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

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Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian

Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian was worked on over several years. It may have been started in 1891, and while the costume indicates a date between 1892 and 1894, the signature suggests a date of 1894 or later, and the painting was definitely completed in 1900.


                Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian, National Gallery of Art
Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian, National Gallery of Art

1888/1889: The art dealer Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) described it as 'a portrait of Mrs. Whibley, painted shortly after he married her sister & was done in Chelsea.' 1 This note was written many years later, in 1900 or later; it suggests a date after the marriage of Whistler and Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896) in August 1888, but cannot be considered completely reliable.

1891: In Whistler's London studio, Théodore Duret (1838-1927) saw an unfinished picture, possibly Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian, Red and Black: The Fan [YMSM 388], or Harmony in Brown: The Felt Hat [YMSM 395]). 2

1892: Charles L. Drouet (1836-1908) wrote to Whistler in December: 'Si le costume Espagnol ne vous est plus utile, je vous serais très obligé de me l'envoyer.' 3 The 'costume Espagnol' may have been used for a fancy dress ball, or for this painting.

Spanish inspired dress, Lady's Pictorial,  4 November 1893
Spanish inspired dress, Lady's Pictorial, 4 November 1893

1892/1894: The actual dress worn by Ethel Whibley (1861-1920) in Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian was undoubtedly influenced by the contemporary fashion for Spanish-style costume during this period. 4

1894: Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) remembered seeing Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian with Red and Black: The Fan [YMSM 388] and Rose et or: La Tulipe [YMSM 418], which Whistler was painting at 110 rue du Bac in Paris. 5

1896: E. G. Kennedy asked the price of 'the full length figure ... in black or grey? How much cash – c-a-s-h.' 6 He got no immediate reply: in March the painting was in Paris, but, as Whistler wrote to Kennedy from London, 'I have sent for ... the Black and grey one - and you shall hear.' 7 Subsequently, Whistler wrote: 'The two full lengths - well I cannot let them go as they are now - I mean without doing any thing to them ... However I will see what I can do - and then think out a price.' 8 In June the artist reported progress on one of the full-lengths, possibly Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian:

'It has been sent home, relined & in delightful condition - If you let me alone and manage to restrain your feelings, (which you might know after all must be mild compared to the intense anxiety of the Artist who risks continually the ruin of his work) we will hope that you will finally get that Spanish lady safely into your collection.' 9

In a note on this same letter, Kennedy noted that 'Whistler had three full lengths of Mrs Whibley, one in black, one in grey & black & one in pink. I was to have the three when they were "complete".' 10 Then in September 1896 Kennedy was again pressing for the completion of the portraits of Ethel (now Mrs Whibley). 11

1897: On 1 January Ethel Whibley herself wrote to E. G. Kennedy, regarding either Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian or Red and Black: The Fan [YMSM 388]: 'As soon as the picture is finished you shall have it and he will write soon to you himself.' 12 In July Kennedy noted paying £1000 on account towards 'Full length figure of woman to complete the agreement of last year.' 13 Several months later Kennedy noted, 'Pictures (paintings) bought by E. G. Kennedy, from J. McN. Whistler, at different times & not yet received. / 4 full length portraits of a lady (Mrs. Whibley).' 14

1900: It was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. 15 Whistler told Kennedy 'one of them I have completed - the one that you said was in the "slate coloured dress" ... "Nacre et Argent", ["]l'Andalouse" ', but, he added, 'I don't think you ever cared very much for this "slate" coloured lady anyhow.' 16

Notes:

1: Undated note written by Kennedy on a letter from Whistler, 1 May 1900, GUW #09801.

2: Duret to Whistler, 15 May and 30 October 1891, GUW #00986, #00987.

3: 31 December 1892, GUW #00958.

4: MacDonald 2003 [more] , pp. 205-07.

5: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 2, p. 158.

6: 25 February 1896, GUW #07266.

7: [14 March 1896], GUW #09738.

8: [28 March 1896], GUW #09739.

9: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [28 June 1896], GUW #09761.

10: Ibid.

11: Whistler to R. B. Philip, [16 September 1896], GUW #04673.

12: [1 January 1897], GUW #09765.

13: Memo, E. G. Kennedy to Whistler, 3 July 1897, GUL #07285.

14: E. G. Kennedy to Whistler, 6 November 1897, GUW #07291.

15: Exposition Universelle, Grand Palais, Paris, 1900 (cat. no. 46).

16: Whistler to Kennedy, 1 May 1900, GUW #09801.

Last updated: 19th April 2021 by Margaret