is a little oblong panel with a W. in white sketched in like the beginning of a Butterfly, but so bright that it knocks the whole picture to pieces. Probably this too is the restorer. There was also a long ray of light, quite out of tone, apparently the fold of a screen, against which the model was standing. Old Dowdeswell and the other brother, Charles, joined us, in a great state of excitement. The old man they say aged eighty had come up to town on purpose. They felt that we ought to have the first chance to see these things, our book was so wonderful, no one knew better than they the difficulty to write about such a man and we had given such a true impression of him. ... I went back with J. at three. He agreed very much with me, didn't believe in the very clear vivid blue nocturnes, though the restorer might be to blame; he had no doubt of the Westminster, the green-blue Battersea, the bigger one with moon (there are two of this subject); the greybrown one; the one with figures; the one like Mrs. Potter Palmer's; and perhaps one or two others; was doubtful of the little sketch for the Princesse and Walter Dowdeswell admitted part of the screen had been repainted; was more sceptical about boy and lady in brown.
He had two full lengths: one of a woman, middle-aged with black hair drawn rather tightly back, in a white muslin gown, date I should say the Sixties, standing against a white background with at the bottom a low dado of blue-and-white (tiles or matting) with a long green stroke of the brush on one side and two touches of blue on the other, very Whistler, and not much tampered with by the restorer though he was thinking of cleaning away the strokes of green and blue. 18 The other was a full-length of a lady in blue, carried much further. Her hair is golden, worn in a fringe on the forehead, the face characteristic of Whistler, though the restorer the damned fool J. says wanted to clean the character, which he called dirt, out. The dress has a quilted under petticoat in front, the basque is long and pointed, there is a little puff at the top of the sleeve, the hand, unfinished, hangs at the side (the figure is seen in profile) and there are soft white muslin frills at the neck. 19 It seems that the bottom of the canvas was in tatters or " ribbons," Dowdeswell said. The restorer has not only mended it, but touched it with dabs of crude blue that knocks the whole thing out of tone, because he says there wasn't any paint there, and J. thinks he must have done a good deal of repainting to the gown. J. wonders if it possibly might be the remains of the portrait of Mrs. Mitford (Lady Redesdale) and Dowdeswell will find out. There was also a grey day, with figures and the plumbago works of Battersea on the opposite shore the middle distance was absurd, and not Whistler. A Cremorne and a grey day with white blossoms were either not Whistler or entirely repainted by the fool restorer, and they suggested that those already at Dowdeswells may possibly be genuine and have passed through the same treatment. Altogether it was an interesting afternoon. There is no question that things did disappear at the time of the bankruptcy and auction, that there is comparatively little to represent some ten years or so of Whistler's work, and it is just possible that these rolls of paintings may be the explanation. They may have come from Greaves, from whom Spencer had letters and those charcoal drawings. ...I sent Dowdeswell the addresses of Alan Cole, Mrs. Thynne, and Greaves who, we told him, could identify the pictures better than anybody, as they must all date back -to before 1879 and few remain who knew Whistler and his studio at that time, except Alexander, Rawlinson, and perhaps Mrs. Whistler. Among the other canvases being restored is a Carlyle, just sketched in, a little different from the picture, Carlyle wearing his hat.
And I should have said that there is a sketch of Carlyle on the back of the gold-brown nocturne 20 and a sketch of sails on the back of another. There is also at another restorer's a full length of a boy in white shirt. Dowdeswell says he is not paying Spencer for the letters until Spencer gives him some clue to the history of the pictures.
Friday, September 16th, 1910. J. ... stopped at Spencer's where he encountered the clerk ...who said he must wait for Mr. Spencer. ...When J. talked vaguely about there being piles of things in an upper story and an early English landscape some one wanted him to look at, Mr. Spencer knew nothing. And it now occurs to J. that when Adler was here and told him of the piles of stuff at Spencer's, very likely Dowdeswell's "find" was there, and that now even Spencer smells a rat. He said he was too busy to go into things, he loved pictures but the place was a book warehouse, and he did not know what he had, which is terribly evident. .... On looking in our Whistler this morning, at the reproduction of The Music Room, it struck me that Lady Haden, as you see her in the mirror, is like the portrait of the lady in white Dowdeswell showed us at the restorer's yesterday. Also the book recalls to us that Redesdale described Whistler as slashing the portrait of his wife 21 and treating other pictures in the same way when threatened by bailiffs. At this period, Howell was much involved with Whistler, he was also on the Bankruptcy Committee. These things reappearing with the bundle of testimonials makes one wonder if, perhaps, all these pictures came, directly or indirectly, from Howell or his heirs. Miss Chambers would never say. In the afternoon J. dropped in at Dowdeswell's again, more particularly to represent what a mess the restorer is making of the lady in blue and to beg Dowdeswell not to have anything more done to the canvases. A number of others had come from the restorer's in the meanwhile several nocturnes and one, evidently from his Lindsey Row window, of the shore with a man, as evidently Howell, walking with a group of women unmistakably "The Cock and his Hens," as Whistler used to describe Howell. 22 They hope to have more before J. goes.
At last Walter Dowdeswell told the story. A lady who brings them things occasionally, told them of rolls which she had bought for nothing from a second-hand book-seller for the sake of one old English picture which she recognized for what it was and sold to somebody in Munich. The Dowdeswells looked over the rolls. The paintings were shockingly dirty but they saw passages that were unmistakably Whistler and they bought them and she brought more which they bought too; they have about fifty in all; and really, it was difficult to know how to pay her for she didn't know the value and asked nothing, and they knew the value and felt they should pay her more than she asked, and the end was she felt as if they had made her fortune for her, though I gathered that her eyes were enough opened to make them pay more for the second than the first lot. When he had finished J. said he knew that second-hand dealer, his place was in Holborn. No, Dowdeswell said. Then New Oxford Street, he was not quite sure which. Yes, said Dowdeswell. Spencer, said J. Yes, said Dowdeswell. So it is the shop where Elmer Adler last summer found the Whistler charcoal drawings and spoke of rolls of things being there. It looks as if the whole business might come from Greaves. In the end Walter Dowdeswell took us to a man, in a remote part of Camden Town, who is restoring a few. There were so many they have been given to different restorers. It was like the house of a little cheap dressmaker with horrible pictures on the wall and orna-ments that gave the man away, J. suggested afterwards, like Whistler's "little something on the mantelpiece."
Saturday, September 17th. A telegram from Dowdeswell asking us to call before one and he could show us more pictures back from the liners. ... The Dowdeswells took [J.] upstairs again into their front room and there were four or five more nocturnes which had just been lined, or rather two nocturnes and three grey days, small. One nocturne was probably an early one and first J. thought it was the railway bridge at Battersea with lights, but behind it there was something that looked like a hillside so it may have been somewhere else. The moon was outside of the picture but there were lights on the clouds at the top, on the hillside and a long reflection on the water which the imbeciles took for a crack and were on the point of filling up, and it took J. almost half an hour to convince them that they were fools and were doing their best to ruin the pictures. Another was old Battersea Bridge from his window, very like the one owned by Pope 23 ; in fact, it may be another canvas of the same subject which he never went on with; though as the houses in the background are different it might be Putney Bridge done in the same way. But it was blocked in in solid masses of red, evidently with the intention of painting the light through the piers afterwards. It was painted in a reddish-brown, really just rubbed in. Another was a steamboat coming up the river and leaving a white line of foam right along either shore. These two long lines of white made a curious composition. There were also one or two unfinished and of no importance. The Dowdeswells ... decided to show him another which they said they had been afraid to all along. ... They produced a full-length canvas rolled up, and spread it out on the floor. It was ragged, having been pulled off the stretcher, and was the usual sort of Whistler early canvas or rather cloth. It represented a woman seated in a deep window seat holding her hands, very badly painted, and a book in her lap. All the details of the window and the wainscotting painted black agree with descriptions of the room. The woman had yellowish hair. J. thinks it is most likely Tinnie Greaves, at least it has a suggestion of Tinnie Greaves as she is to-day. She is dressed in white and the Dowdeswells raved over the painting of some of the lace. The work is full of brush marks, especially under the chin where there was a great swab of reflected high light. Through the window Battersea Church and the mills are seen, painted as hard as nails, though the water and sky are good. Of course the Greaves may have done this, and Whistler tinkered at it. On the back is another full-length of a woman standing, or two twisted figures: the first evidently wore a big brown hat and a brown cloak trimmed with fur, with a great swob of a hand just rubbed in hanging down in front. On top of this was the head of a woman with florid complexion and red hair, wearing a little round black hat: without doubt Jo. This is painted right over the head and hat of the other figure, or else the head is changed. The bust is absolutely gone, nothing but dirt and rags and the liner said it was impossible to do anything with it unless it was lined. J. suggested to put canvas round the edges, he said that would tear, and J. said then he had only to put it between glass. They will probably ruin the whole thing ...
Monday, September 19th. To the restorer's with Dowdeswell. There we saw first a large full-length of a small boy, standing about the centre of the canvas, against a screen a little higher than himself with green frame and white panels. He is seen in profile, his hair is yellow and worn in a fringe over his forehead, he wears a white muslin shirt and white muslin breeches, low black shoes, and stockings with black and white horizontal stripes. The pose is childlike and simple and full of charm, the face delicate, the figure not carried as far as the screen. On the floor is black-and-white matting, there is a low wainscotting painted green, and in the upper part of the canvas, to the right and above the screen, is a print apparently of Battersea, with a wide white mount and a narrow black frame. It is one of the best of the things we have yet seen. The restorer said it was covered over with gum when it came to him, which certainly agrees with the description of Whistler's treatment of his pictures at the time of the bankruptcy.
On a smaller canvas was a three-quarter length of a lady in white, the dress in the fashion of the Sixties. 24 She is standing in the centre of the canvas, turned full face, she is dark, her short upper lip shows her teeth, and her black hair is rolled up on the top of her head somewhat in the fashion of the little figure in grey before the screen, the study for La Princesse, which Dowdeswell showed us the first day. Her arms hang at her sides and around the wrists are curious deep cuffs or wristbands of some thicker and heavier white muslin. She stands against a greenish-black curtain, rather elaborately finished in comparison with the figure which is not carried very far, and the face which is hardly more than rubbed in. This is much less interesting. It might be one of the Greek group of his friends, an lonides or a Spartali. There was also a small, slight sketch of a woman in blue (oils) that might have been a study for the big portrait: there is the blue gown, the pointed basque, the puffed sleeves, only the figure seems to have a blue cloak over the left arm.
Tuesday, November, 1st 1910. Dowdeswell showed me to-day a canvas, rather small, that was in too shocking a condition to be restored. It was the figure of a woman in blue drapery, standing, in the back-ground blue lines which might have been lines of the railing of a balcony or of a painted frieze. There were great dabs of paint, as if put on with a thick brush, across the figure, the whole canvas was dirty and grimy, and ragged at the edges where it had been torn from the stretcher.
These notes give our impressions at the time of the remarkable collection of canvases bought by the Dowdeswells from Madame Frida Strindberg, the lady of whom they spoke in their story of the transaction. Mrs. Dr. Whistler, Mr. Alan S. Cole, Mr. Heinemann, Robert Ross, Lord Redesdale, the Ways, to whom the canvases were submitted, were bewildered, certain that some were Whistler's, uncertain about others, struck as we were by the difference in quality, many of the paintings being as commonplace as many were masterly. The collection as a whole was fine enough for T. R. Way to write afterwards to the Dowdeswells to congratulate them on their Whistlers. Other rolls were sold to Mr. William Marchant, others offered to Ernest G. Brown... A canvas or two passed into the hands of Messrs. Reinhardt. All came from the shop of Mr. Spencer who announced that he had also a bundle of Whistler's old brushes and had already sent Whistler relics to America. The condition of the canvases before the restorer had touched them naturally interested us, as it did the Dowdeswells, for they were exactly as T. R. Way had already, and now again, described the canvases bought by his father when he served with Howell and Leyland on the Committee of Examiners to settle up Whistler's affairs at the bankruptcy. ...That Whistler in his difficulties asked people he thought he could trust to bring things from the White House, we know ... That other things disappeared, we also know, for we have also seen his letters from Venice to Mrs. Dr. Whistler begging her and the Doctor to hunt up missing canvases, especially the Lobsters and Mount Ararat caricatures of Leyland, a Blue Girl, a version of The Three Girls. He sent an urgent message to Way and to Eldon, then much in the studio, imploring them to trace these caricatures which he valued and which he feared Howell and Leyland had hatched a plot to destroy. Of much that went on during the bankruptcy proceedings, evidently he had no knowledge. At less agitated times Whistler, though usually over careful of his work, could be inexplicably careless, leaving his canvases here, there, and everywhere. After his death W. C. Alexander returned to Miss Philip paintings and drawings which had been in the Campden Hill house ever since Whistler stayed there to paint Miss May Alexander. We have spoken of the things that turned up at Howell's house in Selsey Bill. ...The bankruptcy was the opportunity for the greatest carelessness and, apparently, the greatest advantage was taken of it.
... The canvases in the Dowdeswell rolls were, many of them, in as desperate a state and were restored as thoroughly. ... In Chicago, in the autumn of 1911, J. was shown a marine, one of the canvases bought by the Dowdeswells from Madame Strindberg and sold by them to another dealer. 25 Everybody who saw it declared it a genuine Whistler. The fact coming to the knowledge of Madame Strindberg, led to trouble over the question of payment, and she demanded all the canvases back from the Dowdeswells including this marine which had passed into the possession of Messrs. Reinhardt. The Dowdeswells then withdrew their collection from exhibition and sale.
Up to this time we had heard the name of Walter Greaves only once in connection with the rolls when Messrs. Dowdeswell told us of one roll offered them but refused, in which they came upon "strange things" signed Walter Greaves. Now, however, his name was to become a nine days' wonder. Mr. Marchant found the canvases he bought in the same deplorable condition, dirty and neglected, and certainly those he showed J. were about as bad as they could be. Mr. Spencer gave an ingenious explanation of the holes in some of them. Whistler, when he could not afford new canvases, bought old paintings, so old that they sometimes developed holes. Then he would tell Greaves to paint a tiny frame round the hole, and the device could be noticed in one of the portraits by Greaves. Ingenious but, we fancy, Mr. Spencer's own. Like the Dowdeswells, Mr. Marchant had the canvases restored. Then he looked up Greaves, arranged an exhibition in the Goupil Gallery in May, 1911, sent out cards for a show by "Walter Greaves, Pupil of Whistler," and published a catalogue.' 26
1917: one painting was sold by Messrs Dowdeswell at auction, London, Christie, 9 February 1917 (lot 309) as 'The Chinese Screen; an arrangement in Flesh-colour and grey' by Walter Greaves (1846-1930).
This indicates that there was at least an element of confusion about which paintings were by Greaves and which could conceivably have been originally by Whistler, but were over-restored, and finally, which were by neither artist.
1: Pennell 1921C [more] Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Whistler Journal, Philadelphia, 1921 , pp. 126-27.
4: Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' [y074]; Cremorne Gardens, No. 2 [y164]; The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland [y111]. The Loves of the Lobsters [y209]; Mount Ararat [y210] were not bought by C. L. Freer.
6: Pennell 1921, op. cit.
12: Pennell 1921C [more] Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Whistler Journal, Philadelphia, 1921 , pp. 125-27; Way 1912 [more] Way, Thomas Robert, Memories of James McNeill Whistler, the Artist, London and New York, 1912 , p. 136.
13: Pennell 1921, op. cit.
15: Pennell 1921C [more] Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Whistler Journal, Philadelphia, 1921 , pp. 125-27.
17: Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Grey: The Chinese Screen [y051]: it does not show Marie Spartali (Mrs W. J. Stillman) (1844-1927) nor is it related to La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine [y050].
22: Possibly Walter Greaves, Lindsey Wharf, Leeds Museums-City Art Gallery.
24: Portrait of a woman, Singer Museum, Laren.
26: Pennell 1921C [more] Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Whistler Journal, Philadelphia, 1921 , pp. 125-36.
Last updated: 31st July 2018 by Margaret