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

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The Coast of Brittany

Provenance

  • 1863: sold by the artist through George John Cavafy (1805-1891) to Whistler's half-brother, George William Whistler (1822-1869) , for £84; 1
  • 1869: after G. W. Whistler's death, 24 December 1869, passed to his widow, Julia de Kay Whistler (1825-1875) ;
  • 1875: on the death of Julia de Kay Whistler, The Coast of Brittany passed to her younger daughter, Neva Whistler (Mrs Ross R. Winans) (1860-1907) , and her son, Ross Winans Whistler (1858-1927) , Baltimore;
  • 1906: sold at auction, Christie's, London, 5 May 1906 (lot 103), and bought by Colnaghi, London art dealers, for 600 guineas;
  • 1907-1909: Colnaghi (#1694) retained a half share with Obach, London art dealers.
  • 1922-1925: with the Kraushaar Galleries, New York;
  • 1925: bought from Kraushaar by Wadsworth Atheneum, through the Healy Fund (it was given by Susan Healy(Mrs Camp) (fl. 1925) in memory of her father, William Arnold Healy (dates unknown) .

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.

Exhibitions

  • 1861: Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Martinet's Gallery, Paris, 1861 as 'Seule'.
  • 1862: 94th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1862 (cat. no. 670) as 'Alone with the Tide'.
  • 1874: Forty-Ninth Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, New York, 1874 (cat. no. 325) as 'Scene on the Coast of Brittany'.
  • 1876: Academy Charity Exhibition, Academy of Music, Baltimore, March 1876 (cat. no. 44) as 'Coast Scene – Brittany'.
  • 1878: First Annual Exhibition, Society of American Artists, Kurtz Gallery, New York, 1878 (cat. no. 76) as 'Coast of Brittany'.
  • 1881: Exhibition of Pictures, Union League Club, New York, 1881 as 'The Brittany Coast' (press cutting, [10 April 1881], GUL Whistler PC 4, p. 61).
  • 1881: Loan Collection of Paintings, in the West Galleries, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1881 (cat. no. 204) as 'On the Coast of Brittany'.
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 42) as 'The Coast of Brittany'.
  • 1905: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 11) as 'The Coast of Brittany'.

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

Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston 1904, photograph, GUL Whistler PH6/15
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston 1904, photograph, GUL Whistler PH6/15

However, again, there was no further action taken. It was not exhibited again until the Whistler Memorial exhibitions in both Boston and London.

Notes:

1: G. W. Whistler to J. Whistler, 2 May 1863, GUW #06676.

2: 2 May 1863, GUW #06676.

3: 7 October 1863, GUW #06677. It is possible that 'Messrs Carey' should read 'Messrs Cavafy'.

4: Receipt from E. Gilloneau, 26 December 1861, GUW #01664.

5: 26 June [1862], GUW #11977.

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.

8: [20 March 1863], GUW #08985.

9: Quoted by Pennell 1921C [more] , p. 156.

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.

12: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

13: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [3 August 1899], #09796.

Last updated: 4th June 2021 by Margaret