In May 1879 Whistler asked Howell to send 'the Valparaiso' to Foord & Dickinson to be framed for exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery. 1 Writing of the period of about 1878-1879, Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) stated that 'the "Valparaiso Harbour" sunset picture, then belonging to Howell, [was] for a short time in my father's keeping'. 2 His father, Thomas Way (1837-1915), was one of the chief creditors at the time of Whistler's bankruptcy, and partly responsible for the fair distribution of Whistler's effects. However, another of the South American pictures, Sketch for 'Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay' [YMSM 074], might have been the picture referenced by Way junior.
'I am pleased', Whistler wrote to Graham Robertson in 1890, 'that two of my pet works belong to you.' 3 The 'pet works' were this painting and Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder [YMSM 203].
1867: It was probably this painting that was sent by Whistler to the French Gallery, after the opening of the show, so that it was not catalogued. According to the The Athenaeum it represented:
'dusk in a harbour of the great ocean, probably the pool of Valparaiso, although there is not enough of land represented to enable one to identify the locality. The painter's theme was rather the greyish green of twilight sinking on the sea, and ships becalmed, at anchor, or gently moving', and the critic commented on the way in which Whistler had given 'an aspect of sleepy motion to the vessels, and ... conveyed to the spectator the rolling, seemingly breathing, surface of the sea with a power that is magical.' 4
Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) suggested that Whistler should send 'ta marine de Valparaiso' with At the Piano [YMSM 024] to the Exposition Universelle in 1867. 5 Unfortunately Whistler's paintings were (according to him) poorly displayed; he was not invited to exhibit in the British section of the Exposition, and his pictures were hung in the American section in what he later complained was a 'corridor where they have been more or less damned by every body.' 6
1872: The early history of this painting is unclear, and there may be gaps in its early exhibition history.
In 1872 the art critic of the Pall Mall Gazette singled out the painting of the Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama (1864, Philadelphia Museum of Art) by Edouard Manet (1832-1883), and compared it to unspecified works by Whistler, as sharing certain qualities, particularly a common sensitivity in the depiction of 'luminous shadow and silver tone and delicacy'. 10 It is possible that the critic had in mind another Valparaiso painting, Symphony in Grey and Green: The Ocean [YMSM 072], which was on show at the 6th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1872 (cat. no. 37), but it is also possible that Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso was also on view, either at Durand Ruel's gallery in Bond Street, or in the Dudley Gallery, but under another title.
1879: C. A. Howell noted that a review of the Grosvenor Gallery show in Scribner's Monthly referred to 'my picture of "Valparaiso" ' as having more 'beauty' than Whistler's more recent works. 12 The painting received some approving notices in the papers: the London Evening Standard described it as 'among Mr. Whistler's impressions of nature … Many ships float, phantom-like, on a wide sea, ' and The Athenaeum called it 'a piece of pictorial magic, a mystery of lovely harmonies in colour and most delicate hues.' 13 It was also one of four paintings included in a cartoon, 'A Gaiety in Gilt, and three Noctoffs in a Twinkle. Connie soit qui mal y pense', in The Mask, on 17 May 1879, where it was straddled by the long legs of Connie Gilchrist (1864-1946)!
1891: As soon as it was bought by a complaisant owner, W. Graham Robertson, Whistler besieged him with requests to loan it to exhibitions: 'I have had a letter from der Herr Doctor Paulus, Director of the Exhibition in Münich, begging that your two pictures, which he has just seen in Paris, & of which he is wildly enamoured, may be allowed to go on from the Champ de Mars ... to the Münich Exhibition.' 14 And so it was sent by Durand Ruel from Paris to Munich, and by the following February, Whistler was telling D. C. Thomson to borrow it for his forthcoming retrospective at Goupil's. 15
1892: It was very well received at Goupil's in 1892; for instance, the art critic of the St James's Gazette wrote:
'Most people will have little hesitation about the picture of Valparaiso Roads (No. 13), full of shipping and with a distant landscape in outline. As a mere combination of colour it is beautiful; but as a seapiece (to use the familiar phraseology which is infinitely preferable to that of "Whistlerite" literature), it is hardly less interesting.' 16
Perhaps the most enthusiastic comment was in a press cutting kept by Whistler, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of 21 March 1892:
'The marine pieces in the Exhibition show Mr Whistler in a more complex mood, but there is at least one which the ordinary spectator, who has not been educated up to "nocturnes" and "harmonys [sic]," will not fail to appreciate. It is the "Crépuscule in flesh Colour and green," in other words, the view of Valparaiso. Here the artist shows the effect of light breaking through the clouds behind the rigging of vessels anchored in harbour. There is a fine sense of poetry in the way in which the soft golden sunlight touches the masts and sails of the ships, and, penetrating beyond them, strikes gently on the green surface of the water.' 17
The Manchester Guardian admitted Whistler's growing reputation, 'we imagine that few will care to own to-day that they do not appreciate such lovely and essentially truthful "Impressions" as the two Valparaisos, the one a transparent night scene, the other an opalescent sunrise.' 18 Likewise The Observer commented:
'We now come to a collection of Mr. Whistler's favourite "Nocturnes" (the best being the two Valparaiso pictures, of which one is called a "Crépuscule"), which, though in several instances mere studies in fog and haze, are so full of artistic taste and of such clever work as to merit the attention and the regard of everyone with any sense of colour. That Mr. Whistler will be thought a great painter by a larger number of people than heretofore will no doubt be a satisfactory and highly desirable result of this exhibition.' 19
The painting was selected for reproduction in the album recording Whistler's exhibition at Goupil's, although Whistler complained of the proofs that 'some of the Valparaiso Crepuscule's are too black.' 20
1893: With the Goupil exhibition barely over, Whistler asked the New York dealer E. G. Kennedy to request the painting of Valparaiso for World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893, but Robertson politely refused to lend the painting again, for such an extended period. 21
1894: In spite of this, just over a year later, Whistler asked if he could borrow it for Antwerp:
'You must acknowledge that I have not troubled you for years - and I quite admited [sic] all that you said about the Chicago business.
But this is for Antwerp - There is to be, as I daresay you know, a great International affair there this May - and I have been specially invited - and I would, of all things, so much like to be represented by the Rosa Corder & your Pacific.
They would make a splendid show for both of us! - and you should be at peace afterwards for ages - I promise you -
Write me a line to say that they shall go and I will send all further details -
Besides I will find you something else to take their place while they are away.' 22
Astonishingly, Robertson agreed, and his painting must have been the 'Valparaiso' exhibited in Antwerp in 1894, and sent to the curator with instructions on the order in which to display the paintings. Whistler's drawing, Paintings for exhibition in Antwerp [M.1427], includes Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel [YMSM 169], Crepuscule in Flesh Colour and Green: Valparaiso, Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder [YMSM 203], Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl [YMSM 052], and Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Battersea Reach [YMSM 152]. 23 Charles Sprague Pearce (1851-1914) wrote that the group was hung in the order 'Valparaiso / Miss Corder / Fireworks / Battersea reach / Sarasate / Little Girl in White', and was proposed for the 'medal of honor', but placed 'Hors Concours' when it was realised that some of them had been painted before 1885 and were therefore ineligible. 24
1897: Whistler wrote to Robertson yet again, 'I almost venture to believe that I am in the position of one who has not troubled you for a long time! And these Copenhagen Gentlemen are most anxious to see your picture - so that I have promised to use my influence with [you] if I have any!' 25
1899: It would seem that Robertson had by this time had enough! He did not lend to Copenhagen or (in 1899) St Petersburg, at which point he wrote, 'You know of old that the extraction of my - or rather your - pictures from me is a serious operation and not to be lightly undertaken so you will be prepared to hear that I have found myself unable to part with them in this case.' 26 Would he lend it to Venice instead?, asked Whistler, and Robertson agreed, though 'I hate it's going, "I will not deceive you", but I also hate to refuse a request of yours so – go it must.' 27
1905: It was one of the paintings recommended by Antonin Proust (1832-1905) to his mother at the Whistler memorial exhibition in Paris in 1905. 28 Proust had met Whistler once, probably through Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921). In 1906 (the year after the memorial show), Proust started to write À la recherche du temps perdu in which the character 'Elstir' was in part inspired by Whistler.
4: 'The Winter Exhibition at the French Gallery', The Athenaeum, 5 January 1867, pp. 22-23.
9: Note in GUL Whistler PC, p. 3. Whistler probably did not make this response in 1867. He wrote it alongside the original 1867 press cutting in an album, possibly in 1878 (he dated it 'Nov. 1878', but may in fact have written it later.
10: 'The Society of French Artists', Pall Mall Gazette, 28 November 1872, p. 11.
11: For example, Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler, Tate Gallery, London, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, and National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1994-1995 (cat. no. 44).
13: 'The Grosvenor Gallery', London Evening Standard, 1 May 1879, p. 2; 'The Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition', The Athenaeum, 10 May 1879, pp. 606-08, at p. 607.
16: 'Art Exhibitions. Mr. Whistler's Pictures', St James's Gazette, 21 March 1892; press cutting, GUL Whistler PC 13 p. 19.
17: Anon., 'Notes on Current Topics', Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, Leeds, 21 March 1892, p. 4; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 13.
18: 'The Whistler Exhibition', Manchester Guardian, 25 March 1892; press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 13, p. 29.
19: 'Mr. Whistler at Goupil's', The Observer, London, 27 March 1892, press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 13, p. 31.
28: [13 or 14 June 1905], quoted by Painter, George D. (ed.), Marcel Proust – Letters to his mother, London, 1956.
Last updated: 22nd May 2021 by Margaret