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

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Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket

Provenance

  • 1878: deposited by Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890) (on Whistler's behalf ) with, first, Jane Noseda (1814-ca 1894), and then H. Graves & Co., London, as security for loans;
  • 1890/1891: Whistler settled his account with Graves and retrieved the painting;
  • 1892: sold by Whistler to Samuel Untermeyer (Untermyer) (1858-1940) , New York;
  • 1940: Untermeyer family sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, 10 May 1940 (lot 29).
  • Date unknown: Charles Sessler (1854-1935) , Philadelphia dealer;
  • 1946: Knoedler's, New York art dealers;
  • 1946: Scott and Fowles, New York art dealers;
  • 1946: gift of Dexter M. Ferry, Jr. to the Detroit Institute of Arts.

At the Dudley Gallery in 1875 (cat. no. 170) it was priced in the catalogue at £262.10.0; at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 (cat. no. 4) 'Nocturne in Black and Gold' and offered for sale at 200 guineas (£210.0.0).

Between the exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery and Whistler v. Ruskin trial, Whistler apparently deposited Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket as 'a sort of pledge' with Jane Noseda (1814-ca 1894), a print dealer in the Strand. 1 A draft statement recorded by James Anderson Rose (1819-1890), during preparations for the trial, confirms that Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket and the 'Arrangement in Brown', now identified as Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket [YMSM 181] 'are in the possession of Mrs Noseda Printseller of the Strand with several other pictures upon which she has advanced a sum of money to me', an adds:

'[They were so deposited with Mrs Noseda for such advance by Mr Charles Augustus Howell a friend of Mr Whistlers & as between Howell & Mrs Noseda they appear to be Mr Howells property] & so far as I know they are still in her possession at her Shop in the Strand aforesaid.' 2

Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket was produced in court on the afternoon of 25 November 1878 as evidence in the libel suit Whistler brought against John Ruskin.

'HOLKER: What has become of the Nocturne in Black and Gold?

WHISTLER: I believe it is before you.

HOLKER: You have not sold it?

WHISTLER: No, but I have deposited it.

HOLKER: You can get it?

WHISTLER: It would be very difficult; I believe you have it. (Laughter).' 3

According to the report of the trial published in the Globe, John Humffrey Parry (1824-1880) stated that Noseda had been subpoenaed to produce the Nocturne. 4

However, the painting was by the end of the year in the hands of the London art dealers and publishers H. Graves & Co. According to the statement of their account sent by Algernon Graves (1845-1922) to Whistler in 1888, Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890), acting on Whistler's behalf, had deposited the two Cremorne Nocturnes (Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel [YMSM 169] and Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket [YMSM 170]), with Graves in 1878 as surety for a loan to Whistler of £85.0.0. 5

In a letter of 17 March 1881 Algernon Graves wrote to Whistler that he had got back 'the three nocturnes ... but they must not stand over too long.' 6 On 9 January 1882 Whistler wrote to ask Graves to lend him 'the two Nocturnes of Cremorne - the upright one with the fireworks (falling rocket)' to show in his studio. 7 On 10 June of the same year, Graves wrote to Whistler and delivered two pictures on the condition that if unsold they should be returned, and if they were sold the money should be paid to his firm and 'all you get over £50 put to credit on account of payment still to be made by you on account of the purchase of the Carlyle [Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle [YMSM 137]] & Mrs Whistler [Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101]] pictures.' 8 On 19 June 1882 Whistler wrote to Henry Graves stating 'I will send you very soon a cheque on account of the two Nocturnes you were so good as to send.' 9

On 26 April 1883 Whistler made a down payment of £50.0.0 towards the re-purchase of Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel [YMSM 169] and Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket from Graves, leaving £35.0.0 plus interest of £9.18.4 still outstanding. 10 The Graves were generous in allowing the works to be exhibited, presumably in hopes that they would be sold and Whistler would be able to return the money he owed. The painting went to Paris and to Wunderlich, New York dealers, in 1883. Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket may have been the 'Nocturne of fireworks at Vauxhall' seen by Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) in Whistler's house on 13 July 1884. 11 It may have been in Edinburgh in 1886 and Paris in 1887. On 2 March 1889 Whistler suggested that if Graves could 'sell the Ruskin for 400 £', he could deduct the 10 per cent commission from the sale, as well as the £35 still due on the two Nocturnes. 12 On its travels again, it was in New York in 1889, and Brussels and Paris in 1890. It was priced at 300 guineas in 1889, but remained unsold, and was returned to Whistler after the exhibition by Wunderlich's on the SS Servia. 13 Despite this setback, just over a year later, on 10 December 1890, Whistler promised Graves that he hoped to 'rapidly pay off the sums that remain still due upon the other Paintings', including the two Nocturnes, and it is likely that he did so soon after. 14

According to the artist Sidney Starr (1857-1925), Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket was with Messrs Dowdeswell, London dealers, for some time 'and could have been bought for much less than its price in 1892 … Mr. Walter Dowdeswell … said that apparently few people thought as I did, for no one wished to buy it.' 15 After his retrospective show at Goupil's in 1892 Whistler asked Richards, the picture restorer, to clean 'a large Nocturne of Cremorne', and remove the varnish 'so that I can paint upon it.' 16 Shortly afterwards it was sold by Whistler to Samuel Untermeyer (Untermyer) (1858-1940), New York, in October 1892 for £840, on the advice of Sidney Starr (1857-1925), and despatched to America on 6 October. 17

After the sale Whistler wrote to his publisher William Heinemann (1863-1920): 'You will be pleased to hear also that the cheque for the Pot of Paint four times over has been paid into the bank, and now you can tell the people'. 18

The painting remained with the Untermeyer family until the auction of their collection at New York in 1940, when it was bought by the bookseller and art dealer Charles Sessler (1854-1935) for $7500. In 1944 it was with Knoedler's in New York, who lent it to an exhibition in Toronto. Knoedler's sold it to Scott & Fowles, also New York dealers, in 1946, and it was bought in the same year by Dexter M. Ferry, Jr, for the Detroit Institute of Arts, for $10,000.

Exhibitions

  • 1875: Ninth Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil, Dudley Gallery, London, 1875 (cat. no. 170) as 'Nocturne, in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket'.
  • 1877: I Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1877 (cat. no. 4, in West Gallery) as 'Nocturne in Black and Gold'.
  • 1883: Probably Exposition Internationale de Peinture, Galerie George Petit, Paris, 1883 (cat. no. 8) as 'Nocturne en noir et or'.
  • 1883: “Arrangement in White and Yellow” - 50 Etchings and Drypoints (Venice Second Series), H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, 1883 (cat. no. 7). The exhibition travelled to Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago.
  • 1886: Either Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel [YMSM 169] or Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket [YMSM 170] was probably in International Exhibition, Edinburgh, 1886 (cat. no. 1399) as 'Nocturne' (see Nocturne [YMSM 171]).
  • 1887: Either Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel [YMSM 169] or Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket was probably in Exposition Internationale de Peinture et de Sculpture, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1887 (cat. no. 212) as 'Nocturne en noir et or'.
  • 1889: “Notes” – “Harmonies” – “Nocturnes”, H. Wunderlich & Co., New York, 1889 (cat. no. 55).
  • 1890: Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1890 (cat. no. 840) as 'la fusée tombante'.
  • 1890: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 105th exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1890 (cat. no. 2440) as 'Nocturne en noir et or'.
  • 1892: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 10) as 'Nocturne, In Black and Gold – the Falling Rocket'.
  • 1900: Sixty-ninth Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1900 (cat. no. 30) as 'Fireworks'.
  • 1902: Twenty-fourth Annual Exhibition, Society of American Artists, New York, 1902 (cat. no. 241) as 'Nocturne. Black and Gold'.
  • A Loan Exhibition of Paintings at the Carnegie Institute, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1902 (cat. no. 150) as 'The Falling Rocket: Nocturne in Black and Gold'.
  • Comparative exhibition of native and foreign art, Society of Art Collectors, New York, 1904 (cat. no. 184) as 'Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket'.
  • Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 64) as 'Nocturne in Black and Gold / "The Falling Rocket" '.
  • Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 66) as 'Nocturne en noir et or. La fusée qui retombe. – (Nocturne in Black and Gold. the Falling Rocket'.

1875-1877: The Scotsman on 23 October 1875 described Whistler's nocturnes on exhibition at the Dudley as 'marvellous and bizarre'. The Examiner, on 13 November 1875, found it difficult to see the painting at all because it was so dark and was glazed. The London Evening Standard commented on 29 October 1875 that 'it shows us the effects of fire sparks seen against a sky of the hue of ebony'.

Thus in 1875 it seemed comprehensible to some art critics, but by 1877 one critic called Whistler's paintings 'eccentric performances' and another asked, 'What is meant by a Nocturne in black and gold?' 19

1878: Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket was produced in court on the afternoon of 25 November 1878 as evidence in the libel suit Whistler brought against John Ruskin (1819-1900).

1882: On 9 June 1882 Whistler wrote to ask Graves to lend him 'the upright one with the fireworks (falling rocket) and the long one with the great Catherine Wheel' to show in his studio, and on 10 June Graves delivered five pictures to the artist on the condition that if unsold they should be returned. It is not clear if Whistler planned to exhibit them privately or publicly. 20


                    Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, Detroit Institute of Arts
Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, Detroit Institute of Arts

1883: At the Galerie George Petit, Paris, the 'Nocturne en noir et or', was seen by Alfred de Lostalot (1837-1909) and Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907). Lostalot commented:

'Passe pour le Nocturne en noir et or, le Nocturne en bleu et argent et les autres tableaux du même genre; ici le site ou l'action n'ont qu'une importance secondaire; tout l'intérêt récide dans la sensation produite par les variations des "taches" sur les deux thèmes choisis: feux d'artifice, dans le premier cas; marine au clair de la lune dans le second.' 21

                    Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 1892, Goupil Album
Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 1892, Goupil Album

In 1892 it was shown at Whistler's restrospective exhibition and a photograph was reproduced in the album published by the Goupil Gallery.

It was lent under the name of Mrs Untermeyer to an exhibition in Philadelphia in 1900. The Untermeyers were generous lenders, to exhibitions in New York, 1902, Pittsburgh, 1902-1903, Boston, 1904 and Paris, 1905, and they also lent the painting to the Metropolitan Museum, New York, in 1907 and 1910.

Notes:

1: 'Answers to Interrogatories', J. A. Rose, [6 November 1878], GUW #11950; J. A. Rose to Walker Martineau & Co., [6 November 1878], GUW #12066.

2: 'Instr[ucti]ons for Answers to Interrogatories', J. A. Rose, [6 November 1878], GUW #12065.

3: Trial transcript in Merrill 1992 [more] , p. 149.

4: Globe, 25 November 1875 [more] .

5: Graves' account, 'Interest on 2 Nocturnes', 26 December 1888, GUW #01827. The Nocturnes can be identified from a letter from Whistler to Algernon Graves, 2 March 1889, GUW #10775, where he mentions 'the Ruskin', or Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket [YMSM 170], and the 'Firewheel' (Nocturne: Black and Gold - The Fire Wheel [YMSM 169]). See also Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 1, pp. 228; Ludovici 1906 [more] .

6: A. Graves to Whistler, 17 March 1881, GUW #01802.

7: Whistler to A. Graves, 9 June [1882], GUW #10774.

8: A. Graves to Whistler, 10 June 1882, GUW #01807.

9: Whistler to H. Graves, 19 June 1882, GUW #10916.

10: Graves' account, 'Interest on 2 Nocturnes', 26 December 1888, GUW #10926.

11: Pennell 1921C [more] , pp. 4-5.

12: Whistler to Algernon Graves, 2 March 1889, GUW #10775.

13: G. Dieterlen, H. Wunderlich & Co., to Whistler, 1 November 1889, GUW #07187.

14: Whistler to A. Graves, 10 December 1890, GUW #10925.

15: Starr 1908 [more] , p. 536.

16: Whistler to Stephen Richards, 12 June 1892, GUW #08114.

17: Whistler to Untermeyer, 30 October 1892, GUW #05888; Sidney Starr to Whistler, 2 September 1892, GUW #05565.

18: Whistler to William Heinemann, [October 1892], GUW #10787.

19: 'The Grosvenor Gallery', Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service, 9 May 1877, p. 4; 'The Grosvenor Gallery', Morning Post, 1 May 1877, p. 6.

20: Whistler to Algernon Graves, 9 June 1882, GUW #10774; Algernon Graves to Whistler, 10 June 1882, GUW #01807.

21: Lostalot 1883 [more] , at p. 80.

Last updated: 8th June 2021 by Margaret