Whistler's step-brother George, having bought the painting, reported to the artist: 'On Thursday I called on your friend Mr Cavafy & paid him the £84. for the picture.' 2 It appears that George was a little shocked at the price of his purchases (he bought etchings as well as paintings), so the artist offered to take the painting back:
'I fear that really I have launched you into art with foolish inconsiderateness, that I might hereafter have to reproach myself with - Your daily life requires nothing of the kind, and why should you unwisely begin! - Now my dear brother we will make it all right immediately ... give me a letter to Messrs [Carey/Cavafy?] to restore to me the case containing the sea piece ... I will return you the ... £84 ... and then all will be as it ought to be between us; - for it is absurd that the tastes of one brother for his own works! should be expensively forced upon the other!' 3
However, his brother kept the picture!
After G. W. Whistler's death in 1869, his family returned to Baltimore in the autumn of 1872, and the painting was passed by family descent until sold at Christie’s, London, in 1906. There is a gap in its provenance between 1909 and 1922, but during this time it appears to have remained in America.
It was exhibited as soon as Whistler got back from Brittany and had it framed, under the title 'Seule'. 4 It was shown again in the following year at the Royal Academy as 'Alone with the Tide'. Whistler reported to G. A. Lucas: 'Now then for my news … "The White Girl" was refused at the Academy where they only hung the Brittany Sea piece and the Thames Ice Sketch! both of which they have stuck in as bad a place as possible.' 5 However, it was noticed by The Athenaeum, where it was described as 'a coast scene of wild weed and limpet-covered rock sunk in sand, the half-saturated look of which last is perfectly expressed.' 6 Furthermore, The Spectator thought it 'admirable', and 'painted with a truth of tone and power of handling that [gives] evidence of having been studied from nature.' 7
In March 1863 Whistler asked James Anderson Rose (1819-1890): 'Shall I send the Brittany Sea piece to the "Artists & Amateurs" or would it be too large?' 8 It was apparently not too large, but instead he sent an even larger painting, Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl [YMSM 038] to The Artists' and Amateur's Conversazione, Willis's Rooms, London, 1863.
The Coast of Brittany then travelled with Whistler's widowed sister-in-law Julia de Kay Whistler to America, and was shown at the National Academy of Design in 1874, where, according to John LaFarge (1835-1910), it was 'skied above a door.' 9
In 1876 it was shown at the Academy Charity Exhibition in Baltimore as 'On the Brittany Coast'. 10 And a couple of years later, under yet another title, it appeared in the First Annual Exhibition of the Society of American Artists as 'Coast of Brittany'.
It was lent by Ross Winans Whistler (1858-1927) of Baltimore, to two exhibitions in New York in 1881. At the Union League Club an exhibition that was probably organised by Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) included Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl [YMSM 038] and Whistler's beach scene. The press was not enthusiastic. ' "The Brittany Coast" is a slashing study of rocks, against one of which reclines the figure of a female', wrote one art critic, comparing it unfavourably with 'a magnificent landscape by David Johnson.' 11 At this point there was a lull in its exhibiting history.
Whistler suggested it to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) for inclusion in his 1892 Goupil retrospective, but nothing seems to have been done about it at that time. 12 A few years later he again suggested it, this time to Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932), for possible display in an undefined exhibition, possibly in New York.
'What do you know about the Winans' pictures? ... what about a painting called "Alone with the Tide"- It used to be George Whistler's -
A beautiful thing - painted in Brittany - Blue Sea - long wave breaking - black and brown rocks - great foreground of sand - and wonderful girl asleep - You ought to have that for the Exhibition -
And now that I tell you about it you might in return so manage that I have it for Exhibition here - and for reviewing - cleaning and putting in order.' 13
However, again, there was no further action taken. It was not exhibited again until the Whistler Memorial exhibitions in both Boston and London.
6: 'Fine Arts: R.A.', The Athenaeum, 24 May 1862, p. 699.
7: 'Fine Arts: Exhibition of the Royal Academy, First Notice', The Spectator, 10 May 1862, p. 521, and 'Fine Arts: Royal Academy, Second Notice', The Spectator, 17 May 1862, p. 549.
10: Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, 20 March 1876.
11: Anon., 'The Union League', unidentified press cutting, New York, [10 April 1881], GUL Whistler PC 4, p. 61. David Johnson (1827-1908) was based in New York, and his work reflected the influence of the Hudson River School and Barbizon painters.
Last updated: 4th June 2021 by Margaret