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

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Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean

Provenance

It is not clear what happened to this painting after its first exhibition in the Dudley Gallery in 1872. It may have come into the possession of Theodore Frederick Allingham (1844/1845-1901) or one of his clients. It is possible that it was the 'Valparaiso' sold at Christie's on 30 June 1883 but that could have been another Valparaiso oil. The London art dealer Charles William Deschamps (1848-1908) bid up to £75.0.0 for the 'Valparaiso' in 1883, but it remained unsold, being bought in by Allingham.

By the time of Whistler's retrospective at Goupil's in 1892 the painting was owned by Mrs Peter Taylor, widow of the MP Peter Taylor (1819-1891) (it is not known when she or her husband originally bought it). She agreed, during the course of the exhibition, to sell it through the Goupil Gallery. 1 The new owner of the painting, W. T. Malleson, was not known to Whistler, and it is not clear how long he owned the picture. 2 Nor is it known when it was acquired by the gambler and collector, R. A. Canfield, who met Whistler and collected his works very late in the artist's life.


                    Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, The Frick Collection
Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, The Frick Collection

After Canfield's death the provenance is straightforward, the picture being bought through Knoedler's (a/c #13429) by a major collector, Henry Clay Frick. It was a fine but slightly unusual purchase by Frick, whose taste in Whistler oils usually ran to full length portraits.

Exhibitions

  • 1872: 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872 (cat. no. 37) as 'Symphony in grey and green – the Ocean'.
  • 1889: Retrospective Exhibition, College for Working Men and Women, London, 1889 (no catalogue).
  • 1892: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 15) as 'Symphony in Grey and Green – The Ocean'.
  • 1892: Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ-de-Mars, Paris, 1892 (cat. no. 1069) as 'Gris et Vert – l'Océan'.
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 74) as 'Symphony in Gray and Green – "The Ocean" '.
  • Comparative exhibition of native and foreign art, Society of Art Collectors, New York, 1904 (cat. no. 183) as 'Symphony in Gray and Green – The Ocean'.
  • 1905: Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 62) as 'Symphonie en gris et vert. – L'Océan. (Symphony in Grey and Green. The Ocean.)'.

                    Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, framed ca 1872
Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, framed ca 1872

                    Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, photograph, 1881, Baltimore Museum of Art
Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, photograph, 1881, Baltimore Museum of Art

It was first shown at the Dudley Gallery, London, in 1872. It was signed and framed especially for this exhibition. The Times found 'the composition is ugly, the sky opaque, the suggestion of sea leaden and without light or motion, the presence of the monogram and leafed twig in the foreground in Japanese fashion intrusive as well as imitative.' 3 The Era on 27 October grouped Whistler's exhibits together as 'lunacies of art' and suggested that this one had been 'smeared upon the canvas with the painter's palm instead of a brush'.

The Pall Mall Gazette associated Whistler's paintings, then on show at the Dudley, with a dramatic painting by Edouard Manet (1832-1883), the Battle of the Kearsage and the Alabama (1864, Philadelphia Museum of Art), which was in Durand Ruel's winter exhibition in Bond Street. 4 The Pall Mall Gazette considered the paintings by Manet and Whistler shared a common sensitivity in the depiction of 'luminous shadow and silver tone and delicacy'. The identity of the painting by Whistler that inspired this comparison is not absolutely certain, but Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean is a possible candidate.


                    Trouville, Art Institute of Chicago
Trouville, Art Institute of Chicago

                    Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, The Frick Collection
Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, The Frick Collection

                    Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso, Tate Britain
Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso, Tate Britain

The comparison could apply to other paintings by Whistler, including Green and Grey. The Oyster Smacks – Evening [YMSM 070] and Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso [YMSM 073]. The Pall Mall Gazette added that other paintings by Whistler were at Durand Ruel's gallery in Bond Street and were expected to travel on to exhibition in Paris.

There have also been doubts about which of the Valparaiso pictures was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1879 (cat. no. 56) as 'The Pacific. Harmony in Green and Grey' but the Frick catalogue of 1968 states that 'Neither the coloring nor the subject seem identifiable with the Frick painting.' 5

It was certainly included in the show organised by Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) in the College for Men and Women, London, in 1889, being identified by descriptions in several local papers. 6


                    Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, photograph, 1892, Goupil Album, GUL Whistler PH5/2
Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean, photograph, 1892, Goupil Album, GUL Whistler PH5/2

In 1892 Whistler wrote to David Croal Thomson (1855-1930), recommending pictures to be including in his major retrospective at the Goupil Gallery: 'Mrs Peter Taylor of Brighton has a fine sea piece - She is the widow of late member of Parliament'. 7 Mrs Taylor agreed to lend, and the painting was included in the exhibition of Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces. In his catalogue entry Whistler quoted a disparaging description from an earlier London Times review: 'In Mr Whistler's picture, "Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean," the composition is ugly, the sky opaque, the suggestion of sea laden and without light or motion.' Another quotation published in the catalogue was not, as was usual, from a press cutting, but a quotation from John Ruskin (1819-1900), 'We can paint a cat or a fiddle, so that they look as if we could take them up; but we cannot imitate the Ocean or the Alps. We can imitate fruit, but not a tree; flowers, but not a pasture; cut-glass, but not the rainbow.' 8 To which, in the edition of the catalogue published in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies in 1892, Whistler appended a jubilant, dancing butterfly with a forked tail. 9

As soon as Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean was safely on show at Goupil's, Whistler wrote to D. C. Thomson, 'Borrow for Paris.' 10 He obviously thought highly of it, and when he was in need of pictures for the Salon in Paris, he urged Thomson:

'Most important. See the present owner of Mrs Peter Taylor's sea piece - (No. 15.) I must have that for Paris - Give him my compliments and obtain his promise - for the Champs de Mars - By the way Richard[s] was to do something to it - Ask how long it would take him.' 11

Thomson replied remarkably patiently to all Whistler's demands:

'Mr Matterson [sic], the present owner of Mrs Peter Taylors picture is willing to send the Picture to Paris if it is insured against all risks & if you agree to have the old frame put in new condition afterwards. The insurance would be £1. 10/- The picture has gone to Richards who will have it done by the 19th[.] Please say if you want it under these conditions.' 12

The picture restorer and another art dealer, William Marchant & Co., were mobilised, insurance and transport were arranged. 13 Eventually it arrived safely in Paris, and was sent on to the exhibition by Maurice Joyant (1864-1930), Goupil's representative in Paris, who acknowledged, 'J'ai fait envoyer hier au Champs de Mars une nouvelle Marine de vous.' 14 At the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts it was well reviewed, to Whistler's delight. He wrote to the journalist Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940),

'Now then O! Salaman - wire in - and make extracts and put them side by side with the silly sayings that are collected for this purpose in the beautiful Catalogue - and rub the nose of the Wedmores and persons upon this French grindstone - Take for instance the "Ocean, Symphony in Grey and Green" (No. 15) in the Catalogue - reproduce what the Times says of it, and see how immensely that picture is delighted in here.' 15

Rubbing it in, Whistler enclosed a press cutting from Le Voltaire of 7 May 1892 that praised the pictures, including 'Marines ... qui semblent glisser comme en rêve.' 16 Whistler gloated, 'The success here is absolutely enormous ... The Mrs Taylor "Ocean" could have been sold over & over - Now just [look] back in the Catalogue and read what was said of that same work in England!' 17 And, thinking ahead to the next show, with this one barely over, he told Thomson,

'I wanted to send the "Ocean" on to Münich - but I hear that Mr. Matherson [sic] - I don't remember well his name - wants it back - so he had better have it - as I want him to lend it next year for Chicago - & I have written to Joyant to send it back to you.' 18
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston, 1904, photograph, GUL Whistler PH6/18
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston, 1904, photograph, GUL Whistler PH6/18

However, it did not go to Chicago, and it is not clear when it was sold. After Whistler's death it was lent by the new owner, Richard Albert Canfield (1855-1914), to the Whistler Memorial Exhibitions in Boston in 1904 (as seen in the photograph reproduced above) and to Paris, in 1905.

Notes:

1: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [8 February 1892], GUW #08215.

2: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 11 April 1892, #05719, and [16 November 1892], GUW #11504.

3: 'The Dudley Gallery', The Times, London, 11 November 1872, p. 4.

4: 'The Society of French Artists', Pall Mall Gazette, 28 November 1872, p. 11.

5: Grosvenor Notes, London, 1879, p. 24; The Frick Collection, An Illustrated Catalogue, I-II, Paintings New York: The Frick Collection, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 6-9.

6: The Star, London, 21 April 1889; The Echo, London, 20 May 1889; Land and Water, London, 25 May 1889. Press cuttings in GUL Whistler PC 10, pp. 92-93, 101.

7: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [8 February 1892], GUW #08215

8: With punctuation slightly altered, taken from Ruskin 1843 [more] , Sec. 1, chap. 4, p. 23.

9: Reprinted in Whistler 1892 [more] , p. 307.

10: [1/8 April 1892], GUW #08210.

11: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [5 April 1892], GUW #08347

12: D. C. Thomson to Whistler, 11 April 1892, GUW #05719.

13: W. Marchant & Co. to Whistler, 20 April 1892, GUW #05725,

14: Joyant to Whistler, 26 April 1892, GUW #00387.

15: [10 May 1892], GUW #08122. Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) was an art critic, sometimes critical of Whistler's work, and so criticised by Whistler.

16: Ibid.

17: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 11 May [1892], GUW #08204.

18: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [19 July 1892], GUW #08332.

Last updated: 13th January 2021 by Margaret