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

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The Artist in his Studio (Whistler in his Studio)

Provenance

  • 1886/1887: owned by the artist's brother, William McNeill Whistler (1836-1900);
  • 1893: on sale at the Goupil Gallery in London and Paris, but returned to Dr Whistler;
  • 1895: offered to Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) of Wunderlich's, New York;
  • 1896: sold through Whistler to the Goupil Gallery, London, for £400;
  • 1897, October: owned by the explorer Douglas William Freshfield (1845-1934), London;
  • 1911?: with Brown & Phillips, London art dealers;
  • 1911: partial share sold to M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 24 August 1911 (Stock Book 5, #12505;
  • 1911: consigned to Henry Reinhardt Galleries, New York and Chicago, September 1911 and exhibited by them in November;
  • 1912: presented by the Friends of American Art to the Art Institute of Chicago, 26 January 1912.

Whistler may have sold or given the painting to his brother, Dr William Whistler, possibly on the occasion of his marriage to Helen ('Nellie') Euphrosyne Whistler (1849-1917) in 1877, or at the time of Whistler's bankruptcy in 1879. It is recorded in Dr Whistler's possession by 1887. 1

Whistler's correspondence regarding this painting is, to say the least, extensive! It starts in 1893, when the painting was put on sale on behalf of Dr Whistler by David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) , who told Whistler,

'We are making a special show of the Studio & have written to all the papers about it. We have one buyer for the picture nibbling at it, but we are not very sure of him. We have received your telegram & have told the Pall Mall who will photograph it tomorrow.' 2

Whistler thereupon reported to his sister-in-law, Helen ('Nellie') Euphrosyne Whistler (1849-1917) :

'Have you seen the little picture since Thomson has had it in Bond Street? He has made quite an Exhibition of it - and as to the papers! I don't think I ever had such a success!

Have you not seen them? - no end of cuttings have come over to us - and now they are going to reproduce the painting in the Pall Mall Budget - so you must be on the look out for it -

Thomson writes me that there is someone nibbling already - but he is not sure of him - The price I told him to ask was £500 - out of which he was to have ten per cent -

I shall take it away from him soon, if he does not manage the business, and send it from Paris (where I should have it backed on Mahogany panel) to New York where it is sure to sell - especially after all the hurrah that it has made in London -

It certainly has made a great stir in the place this time.' 3

On 4 February Thomson reported no progress in selling it: 'We have had a lot of people to see the "Atelier" picture which is in the P. M. Budget this week, but money seems so scarce that we cannot get anyone to buy it or almost anything else.' 4 As a result Whistler asked Thomson to return it, and wrote apologetically from Paris to his sister-in-law:

'As to the little "Studio" I am humiliated - and disgusted to think that it has not gone yet! - It is here now - and stands some chance of being bought by Americans who are sure to come over very soon - Besides I shall still try in Paris - you see people are beginning to come in on Sunday afternoons.' 5

He suggested to his brother a reduction in price. 6 Nearly a year later, Whistler again tried to sell 'the little picture again of myself in studio', telling his sister-in-law to get 'Little Mr Thomson' to send it to Paris, where Whistler hoped to sell it through Théodore Duret (1838-1927). 7 He reassured his brother, who was clearly somewhat desperate for money, 'It will be all right my dear Willie I hope - for Duret is seeing to the sale of the little picture ... So hold on! - for these things take of course a little time - especially when we want them.' 8 However, no sale materialised. Whistler also wrote to Alexander Reid (1854-1928), recommending the picture as a good investment:

'You wanted me always to tell you of the possible acquiring of any of the old works - Now I have the little picture that used to be at my brother's - myself in the studio - with a girl in white seated on sofa and another girl in flesh coloured Japanese dress, standing -

You know the picture - Will you give £250 net. for it - I cannot say fairer -

You know the painting - a beauty of its kind - and I should think you would do excellent business with it.' 9

It appears that Reid did not take up the offer, though it was a bargain. Next Whistler tried the American market, at a much higher price. He wrote to Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) early in July 1895:

'I am going to get at the little "Studio" picture, and put in the head for you at once - Do you think then that you could get the £400 before you go back? This if without wearying you, would come well - You know it is not for me this time -

However I must put in the little head first!' 10

Kennedy agreed, in principle, noting, ' "The Studio" is the painting of himself painting, one girl behind him in rose colored robe, and another, unfinished, on the sofa. He is to put a head on the one on the sofa & I am to buy it for 400/-/- It is fine but dear, as things go now.' 11 He probably did not realise that Whistler was still seeing if he could sell it in Paris! Whistler told his sister-in-law, 'The little picture may have to go to America first - for that is where Kennedy expects it - but I am keeping it a bit as I have had a nibble here - However that we cannot be sure of.' 12 Whistler touched up the picture as requested by Kennedy, but still postponed sending it, telling his brother, 'I have touched up the little head in the Studio picture - and some one is coming to see it tomorrow.' 13 Eventually Whistler told Kennedy it was ready, and the art dealer replied:

'When you send the doctor's picture send by steamer direct. Give the value as £96/-/- otherwise we shall have to pay four times the freight. Do not insure, as we do the insurance here which has nothing to do with Consular invoice or anything else, as we have a floating policy. It is too long to explain. I think I may dispose of it as it is at £300/-/- I was to have given £400/-/- with alterations, that is completed and so on. By completed, I mean with the face & hands of the woman finished, and the tonality not disturbed.

I daresay I am too guileless for this wicked, wicked world, but what can I do?' 14

He must have expected agreement, instead the not-at-all guileless artist complained,

'Now my dear O K! you know that won't do at all - The "Studio" picture doesn't go under 400 gs - down -

Touched or untouched matters not - In point of fact the man who would propose to take it without further work upon, is the wise one - for, Artistically, the quality of the picture is not to be enhanced - But to propose to make a cool hundred besides is stupendous!' 15

Having just sold another early picture, Blue and Silver: The Devonshire Cottages [YMSM 266], for his brother, Whistler thought he might be able to obtain a better price: 'the "Studio" picture has got to come on! and now I think we can bide our time and get a niceish little sum.' 16 So, a year later, in 1896, Kennedy was still 'waiting' for 'the portrait painting & the two girls - one unfinished,' but by this time Whistler's wife Beatrice was seriously ill with cancer, as Kennedy knew, and in the same letter he offered to send Whistler money 'if you are pushed to the wall.' 17 By that winter, Dr Whistler was also ill, and greatly in need of the money. The painting was in Paris, so Whistler had it sent to D. C. Thomson of Goupil's in London, who agreed to buy it. Whistler was able to send his brother a cheque, assuring him, 'they have paid down half - Thomson asking me to let them pay the other half at beginning of year.' 18 It appears that Dr Whistler wanted to share the money received with the artist, who accordingly wrote, on 2 January 1897,

'The Goupils are to pay the other half of the price agreed upon -

I had originally asked £300 - and this it was fully understood was for you - That we had quite agreed upon you & I. - Therefore that sum you really must make no difficulty about -

If it be more pleasing that I should take whatever is over and above £300, I will go heartily with you so far - and that will be all right - So let us say no more about it -

I will divide the next incoming Goupil cheque for £200 - Sending you cheque for £100 - which you must not return - and every thing will be perfect.' 19

This was agreed and, by October, the picture had been sold to Douglas Freshfield, the explorer. 20 The rest of the provenance is reasonably straightforward, and the long saga ended with the acquisition of the painting by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1912.

Exhibitions

  • 1889: Retrospective Exhibition, College for Working Men and Women, London, 1889 (no catalogue) described as 'The Artist in his Studio'.
  • 1893: 3rd exhibition, Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1893 (cat. no. 183) as 'An Interior'.
  • 1898: A Collection of Selected Works by Painters of the English, French & Dutch Schools, Goupil Gallery, London, 1898 (cat. no. 22) as 'In the Studio'.
  • 1904: City of Bradford Exhibition, Bradford, 1904 (cat. no. 135) as 'The Artist in his Studio'.
  • 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. 13) as 'Whistler in his studio'.

It was included in the exhibition organised by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) at the College for Men and Women, in London in 1889. 'The Artist in his Studio', said the Manchester Examiner, 'should also be noticed', which was not exactly a rave review. 21

Some years later, when Whistler was trying to sell it for Dr William Whistler, he decided, as a marketing ploy, to submit it the Society of Portrait Painters in London in 1893. 'I am sending the little picture of "the Studio" as a sketch "portrait" ', he told D. C. Thomson of the Goupil Gallery. 22 In fact it was shown at the SPP as 'An Interior', and was praised in The Spectator:

'Whistler sends a picture of a studio interior. He himself is represented painting; two women's figures are indicated in the corner; above are shelves of blue china and a mirror. The whole is a lovely piece of suggestion and colour.' 23

Then in 1898 it was exhibited in a mixed show at the Goupil Gallery in London as 'In the Studio'. The Daily Telegraph commented on 10 March that it was an early painting 'taken up and completed in the newer and broader style', while The Times on 21 March 1898 listed it without comment.

Notes:

1: 'Studio - Doctor' in list by Whistler, [1886/1887], formerly dated [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

2: D. C. Thomson to Whistler, 23 January 1893, GUW #05769.

3: [28-29 January 1893], GUW #11653.

4: GUW #05770.

5: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [18 March 1893], GUW #08221; Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [March/April 1893], GUW #06719.

6: [14 June/July 1893], GUW #07010.

7: [18 April 1894], GUW #11656.

8: [25 April 1894], GUW #03287.

9: [26 April 1894], GUW #03240.

10: [1/8 July 1895], GUW #07254.

11: Note dated 20 July 1895, GUW #09732.

12: [23 July 1895], GUW #06732.

13: Whistler to W. McN. Whistler, [24/31 July 1895], GUW #07017.

14: 30 August 1895, GUW #07257.

15: [12 September 1895], GUW #07258.

16: Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [13 October 1895], GUW #06734.

17: Kennedy to Whistler, 18 February 1896, GUW #07263.

18: Whistler to R. Birnie Philip, [3 December 1896], GUW #04686; and to W. McN. Whistler, [December 1896], GUW #07023.

19: GUW #07025.

20: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [October 1897], GUW #08443; Pennell 1911 A [more] , p. 127.

21: Manchester Examiner, 2 May 1889, press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 10, p. 92.

22: 30 April [1893], GUW #08230.

23: 'Art', The Spectator, 3 June 1893, p. 17.

Last updated: 4th December 2020 by Margaret