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

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Blue and Silver: Trouville

Provenance

  • By 1873: Christina, Mrs C. W. Deschamps (1843-1926) and Charles William Deschamps (1848-1908) , London;
  • 1890: Deschamps offered the painting for sale;
  • 1890/1891: Whistler bought the painting in instalments;
  • By 1892: James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923) , London;
  • 1895: sold through Goupil, London dealers, to James Staats Forbes (1823-1904) , London;
  • 1902: sold by Forbes through Messrs Agnew, London dealers, May 1902, to Cottier & Co., New York;
  • 1902: bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) , Detroit;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

There were problems in establishing this provenance and exhibition history due to the conflicting financial records and varying descriptions and titles used. 1

The London art dealer C. W. Deschamps and his wife definitely owned 'The Yacht Race - A Symphony in B sharp' before its exhibition in 1873. 'It will be delightful for me to have it back again at home' wrote Deschamps during the exhibition. 2 Deschamps owned the painting until 1890/1891, but was prepared to lend it to Whistler for exhibitions. In March 1888, for instance, Whistler promised to return 'your sea piece' to Deschamps. 3 On 7 August 1890 Deschamps was in urgent need of money and wrote to Whistler that he would have to sell it, asking if 'Mr Ionides, or some others of your friends could be tempted to purchase the picture … How I wish it were possible for you to buy!' 4 It appears that it was indeed possible, and Whistler paid down a deposit of 20 guineas (£20.0.0): a receipt signed by Deschamps on 8 April 1891 valued 'the "Yacht Race" or "Trouville" ' at £160.0.0, and noted that Whistler had paid two instalments towards this, one of £22.0.0, and a second, in April 1891, of £50.0.0. This left £88.0.0 still to pay. 5 It is not known when the final payment was made, but Whistler can only have owned the painting briefly, for within a year it was owned by James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923). 6

The similarity of subjects and titles makes it hard to associate the marines with specific owners or exhibitions. However, in February 1892 J. J Shannon was named as owner of a picture that David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) hoped to obtain for Whistler's Goupil retrospective, and which was probably Blue and Silver: Trouville. 7 In May of the same year, Blue and Silver: Trouville may have been the painting that was sent to the Paris Salon under the title 'Marine – Harmonie en bleu et argent' by Maurice Joyant (1864-1930) of Goupil's Paris office. 8 And later in the year, J. J. Shannon was mentioned as owning 'The "blue & Silver" Sea piece', which was then on show in the VI. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, although, curiously, it was marked in the catalogue as being for sale. 9 Next, the painting was listed as a 'Sea Piece – Trouville', owned by Shannon, in a preliminary list of paintings for exhibition in Chicago in 1893. 10 In January 1893 Whistler suggested to Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911) that he should borrow 'Blue Sea, Trouville' from Shannon for the Chicago exhibition. 11

A year later it appears that 'Shannon's sea piece' was being considered for purchase by someone in The Hague, and Whistler wondered if it had been seen by Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915). 12 Possibly it was with the art dealer Elbert Jan van Wisselingh (1848-1912), but in any case, it did not stay in the Netherlands. By May of the following year it had been bought by James Staats Forbes, as Thomson told Whistler, 'I sold your seaside picture the other day to Mr J. S. Forbes - I mean the one which belonged to Mr Shannon & formerly to Deschamps[.] Mr Forbes buys it for £325 to put in his collection.' 13 Finally, in May 1902 it was sold by Forbes through Agnew's (Agnew's a/c #467), to Cottier & Co., who sold it to C. L. Freer in July 1902 for $12,500.

Exhibitions

  • 1873: probably Sixth Exhibition of the Society of French Artists [Summer Exhibition], Deschamps Gallery, London, 1873 (cat. no. 110) as 'The Yacht Race - A Symphony in B sharp'.
  • 1883: possibly Exposition Internationale de Peinture, Galerie George Petit, Paris, 1883 (cat. no. 4) as 'Harmonie en bleu et argent' (but see Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 064]).
  • 1892: probably Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 37) as 'Blue and Silver'.
  • 1892: VI. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1892 (cat. no. 1950b) as 'Symphonie in Silber'.
  • 1893: World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893 (cat. no. 768) as 'Harmony in Blue and Silver'.
  • 1899: 2nd Exhibition, Pictures, Drawings, Prints and Sculptures, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, London, 1899 (cat. no. 135) as 'Blue and Silver, Trouville'.
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 51).
  • 1905: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 60).

There is some confusion over the early exhibition history of this painting, but it is likely that it was exhibited by Deschamps in 1873 under the incorrect title 'The Yacht Race - A Symphony in B sharp'. The Athenaeum on 8 November 1873 described this as 'a vigorous and beautiful study of colour, and bright, yet soft tone, the subject being a contest of sailing vessels near the shore. Among the finer, if not the finest, portion of this interesting picture, is the sky, which is excellent.' The Illustrated London News of 15 November was amused by the 'punning title', found the painting 'more comprehensible than usual', and admired the 'tender harmony of grey tints'.

This may have been the 'Harmonie en bleu et argent' exhibited with the Salon de la Société des artistes français in 1883 (cat. no. 4) but it is not certain. The exhibited work was described by a journalist as 'Mer bleue où se mirent les nuages, azur du ciel, ainsi que l'argent des autres nuages dans les vagues qui viennent lécher la plage. Effet encore tendre.' 14 This description might apply to Sea and Rain [YMSM 065] or Blue and Silver: Trouville [YMSM 066].

In March 1888 Whistler returned 'your sea piece' to Deschamps. 15 No other details are given, but this suggests it had been on exhibition, possibly in Paris, or was being shown to a collector.

It is likely that it was shown at Goupil's in 1892, but the owner is not named in the catalogue. It is also likely that, later in the year, it was the 'Symphonie in Silber' exhibited in Munich, which was marked as for sale. When the Munich exhibition was finished, Whistler asked for 'The "blue & Silver" Sea piece' to be returned to J. J. Shannon: he did not mention a symphony in silver at all. It is not at all clear whether there was one or several 'silver' paintings involved in sales and exhibitions at this period! 16

It is certain, however, that Blue and Silver: Trouville travelled to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.


                    Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG, Tate Archives, London
Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG, Tate Archives, London

                    Paintings at the ISSPG, Glasgow University Library
Paintings at the ISSPG, Glasgow University Library

In 1899, Whistler directed the arrangement, sketching out his proposed arrangement in Plan of a panel of pictures for the ISSPG [M.1582] and Paintings at the ISSPG [M.1583]. In the sketch what Whistler described as 'Forbes' Seapiece' is placed centrally, above the rest of the paintings, tilted forward so that it can be seen properly. Whistler mentioned to John Lavery (1856-1941), ‘the Forbes' sea piece - which has never been seen - and will go with great [swing?] at the top.' 17 Why he said that it had never been seen is, to say the least, unclear, and suggests that the history of at least two paintings has been confused, possibly by the artist! The Westminster Gazette art critic appeared to think he had seen it before but dismissed it as 'not quite of his best'. 18 Other art critics were more appreciative, calling it 'fresh and lovely', 'exquisite', and 'tender'. 19

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent to another venue.

Notes:

1: It was partly confused with the history of Trouville [YMSM 070]. See YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 66).

2: C. W. Deschamps to Whistler, [10/22 November 1873], GUW #00830.

3: [9 March 1888], GUW #07914.

4: GUW #00832.

5: C. W. Deschamps to Whistler, 8 April 1891, GUW #00833.

6: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [8 February 1892], GUW #08215. Deschamps was cited as an early owner (before J. S. Forbes), by D. C. Thomson in a letter to Whistler, 14 May 1895, GUW #05821.

7: Thomson to Whistler, 23 February 1892, GUW #05686.

8: Joyant to Whistler, 4 May 1892, GUW #00388.

9: Whistler to C. F. Ulrich, [October 1892], GUW #13148.

10: B. Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [22 October/November 1892], GUW #09703; also Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [16 November 1892], GUW #11504.

11: [November 1892/10 January 1893], GUW #03181.

12: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [7 December 1894], GUW #08292.

13: 14 May 1895, GUW #05821.

14: [1883], unidentified press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 7, p. 15.

15: [9 March 1888], GUW #07914.

16: Whistler to C. F. Ulrich, [October 1892], GUW #13148.

17: [April/May 1899], GUW #09988.

18: Westminster Gazette, London, 10 May 1899, p. 4.

19: Daily Telegraph & Courier (London), London, 10 May 1899, p. 10; Pall Mall Gazette, London, 10 May 1899, pp. 1-2; Globe, London, 9 May 1899, p. 5; and Western Times, Devon, p. 4.

Last updated: 3rd December 2020 by Margaret