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

Titles

There are several variations on the original title:

  • 'Blue and Coral – The Little Blue Bonnet' (1898, ISSPG). 1
  • 'Devochka b golubom' [girl in blue] (1899, 1st World of Art Exhibition, St Petersburg). 2
  • 'The Little Blue Bonnet' and 'The Little Blue Bonnet, Blue and Coral' (1905, ISSPG). 3
  • 'The Little Blue Bonnet' (1913, Armory Show, New York). 4
  • 'The Blue Bonnet' (1940, New York World's Fair). 5
  • 'Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet' (1980, YMSM). 6

'Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet' is based on the original title, with punctuation amended to conform with other titles.

Description


                    Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

A half-length portrait of a young woman, in oval format. Her face looks directly at the viewer but her body is turned slightly to her right. Her thick light brown hair falls in a rough fringe over her forehead. She has dark brown eyes, an oval face, and a small mouth.

The structure of her dress is not clear. She seems to have a white dress or blouse (touched with pale blue and grey tones) with a grey ruff at her neck. Over this she wears what may be a tunic or surcoat in white with a dark blue trim, possibly laced at the front. There are dark blue puffs indicated at her shoulders, and white sleeves below.

Her pale blue hat has a high crown and small brim with dark greenish-blue feathers or ribbons. The background is a brownish-grey, with an orange butterfly signature at left. Only the head and hat are fully painted: the dark outlines of the original drawing are visible on her clothes.

Sitter

The sitter was Muriel Smith (1883-1923) , who posed for several portraits when she was an art student, before her marriage. 7

Miniature and press cutting, [1923/1924] private collection
Miniature and press cutting, [1923/1924] private collection

According to a newspaper report after her death,

'As a girl she was a great friend and a pupil of Whistler, who always evinced the greatest interest in her and her work. So much so that at various times he painted five portraits of her. One of these is in the possession of Mr. Heinemann, one is owned by Mr. Van der Bilt [sic], and one is in the Luxembourg. Two of these are reproduced in Pennell's life of Whistler, the one entitled "Girl with a Feather", and the other "Blue and Coral".' 8

                    Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris, The Hunterian
Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris, The Hunterian

Violet and Blue: The Red Feather [YMSM 503] is the 'Girl with a Feather' cited in this article. Grey and Silver: La Petite Souris [YMSM 502] is almost certainly another (unfinished) portrait of Muriel Smith. It is not certain what portrait was supposedly owned by George Washington Vanderbilt (1862-1914), because The Little London Sparrow [YMSM 477] shows a younger child, supposedly Elizabeth Willis (fl. 1890/1900).

Notes:

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

2: 1st World of Art Exhibition, Schtiglitz School, Saint Petersburg, 1899 (cat. no. 279).

3: 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).

4: International Exhibition of Modern Art, Association of American Paintings and Sculpture, Armory of the 69th Infantry, New York, 1913 (cat. no. 1086).

5: Masterpieces of Art, European and American Paintings, 1500-1900, New York World's Fair, 1940 (cat. no. 298) and also in J. A. McNeill Whistler, Lyman Allyn Museum, New London, 1949 (cat. no. 32).

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 500).

7: Correspondence of her family with M. F. MacDonald, University of Glasgow. 'W. R. M.', 'The Work of a Dead Artist. Striking Exhibition in the city. A Pupil of Whistler and Leighton,' unidentified press-cutting, Cape Times, Cape Town, South Africa, June or July, 1923/1924, Whistler collection, University of Glasgow.

8: Ibid.

Last updated: 7th June 2021 by Margaret