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

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Crimson note: Carmen


                    Crimson note: Carmen, Hill-Stead Museum
Crimson note: Carmen, Hill-Stead Museum

The artist had to explain that the picture was signed with his butterfly monogram: 'the broad Butterfly on her sleeve! - It is too big! ... right across the arm - as though worked in the dress.' 1 ...

Conservation History

                    Crimson note: Carmen, photograph, 1980
Crimson note: Carmen, photograph, 1980

On 7 October 1895 Whistler wrote to his picture restorer, Stephen Richards (1844-1900) regarding the preparation of the canvas for exhibition:

'I want you to write me a line about the little head of mine ...

Now you know it is not to be touched except in the way of varnishing -

I want a beautiful enameled surface!

The canvas is of an open texture - but this is all to the good - and is quite in character with the work -

The head itself being well covered and of the enamel quality I speak of, the looseness of the rest only adds to the character of the little picture in its frame - giving it that "patina", that you and I both delight in! -

Now you know that I have full confidence in you - only I should like to be by and keep your clever fingers from picking at the paint!

Mind now I am only paying you a compliment - and can rely upon you to beautifully varnish this head of mine that I am very fond of - Frame it then perfectly - well up as we saw together, so that no uncovered canvas is seen - Paste round at the back that no dust gets in - and take it yourself to the Gallery ...I want you to go yourself so that you may see to the exact placing and pitching of the picture - and then write and tell me how it looks in the room -

Of course you will keep it out of its frame at your place as long as you can that it may dry without bloom.' 2

In 1958 George L. Watson reported from Hill-Stead Museum that the portrait was 'thinly painted ... and keeps getting darker.' 3


Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston 1904, photograph, GUL Whistler PH6/25
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston 1904, photograph, GUL Whistler PH6/25

The painting appears in its frame in the Boston memorial show of 1904.


1: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [14 March 1896], GUW #09738.

2: GUW #10720.

3: Letter to Hamish Miles, 27 January 1958, GUL WPP.

Last updated: 21st November 2020 by Margaret