C. A. Howell recorded in his diary, on 9 September 1878, that he paid 100 guineas for this painting. However, according to Whistler, when it was half completed, Howell gave him an advance of £70.0.0 out of money advanced by Henry Graves (1806-1892) on a proposed portrait of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881). This was to be painted by Whistler and published by Graves as an engraving. 1 And, just to complicate matters further, on another occasion the artist stated that Howell had paid him out of money Whistler had just lent him. 2
The actual documents tell a slightly different story. On 9 September 1878 Howell acknowledged receipt of an 'advance' from H. Graves & Co. of £100 at 10 percent, on security of two nocturnes and Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101]. 3 Since Howell at no time owned the portrait of Whistler's mother, this transaction was probably carried out on Whistler's behalf. In any case, on 6 November Howell wrote asking Graves to accept 'my portrait of Miss Corder ... in lieu of the two nocturnes.' 4
On 1 May 1879 Whistler handed over his copyright to Howell. 5 Howell arranged for the portrait to be engraved in mezzotint by Richard Josey (1840-1906) and published through Messrs Graves. A subscription form was prepared: prices were £3. 3. 0 for a signed artist's proof, £2.2.0 for a lettered proof and one guinea for a print. 6 The mezzotint was completed and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1880. Whistler received the completed engraving when he was in Venice, and was a little disappointed with its quality, saying 'It is fine - but scarcely as rich as I expected - The head is rather hard - could Josie soften it a little by burnishing slightly the modelling and doing away ever so little with the lines?' 7
The artist Jacques Émile Blanche (1861-1942) recorded that he had seen the painting in Whistler's Tite Street studio in 1884. 8 Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder [YMSM 203] alternated with Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101] as security for loans, on deposit with H. Graves & Co. in 1885. 9
In December 1888 Whistler introduced Theodore Child (1846-1892) to Henry Graves; shortly afterwards, Child offered Graves £10 to let him reproduce the portrait in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, the sum to be set against the £400 Whistler owed to Graves. 10 The portrait was then sent to Paris and engraved by Frédéric Florian (1858-1926), and reproduced in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in the following year. 11 Whistler was delighted with the result. He wrote, 'It is simply charming - Do say so from me with my most sincere thanks & compliments to Monsieur - for the life of me I cannot at this moment remember his name! - dont tell him that!' and Child assured him, 'The engraver of Miss Corder is Florian, an enthusiastic admirer of your genius.' 12
According to the Pennells, after Howell's death in 1890, Henry Graves (1806-1892) thought the painting would fetch no more than £10.0.0 at auction, but in the event it fetched more than enough to cancel Howell's debt. 13 Graham Robertson bought the painting itself at the Howell sale at Christie's on 13 November 1890. Whistler promptly asked to see it, and meet 'the collector who so far ventures to brave popular prejudice in this country.' 14 A few days later Whistler visited, dusted it and had it varnished, but Robertson refused to have it cleaned. 15
By February 1903, Robertson was being pestered by the American gambler Richard A. Canfield to sell the portrait, as he told Whistler:
'Continued dropping wears away a stone - & your Mr Canfield has been dropping so many vigorous hints to the effect that he longs to possess 'Rosa Corder' that I am worn to a shadow. He should not have taken her except over my dead body, were it not that I am now so seldom in London that I very rarely see the lady myself.
I have sometimes felt lately that she does not now enjoy the social advantages to which she is accustomed & wondered whether she ought to be left so much to herself.
I know that the picture is a favourite one with you & should like to feel that - if the exchange is effected - it had your approval.' 17
Whistler approved, saying that 'the "Rosa" could not possibly be in better hands, nor in more perfect care than that of Mr. Richard Canfield.' 18 So the sale went through. According to the Pennells (who described Canfield as 'gambler and Harvard graduate, who spent his time between quoting Horace, cleaning out young millionaires, and patronizing painters with the proceeds'), Robertson refused Canfield's first offer of £1000, but accepted £2000; ' "Damned fool!" Canfield added, "I would have offered five thousand and jumped at the chance of getting it for that." ' 19 Whistler told Canfield, 'The Rosa looks very fine', and finally, the portrait was sent to America. 20
It was bought from Canfield by Knoedler's on 12 March 1914 (#13427) and sold by them to H. C. Frick, who bequeathed it to the Frick Collection.
1879: The generally favourable reaction of the press to this painting was reflected in the selection of reviews published by Graves in his pamphlet publicising Josey's engraving of the portrait in 1879. 21 Even Punch was 'Glad to say a word for Whistler', if only 'Better than usual.' 22 The Globe, although unappreciative of Whistler's 'fantastic titles', thought 'the large masses of sombre colour are most artistically arranged, and the general effect is remarkably rich and harmonious.' 23 The London Evening Standard on 1 May 1879 commented that 'Mr. J. M. Whistler has two figure subjects quite worthy of attention. Distinction and character are in the seemingly sketchy portrait, very large and very dark, of a graceful artist, Miss Rosa Corder'. The World of 7 May 1879 saw in it 'broad grand passages of execution worthy of Velasquez', which suggests that some of the treatment of her dress and hat may have been clearer a century ago than it is now. However, another art critic, in the Morning Post of 1 May, could not distinguish the figure 'from the mass of dark that encompasses it.'
1884: When it was sent for exhibition in Brussels in 1884 Whistler told Charles William Deschamps (1848-1908) that it was to be insured for £1000, amended later to £100, and added, 'I should like to know from you in what state they were before they left - I mean if they were well rubbed up and polished etc.' 24 Whistler later wrote asking the art critic and collector, Théodore Duret (1838-1927), to arrange to return the painting through the art firm of Durand-Ruel in Paris for exhibition in London. 25
According to the newspapers, an 'Arrangement in brown and black' was on exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1884, and on 21 April the London Evening Standard commended the 'portrait of Miss Corder … arrangement of the lady in black and brown … strongly reminiscent of the great Spanish master whom he delights to honour', by whom, of course, they meant Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660). The Glasgow Herald on 23 April commented that there did not seem to be a coherent catalogue but that 'Mr. Whistler's admirable study in black-browns, "Portrait of Miss Corder," was already advantageously hung.' 26
1888: The publication of the translation of Whistler's Ten o'clock Lecture by Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) – Le 'Ten O'Clock' de M. Whistler – was planned to coincide with the Exposition at Durand-Ruel's. 27
The painting was one of two which, after the end of the exhibition, were engraved with the permission of Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1925) for an article by Theodore Child (1846-1892) in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine before returning being returned to Whistler. 28
1889: Press cuttings show it was exhibited in Whistler's one-man exhibition at the College for Men and Women, London, in 1889, which had no catalogue. 29
1891: Alfred Émile-Léopold Stevens (1823-1906) wrote to Whistler after visiting the Paris exhibition, 'votre portrait de femme exposé au Champ de Mars est pour moi le chef d'oeuvre de l'exposition.' 30 Theodore Duret, however, was disappointed not to see Whistler's more recent work. 31 Whistler privately admitted doubts: 'The Rosa Corder naturally is very austere and grand ... but we have better - and Oh horrors it struck me suddenly that she looked short!' 32 However, he told the owner, Robertson, that Adolf Paulus (1851-1924) was 'wildly enamoured' of the painting and wished to borrow it for exhibition in Munich: Whistler offered Robertson two paintings as potential temporary replacements. 33 According to Robertson, Whistler lent Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell [YMSM 242] to him 'for almost a year ... while Rosa Corder was away being exhibited.' 34 And so, the portrait of Rosa Corder travelled on from Paris to Munich. 35
1892: And no sooner was it returned than Whistler wanted to borrow it for his major retrospective show at the Goupil Gallery, 'He would I think [lend] for such a particular occasion, especially as he would have it back befor[e] the season really begins', he told D. C. Thomson, and indeed, Robertson again agreed. 36
Whistler published a selection of earlier adverse reviews in his Goupil catalogue in 1892, including a comparison of the portraits of Rosa Corder and Henry Irving (Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain [YMSM 187]): 'two large blotches of dark canvas. When I have time I am going again to find out which is Rose and which is Irving.' 37
D. C. Thomson described the exhibition to Whistler's wife, Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896):
'Both our large rooms are filled with the pictures & the effect is magnificent. The three large portraits (Rosa Corder, Lady A. Campbell & the Fur Jacket) hang on our wall & they dwell in ones mind like the grand orchestral tones of a fine oratorio. They are magistral in every way, & their harmonies march along like heroes returning from victory.' 38
It was selected from the Goupil exhibits for reproduction in an album of photographs, even though a royalty would have to be paid to H. Graves & Co., but Whistler was critical of the resulting photograph, which, he thought, 'ought to give a much finer and lighter result.' 39
Although Robertson was permitted to retain his picture briefly, Whistler already had plans for future exhibits. He suggested it for the World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893, but no loan materialised. 40
1894: Instead, Whistler begged Robertson to send it to Antwerp:
'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.' 41
Although hung successfully it was made 'Hors Concours' (withdrawn from competition) in Antwerp because only exhibits painted after 1885 qualified for judging. 42
1897: Whistler wrote 'I almost venture to believe that I am in the position of one who has not troubled you for a long time!' and he begged Robertson to lend the portrait to an international exhibition in Copenhagen. 43 Robertson was really extraordinarily obliging! The portrait went both to Copenhagen in 1897 and to the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in London in 1898.
1898: As President of the ISSPG, Whistler demanded care in the hanging of his works, sketching Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG [M.1539] for Albert Ludovici, Jr (1852-1932), and insisting 'So if I send my portrait you will put it between the Rosa Corder and the Princess - leaving nice margin - and keeping all on line, more than in sketch' and following up with another sketch, Arrangement of paintings at the ISSPG [M.1540], and further instructions.
'1. Rose Corder. 2. Princess. 3. Portrait. 4. Piano. 5. Oval. 6. Thames in ice. 7. Philosopher. 8. Nocturne Valparaiso. 9. Petite Souris (girls head with feather boa) 10. "Etchings by Mrs McNeill Whistler".
Or ... 2 10 7. 8 9. Yes this * last way I prefer - and it gives you no trouble - ... Hang all my pictures on the line - excepting the Holloway (Philosopher) just a tiny bit up to make the line pretty - and perhaps the Petite Souris - also slightly - a matter for your eye - And be sure to see to the proper tilting over - so that can be well seen ...
Hang nothing under any of the pictures.' 44
Whistler's idea of 'no trouble' was probably not shared by his followers! However, this second set of instructions was followed, judging by a photograph of the exhibition. 45 A review of the show, possibly reflecting input from the artist, by George Sauter (1866-1937) described the portrait of Rosa Corder:
'In Whistler this occupation with the science of his art is so complete that no thought of other influence were possible, and none but his own intense personality could suffice to carry him through to his results ... The values, the quality, the selection, the reality, the arrangement, make these pictures so beautiful. What is quality? you may ask. You will never learn it in a school or from books, but only by reading in the endless volume of Nature by day and night.' 46
A photograph of the painting, probably taken by Carl Hentschel (1864-1930), was approved by Whistler as suitable for reproduction, probably for the Art Journal, though Whistler stipulated in a letter to William Heinemann (1863-1920), 'I have a horror of all blue and violet and green reproduction. Let them all be of a certain warm brown to black.' 47
1899: A few months later Robertson rejected a request from Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) to lend the portrait of Rosa Corder to the 1st World of Art Exhibition, in Saint Petersburg, because, as Robertson explained, 'Miss Corder was away all last summer at the International and she is so pleased to get home & rest & we are all so comfortable together.' 48 But instead, he agreed to lend it to the international exhibition in Venice! 49
1904: A photograph of the Boston 1904 exhibition shows it in a prominent position.
19: Pennell 1921, op. cit., pp. 235, 279.
22: Anon., 'The Gay Grosvenor Gallery Guide', Punch, 21 June 1879, pp. 285-87, at pp. 285-86.
23: The Globe, London, 1 May 1879.
26: Catalogue untraced; see also Manchester Guardian, 22 May 1884, press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 6, p. 52.
29: Evening News, London, press cutting in GUL Whistler PC 10, p. 91.
37: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 22).
46: Sauter, George, 'The International Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers,' Studio, July 1898, vol. 14, no. 64, pp. 109-20, at pp. 113-14.
Last updated: 22nd April 2021 by Margaret