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

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Ariel

Composition


                    Ariel, The Hunterian
Ariel, The Hunterian

                    Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian
Sketch for 'Annabel Lee', The Hunterian

The exaggerated pose of the figure, the composition, with a railing over the sea, some of the colours, and particularly the treatment of the sky, suggest a link with Sketch for 'Annabel Lee' [YMSM 080], which may be a reworking of an earlier composition. As the 1980 catalogue commented:

'The actual subject of a draped figure on a balcony with leaves, and the sea beyond, resembles the 'Six Projects' (Venus [YMSM 082] et seq.) and is a constantly recurring theme in Whistler's work.' 1

Technique


                    Ariel, The Hunterian
Ariel, The Hunterian

It is painted on a wood panel that has a strong grain, and was primed with white. A paint sample, taken from the sky, includes lead white, Prussian blue, natural ultramarine, bone black and yellow ochre. The paint medium is more likely a megilp than a thinned paint or one with added sauce. 2

The brushwork is very fluid. There appear to have been several changes to the pose of the figure, with signs of alterations around the head and legs. The background sea and sky was painted right up to the figure, mainly in horizontal strokes. The railings were then painted over the sea.

Conservation History

It is painted on a panel with auxiliary backing and a framing device, both made from mahogany-type hardwood; the framing device consists of four thin battens with mitred corners, slightly bevelled on the verso, and attached to the panel with glue. It is likely that this was made after Whistler's death. There are vertical cracks down the panel, to left of the figure. The edges of the panel may have been damaged and retouched. There is some craquelure along the wood grain. The varnish is thick and glossy and almost certainly not original; it was probably applied when the panel was repaired and retouched. 3

Frame


                    Ariel, The Hunterian
Ariel, The Hunterian

                    Ariel, frame detail
Ariel, frame detail

A Grau-style frame, dating from the 1890s, 46.9 x 37.5 x 6.6 cm. 4

Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 318).

2: Dr Joyce H. Townsend, Tate Britain, Report of Examination, July 2017.

3: Townsend 2017, op. cit., and Clare Meredith, condition report, 5 April 2001, Hunterian files.

4: Dr S. L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more] .

Last updated: 22nd October 2020 by Margaret