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

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Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs

Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs was painted at intervals from 1881-1886. 1

1881: It was commissioned by Henry Bruce Meux (1857-1900), and paid for in advance. 2

Alan Summerly Cole (1846-1934) noted in his diary on 26 May 1881, 'Met Jimmy who is taking a new studio in Tite Street where he is going to paint all the fashionables - views of crowds competing for sittings - carriages along the street.' 3


                Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26
Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs, photograph, GUL Whistler PH4/26

                Harmony in Crimson and Brown, private collection
Harmony in Crimson and Brown, private collection

Whistler made a drawing of it, about this time, Harmony in Crimson and Brown [M.0853]. He also wrote to his sister-in-law,

'I have been tremendously hard at work ... Mrs Meux came to town and we had up the pictures and slaved away until one of them is supposed to be finished - though it isn't! - and then off she went again ... The World reports strangely enough - that Mr Whistler having completed the first of the Series of Mrs Meux has "gone for his holiday to the sea side!" - I wonder how these things happen!' 4

In October 1881 two portraits of Lady Meux were shown to the press in Whistler's studio, when this portrait was described by Mrs Hawthorne as incomplete, 'treated in a subdued tone of brown and brownish-red. The pose is somewhat as before, but the figure is enveloped in a long brown fur cloak reaching nearly to the feet.' 5

1883/1884: Lady Meux was sitting for a portrait, possibly this, around the same time that Théodore Duret (1838-1927) was posing for his portrait, Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret [YMSM 252].

1884: on 2 November Whistler wrote to Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929) postponing a sitting for a portrait of 'Miss Kathie' until the following Tuesday because he would 'not be rid of lady M before.' 6 On 9 December 1884 Whistler made a drawing of the Meux portrait, Sketch of 'Harmony in Crimson and Brown' [M.0993], for Charles William Dowdeswell (1832-1915). 7

1886: Lady Meux planned to have her furs 'altered' and her dress 'made in to a cloak' and asked Whistler to send her the portrait. 8 Whistler drafted a reply, complaining that he could not paint the portrait from a substitute, Lady Meux's maid, Alice:

'Just received telegram being absent yesterday waited for your picture three weeks running absolutely impossible now must leave town cannot struggle with melting maids in alterred [sic] furs ridiculous prefer to pay back money though as always charming will paint you quite a new portrait new arrangement if you promise to stand for it yourself.' 9

Pennell stated that when the maid posed, Whistler painted her face over that of Lady Meux, and implies that this took place after Whistler and Lady Meux had fallen out. 10

1887: Edward Upton, Sir Henry Meux's solicitor, wrote to the artist asking him, if the painting was not finished, to return a proportion of the down-payment as Lady Meux was not well enough to sit again. 11 There is no record of a reply, but the money was not returned at this point.

1889: In April Sir Henry Meux suggested that 'the picture of Lady Meux in a sable dress' should be exhibited in Whistler's retrospective exhibition at the College for Working Men and Women, adding, 'If it is not yet quite finished will you ask Lady Meux to give you another sitting or send you the sables.' 12 However, there is no record of another sitting.

On 5 July 1889 Upton & Britton threatened legal proceedings against Whistler. He blamed 'the whims and uncertainties of the lady' but agreed to settle the matter amiably. 13

1890: Whistler's secretary, W. Bell, wrote to Upton that Whistler would send a cheque, and return the money. 14

1891: Lady Meux wrote that she was 'not in the mood to be painted as a Spanish female of the 15th Century', which suggests that Whistler thought she might dress as Queen Isabel I of Spain (1451-1504), for Study for Three Decorative Panels Representing 'The Landing of Columbus', 'Queen Isabel la Católica of Spain' and 'Queen Elizabeth of England' [YMSM 396]. 15

1892: Lady Meux told Whistler, 'If you ever paint me again I should like you to paint / me in something dreamy[.] I look best in soft colours', but she also wrote, 'I cannot stand your brushes flickering in front of my eyes.' 16 Finally she wrote, 'I fear you will never have the pleasure of painting me again now that you are not in England, as when in Paris I spend all my time at the dressmakers.' 17 She never posed to him again.

Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 230).

2: Whistler to Upton & Britton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

3: Ms copies, GUW #13132, #03432.

4: Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [September 1881], GUW #06694.

5: Hawthorne 1881 [more] , at p. 658.

6: Whistler to W. Dowdeswell, GUW #08688.

7: Menpes 1904 A [more] , repr. f.p. xx; Illustrated London News, 21 January 1911, repr. p. 89.

8: A. Harris (Lady Meux's secretary) to Whistler, 26 July [1886], GUW #02044; Lady Meux to Whistler, [29 July 1886], GUW #04067.

9: [30 July 1886], GUW #04068.

10: Pennell 1911 A [more] , p. 210.

11: 1 November 1887, GUW #05894.

12: 27 April [1889], GUW #04066.

13: GUW #05896; Whistler to Upton & Britton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

14: 26 February 1890, GUL #03464.

15: Lady Meux to Whistler, [22 September 1891], GUW #04069.

16: Lady Meux to Whistler, 13 January 1892 and 12 February 1892, GUL #04071 and #04072.

17: 2 December 1892, GUW #04075.

Last updated: 14th November 2020 by Margaret