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

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La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine

Titles

Many variations on the title have been suggested:

  • 'La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine' (1865, Salon, Paris). 1
  • 'The Princess, Variations in Flesh Colour and Blue' (1872, International Exhibition, South Kensington). 2
  • 'The Princess' (1872, Whistler). 3
  • 'Arrangement in flesh colour and gray – La Princesse des pays de la Porcelaine' (1875, Royal Pavilion Gallery, Brighton). 4
  • 'the Japanese Princess' (1892, Whistler). 5
  • 'Harmony in Flesh Colour and Grey, La Princesse des Pays de la Porcelaine (Portrait de Miss S . . .)' (1892, Society of Portrait Painters). 6
  • 'The Princess of the Land of Porcelain' (1893, World's Columbian Exposition). 7
  • 'The "Lady of the Porcelaine Country" ' (1893, H. Mansfield). 8
  • 'Rose and Silver: La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine' (1898, ISSPG). 9
  • 'Rose and silver: La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine' (1905, Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Paris). 10
  • 'La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine' (1980, YMSM). 11

'La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine' is the preferred title, being based on the first published title of 1865.

In 1872, according to the Pennells, Whistler's titles were 'well-established':

'His use of titles to explain his pictorial intentions was now so well established that this same year (1872), when The White Girl and the Princesse were in the International Exhibition at South Kensington, they were catalogued respectively as Symphony in White, No. I., and Variations in Flesh-colour, Blue and Grey, later changed to Grey and Rose; and he supplied the explanation, printed in the Programme of Reception, that they were "the complete results of harmonies obtained by employing the infinite tones and variations of a limited number of colours." ' 12

Description


                    La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, 1864, Freer Gallery of Art, F1903.91
La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, 1864, Freer Gallery of Art, F1903.91

A full-length figure composition, in vertical format, featuring a woman with long dark hair dressed in Asian robes. Her dress is grey, decorated with silver, with a red belt; over it is a cream decorated robe, possibly a kimono. She holds a fan with a bamboo handle, decorated with irises, in her right hand (a second fan is on the wall at upper right). She stands in three-quarter view to left, leaning back to right, on a blue and white patterned carpet. Behind her is a folding Asian screen decorated with birds, flowers, and sprays of blossom. Behind her, to right (in front of the screen) an embroidered purple robe is draped over an unseen stool or chair, and to right of that is a tall blue and white porcelain vase.

Site

According to the Pennells, 'It was in the studio at No. 7 Lindsey Row ... a modest little second story, or English first floor, back room, that the Japanese pictures were painted.' 13

In Aileen Tsui's interesting analysis of the painting, she discusses the decor of the rooms in Lindsey Row:

'In the imaginations of Whistler and his artist friends in the 1860s, "China" and "Japan" could blur together as signifiers of a world of art both pure and strange, the highest beauty for the connoisseur and an eccentric amusement for others. A letter written by Henri Fantin-Latour when visiting Whistler in 1864 expresses the friends' shared sense of "Japan" and "China" melting together in their vision of a paradise of art unencumbered by troubling realities or actual distinctions.' 14

Fantin's letter reads:

'Ici, je suis presque dans le Paradis. Nous faisons une vie impossible, tous les trois dans l'atelier de Whistler. On se croirait à Nangasaki [sic] ou dans le Palais d'Eté, la Chine, le Japon, c'est splendide.'

Translation: 'Here, I am nearly in Paradise. We're fashioning an impossible life, all three of us in Whistler's studio. You would believe you were at Nagasaki or in the Summer Palace, China, Japan, it is splendid.' 15

Aileen Tsui comments further:

The fantasy of an East Asian realm that Fantin-Latour referred to as "la Chine, le Japon" served as a vividly imagined yet inaccessible place onto which Western anxieties and desires could be projected; these projections could also be attached to the tangible forms and graspable actuality of the East Asian objects – whether actually made in Asia or European imitations found both in artists' studios and in domestic spaces in Britain and France.' 16

Lindsey row, photograph ca 1878, LC PC
Lindsey row, photograph ca 1878, LC PC

The screen in the background was Whistler's, sold when he went bankrupt and bought, it is said, by Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890). 17

Sitter


                    Christina Spartali,  National Portrait Gallery, London,  NPG x18050
Christina Spartali, National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG x18050

The model for this painting was Christine Spartali, Countess Edmond de Cahen (1846–1884) , the daughter of Michael Spartali (1818-1914), a prosperous merchant, who was later the Greek Consul General in London.


                    Marie Stillman (née Spartali),  National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG x18048
Marie Stillman (née Spartali), National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG x18048

Her sister, Marie Spartali (Mrs W. J. Stillman) (1844-1927), whose photograph is reproduced above, recorded information on the sittings.

However, when Christine Spartali was ill, her place may have been taken by a professional model, Emelie 'Millie' Eyre Jones (1850-1920) .

The Pennells commented, 'The Princesse, in her trailing robes, is as little Japanese or Chinese as she is English.' 18 The same writers describe the sitters and sittings in some detail:

'The Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine is the portrait of Miss Christine Spartali, daughter of the Consul-General for Greece in London, whom Whistler met at Mr. Ionides house, and to whose dinners and parties he often went. There were two daughters, Christine (afterwards the Countess Edmond de Cahen) and Marie (Mrs. W. J. Stillman), both very beautiful, with a beauty as foreign to England as the colour of Japanese stuffs, and the conventions of Japanese artists. Whistler, no less than Rossetti, was struck by their beauty, and asked the younger sister, Christine, to sit to him. Mrs. Stillman, who always accompanied her for the sittings, has told us the story of the picture. …

The sittings went on until the sitter fell ill. … The two girls wanted their father to buy it, but Mr. Spartali did not like it. He objected to it as a portrait of his daughter.' 19

When a critic of the Glasgow Herald preferred this painting to a portrait of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) (Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle [YMSM 137]) Whistler wrote:

'The picture takes its place simply with all the others and differs in no way from the portrait of Carlyle, excepting in as much as Carlyle himself dear old Gentleman differs from a Young lady in a Japanese dressing gown, in which it was not likely the Chelsea Sage should ever be seen!' 20

Comments

The painting was admired and sketched by Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898) in 1892. 'Whistler has a large painting in his peacock room[,] I suppose this is what you mean by the Jap Girl painting a vase[.] The figure is very beautiful gorgeously painted Colour being principally old [gold?]', he told George Frederick Scotson-Clark (1872-1927), a poster designer. 21

Notes:

1: 83rd exhibition, Salon de 1865, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1865 (cat. no. 2220).

2: London International Exhibition of 1872, the Second of a Series Held under the Direction of Her Majesty’s Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851, London, [in the building for the Exhibition of 1862], 1872 (cat. no. 261).

3: Whistler to F. R. Leyland, [2/9 November 1872], GUW #08794.

4: Second Annual Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Water Colour, Royal Pavilion Gallery, Brighton, 1875 (cat. no. 156).

5: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 5 March [1892], GUW #08357.

6: 2nd exhibition, Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1892 (cat. no. 113).

7: World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893 (cat. no. 1100) as 'The Princess of the Land of Porcelain'.

8: Mansfield to Whistler, 15 May 1893, GUW #04002.

9: Exhibition of International Art, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Knightsbridge, London, 1898 (cat. no. 180).

10: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 9).

11: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 50).

12: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 1, p. 157.

13: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 1, p. 121.

14: Tsui, Aileen, 'Whistler's La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine: Painting Re-Oriented', Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide, Vol. 9, No. 2, Autumn 2010, online.

15: Fantin-Latour to his parents, 12 July 1864, quoted in Spencer, Robin, 'Whistler and Japan: Work in Progress' in Japonisme in Art: An International Symposium, ed. Yamada Chisaburo, Tokyo, 1980, p. 60.

16: Tsui 2010, online, op. cit..

17: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 1, p. 259.

18: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 1, p. 122.

19: Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 122-23.

20: Whistler to A. Reid, [26 June 1892], GUW #03206.

21: [1/16 June 1892], GUW #07609.

Last updated: 22nd December 2020 by Margaret