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

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Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet

Provenance

  • 1898: bought from Whistler by William Heinemann (1863-1920) , London, who still owned it in 1905;
  • 1906: bought from William Macbeth, New York art dealer, by Florence Gibb, Mrs H. L. Pratt (1872-1935) , New York;
  • 1935: bequeathed to Herbert Lee Pratt (1871-1945) , who gave it to his daughter, Edith Gibb Pratt (Mrs A. McLane, Mrs H. W. Maxwell) (1898-1956) , New York;
  • 1956/1958: passed by family descent to Edith Gibb McLane Dillon (Mrs Thomas P. Dillon) (dates unknown) ;
  • By 1986: passed by family descent to Edith, Mrs E. D. Ledson (dates unknown) , who lent it to Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York;
  • After 1986: bought by Gail K. Liebes (1931-2000) and her husband John Martin Liebes (1930-2015) of Brentwood, Los Angeles;
  • 2001: gift of John Liebes, in memory of Gail Liebes, to Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Heinemann bought Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet [YMSM 500] from Whistler on 29 June 1898, for 500 guineas (£525.0.0), and wrote to the artist:

"Here is the money & I say 'thank you!' The little lady will be a fascinating companion - at last for the lost celibate. I am only too anxious to have her with me soon & I revel in anticipation in the joy of envious friends when they see my Kakemono." 1

The Japanese term kakemono implies a vertical painting to hang on a wall. Whistler replied, 'I am glad to know the little Blue girl is looking so well!' and added that some one 'wanted to carry her off to Chicago with him.' 2 This was almost certainly Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920), who had arrived in London. Whistler wrote to Christine Anderson (Christiana Barrett, Mrs C. L. Baldwyn, Mrs C. A. M. Anderson) (b. 1865/1866), manager of the Company of the Butterfly: 'You might write to Mr. Arthur Eddy - Morleys Hotel, Trafalgar Square - and say ... that the "Blue Bonnet" was bought by Mr. Heinemann ... the publisher', and he suggested that Eddy might like to buy Violet and Blue: The Red Feather [YMSM 503] (another portrait of the same model) instead. 3 Whistler later wrote to Heinemann:

'I am glad to know that the little Blue lady will be petted in her home, with the place of honour to herself! so that is all charming! - and delightful! And if ever you think she becomes in the least spoiled by much indulgence, you must at once complain to me! - Meanwhile she is slightly misconducting herself with the Press - with whom she seems to be on rather amiable and ogling terms! - Did you notice the Spectator of the 18th?' 4

The portrait was acquired by the art dealer William Macbeth on 31 August 1906, and sold to Mrs Pratt on 25 October for $6500. 5 It was given by Herbert Lee Pratt to their daughter, Mrs Pratt McLane (later Mrs Howard W. Maxwell) at some time before 1940, when it was lent to the New York World's Fair; it remained in the family until at least 1949. 6 It has been in Los Angeles County Museum of Art since 2001.

Exhibitions


                    Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet, photograph by W. E. Gray, 1898
Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet, photograph by W. E. Gray, 1898

  • 1898: Exhibition of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Knightsbridge, London, 1898 (cat. no. 182) as 'Blue and Coral – The Little Blue Bonnet'; de luxe edition, p. 22, repr. frontispiece.
  • 1899: 1st World of Art Exhibition, Schtiglitz School, Saint Petersburg, 1899 (cat. no. 279) as 'Devochka b golubom' [girl in blue].
  • 1905: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 8) as 'The Little Blue Bonnet' and 'The Little Blue Bonnet, Blue and Coral' in ordinary and deluxe editions respectively.


                    Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG, Library of Congress
Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG, Library of Congress

                    Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG, Library of Congress
Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG, Library of Congress

It was first shown in 1898 at the inaugural exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, of which Whistler was the first President. Whistler was concerned about the layout of his works at the ISSPG and sent Albert Ludovici, Jr (1852-1932) two sketches of the proposed hang, first, Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG [M.1539] 7 and next, Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG [M.1540], in which he gave Ludovici detailed instructions (referring to Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet [YMSM 500] just as 'oval'):

'[pictures numbered left to right:] 6 5 4 1. 3 2. 7. 8 9 [and three frames numbered:] '10.'

1. Rose Corder. 2. Princess. 3. Portrait. 4. Piano. 5. Oval. 6. Thames in ice. 7. Philosopher. 8. Nocturne Valparaiso. 9. Petite Souris (girls head with feather boa) 10. "Etchings by Mrs McNeill Whistler".

Or [sketch of pictures numbered left to right:] 2 10 7. 8 9. Yes this * last way I prefer - and it gives you no trouble ... Hang all my pictures on the line - excepting the Holloway (Philosopher) just a tiny bit up to make the line pretty - and perhaps the Petite Souris - also slightly - a matter for your eye - And be sure to see to the proper tilting over - so that [they] can be well seen.' 8


                    Wall of the First International Exhibition at Knightsbridge, 1898, from Pennell 1921, f.p.150
Wall of the First International Exhibition at Knightsbridge, 1898, from Pennell 1921, f.p.150

A photograph of the hanging of Whistler's panel was reproduced by the Pennells, showing that Whistler's suggestions were adopted. 9

On 16 May 1898 The Times described Whistler's exhibits inaccurately as: 'none of them new ... Mr. Whistler ... has contented himself ... with old work ... the least well known is "The Little Blue Bonnet" - but it would have become the president of a new society to have sent some new pictures.' 10 Whistler promptly incorporated a slightly revised version of The Times review in a new edition of the exhibition catalogue: their criticism, 'old works ... among which the "Little Blue Bonnet" is the least known', being followed by Whistler's own ironic comment: 'As the painting has never been out of the studio, but comes fresh from the easel to its first exhibition, the "plain man" is, once more, profoundly right, and we see again the advantage of memory over mere artistic instinct in the critic.' 11

The Spectator, reviewing the 'remarkable' ISSPG show, praised Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet, describing it as 'a finely modelled face, full of subtlety. The realisation of the form of the orbits and eyes is masterly, and so is the relation of the warm flesh, low in tone, to the sober hue of the bonnet.' 12

In the following year, the new owner, William Heinemann (1863-1920) , agreed to lend it to an important exhibition organised by Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) in St Petersburg. It was one of the few works by Whistler to be exhibited in Russia. 13

There were almost no reviews of Whistler's paintings in 1899. Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov denigrated the works selected by Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929), including Whistlers two exhibits:

'Of the English [sic], Whistler is represented by two small canvases – 'Blue Girl' and 'Marine', but they are both so colourless and insignificant that without captions no-none would ever guess that these were things by the self same Whistler who is so renowned for his colour! Was it really worth bringing such nonentities from afar?' 14

Its later exhibition history is interesting too: it was shown at the Armory Show in 1913 and the New York World's Fair in 1940, although since the 1950s it has led a comparatively quiet life. 15

Notes:

1: Heinemann to Whistler, 29 [June] 1898, GUW #02090.

2: Whistler to Heinemann, [June/July 1898], GUW #08556.

3: [June/July 1898], formerly dated [August/September 1898], GUW #00792.

4: Whistler to Heinemann, [June 1898], formerly dated [20 August / October 1898], GUW #11283. This letter dates from late June 1898, since Whistler is referring to a review by 'H. S.', 'International Art at Knightsbridge', The Spectator, 18 June 1898, vol. 80, p. 859.

5: Macbeth stockbook, 1906; Cary 1907[more] , p. 212 (cat. no. 372).

6: Mrs Maxwell to Coburn, 23 June 1946, GUL WPP (Revillon 1955); Masterpieces of Art, European and American Paintings, 1500-1900, New York World's Fair, 1940 (cat. no. 298); she also lent it to James McNeill Whistler, Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, 1949 (cat. no. 32).

7: Whistler to A. Ludovici, [26/30 April 1898], GUW #08075.

8: [April/May 1898], GUW #10694.

9: Pennell 1921C [more] , repr. f. p. 150.

10: 'Exhibition of International Art', The Times, London, 16 May 1898, p. 12.

11: Exhibition of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Knightsbridge, London, 1898, p. 22 (cat. no. 182).

12: 'H. S.', 'International Art at Knightsbridge', The Spectator, 18 June 1898, vol. 80 (3651), p. 859.

13: MacDonald 2006 [more] , at pp. 55-56.

14: Stasov, V. V., 'Podvoriye prokagennykh', [The Leper House], [1899], in Isbranniye sochineniya [Selected Works], 3 vols., Moscow, 1952, vol. 3, p. 257. This translation is quoted from Kruglov, Vladimir, 'Whistler in Russian criticism', in Andreeva, Galina, and Margaret F. MacDonald, Whistler and Russia, State Tretyakow Gallery, Moscow, 2006, pp. 162-69, at p. 166.

15: International Exhibition of Modern Art, Association of American Paintings and Sculpture, Armory of the 69th Infantry, New York, 1913 (cat. no. 1086); Masterpieces of Art, European and American Paintings, 1500-1900, New York World's Fair, 1940 (cat. no. 298).

Last updated: 7th June 2021 by Margaret