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

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A Girl by a Shelf

A Girl by a Shelf may date from about 1865, but little is known about it and it could well date from the 1870s. 1

Aglaia Coronio (1834-1906) told Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) about the picture bought by her husband Theodore John (Iannis) Coronio (1827-1903) :

'Mr. Coronio had bought a picture of Whistler's which they liked very greatly. It was probably a very early painting – a girl by a shelf on which was some china – and Whistler thought he could improve upon it, and had it down from their walls. After a long time they asked to have it back, but something had gone wrong, and they could not get it again; instead, Whistler sent them the "Southampton Water". They said they did not care for it, it was so dark they could not see its beauties. His reply was that he "could not supply them with eyes to see with," and eventually he repaid the sum which he had originally received.' 2

At some time Mme Coronio wrote to Whistler, 'I can live no longer without my beautiful picture, and I am sending to have it taken away.' 3

A replacement, Nocturne in Black and Gold: Entrance to Southampton Water [YMSM 179], which was in Mme Coronio's hands by 1878, was indeed one of the darkest of dark nocturnes. Ten years later the Coronios were desperate for another replacement. On 2 June 1889 Whistler wrote to Mme Coronio offering to repay the money or replace the picture with 'another Thames picture or landscape of any kind.' 4

It was about 1889 that Mme Coronio accepted a second substitution, Grey and Silver: Old Battersea Reach [YMSM 046]. It appears that the original painting was still in Whistler's hands, for an undated draft of a letter that may never have been sent reads as follows:

'If ever I am enabled to remedy repair the damage I did to your own, I will bring back in its stead that original which even in its mutilated state I yet put on the easel from time to time to admire, - or ... I will try and paint something perhaps of its character and bring that.' 5

Nothing further is known about the painting.


1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 48) says '1863/4'.

2: Way 1912 [more] , pp. 97-98.

3: [1878], formerly dated [1889], GUW #11034; Menpes 1904 A [more] , p. 78.

4: 2 June [1889], GUW #00691.

5: [1889], GUW #00693.

Last updated: 28th November 2019 by Margaret