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

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Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

  • 'Arrangement in Black - No. 3' (1881, Whistler). 1
  • 'Arrangement in Black No 5' (1882, Whistler). 2
  • 'Arrangement en Noir. No. 5' (1882, Whistler). 3
  • 'Portrait de M. Harry- Men' (sic) (1882, Société des artistes français). 4
  • 'Lady Meux' (1893, Society of Portrait Painters). 5
  • 'Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux' (1980, YMSM). 6

There are two pen drawings, each signed with a butterfly by Whistler, which relate to this painting, namely Study for 'Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux' [M.0850] and Arrangement in Black - No. 3 [M.0851]. The latter is inscribed by Whistler 'Arrangement in Black - No. 3', but this is confusing, because both Arrangement in Black, No. 3: Sir Henry Irving as Philip II of Spain [YMSM 187] and Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket [YMSM 181] were exhibited at different times as 'Arrangement in Black, No. 3' (see also Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland [YMSM 097], the first in the series).

Given the confusion arising from Whistler's numbering, the title 'Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux' is preferred.

Description


                    Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux, Honolulu Academy of Arts
Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux, Honolulu Academy of Arts

A full-length portrait of a woman in vertical format. Her dark curly hair is cut in a short fringe. She wears a black dress with a low neck-line trimmed with feathers. She has a diamond necklace, bracelet, ear-rings and tiara. A white fur stole or cloak hangs over her left shoulder and behind her right arm, down to the floor. Her left arm is hidden and her right arm, clad in a black glove with a lacy trim, hangs at her side, holding the edge of the stole. The background is also black.

Sitter


                    Lady Meux and Sir Henry Meux, photograph, Lowewood Museum
Lady Meux and Sir Henry Meux, photograph, Lowewood Museum

In 1878 Valerie Susan Meux (née Langdon) (1847-1910) married Henry Bruce Meux (1857-1900), the London brewer, who succeeded as third and last baronet in 1883 and died in 1900.

This was the first of three portraits to be completed (see Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux [YMSM 229] and Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs [YMSM 230]). It was also Whistler's first full-scale commissioned portrait following his bankruptcy and his return from Venice.

Thomas Robert Way (1861-1913) comments:

'The keenness with which [Whistler] painted these portraits engrossed him entirely, and Lady Meux used to boast that she taught him how to paint, so much did she appreciate them. She had been introduced to him by a fellow-member of one of the Clubs he belonged to, and this friend must have been a very strong admirer of his work. Whistler instanced this as one of the advantages of belonging to a number of different Clubs.' 7

'A caricature of Whistler painting simultaneously his three portraits of Lady Meux', by Charles Hallam Elton Brookfield (1857-1913), was published in The Graphic, 25 March 1911. 8


                    Shooting party with Lady Meux, photograph, Lowewood Museum
Shooting party with Lady Meux, photograph, Lowewood Museum

Later photographs suggest that she put on some weight at a later date, or that the costume and Whistler's painting were very flattering.

Notes:

1: Inscribed on Arrangement in Black - No. 3 [M.0851].

2: Whistler to G. A. Lucas, [23 March 1882], GUW #09205.

3: Whistler to T. Duret, [23/25 March 1883], formerly dated [March/April 1882], GUW #09639.

4: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 100th exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1882 (cat. no. 2687).

5: 3rd exhibition, Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1893 (cat. no. 46).

6: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 228).

7: Way 1912 [more] , p. 66.

8: 'The Lost Lady: What became of a Whistler', The Graphic, 25 March 1911, p. 18.

Last updated: 17th November 2020 by Margaret