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

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Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux

Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux dates from 1881-1882. 1

1881: It was commissioned with two other portraits, Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux [YMSM 229] and Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs [YMSM 230], by the sitter's husband, Henry Bruce Meux (1857-1900), for 1500 guineas. 2

According to Leslie Ward (1851-1922), it was Charles Hallam Elton Brookfield (1857-1913) who suggested to Whistler that he should paint Mrs (later Lady) Meux. Brookfield later drew a caricature of Whistler painting the three portraits at once. 3

On 26 August 1881 Alan Summerly Cole (1846-1934) noted in his diary that Whistler was 'busy painting three portraits of Mrs. Meux.' 4 It was probably in September 1881 (shortly after Mrs Meux sent a haunch of venison to Whistler's younger brother William!), that the artist told his sister-in-law:

'I have been tremendously hard at work - and then lots of things - Mrs Meux came to town and we had up the pictures and slaved away until one of them is supposed to be finished - though it isn't! - and then off she went again … The World reports strangely enough - that Mr Whistler having completed the first of the Series of Mrs Meux has "gone for his holiday to the sea side!" - I wonder how these things happen!' 5


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

In October 1881 two of the portraits were shown to the press in Whistler's studio, and, according to Mrs Hawthorne, Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux was 'considered completed' by Whistler. 6

1882: Alan S. Cole wrote in his dairy on 26 February 1882, 'To Jimmy's to see his painting of Mrs. Meux. One very fine.' 7 Edith Emma Marzetti (1865-1924), accompanying her sister for sittings for Scherzo in Blue: The Blue Girl [YMSM 226] in the spring, commented, 'Whistler was just finishing the portrait of Lady Meux at the time, and I remember standing for him one day for about five minutes, while he put the lights in the eyes ... it was a full-length portrait in black evening dress, with a big white cloak over the shoulders.' 8

On 22 March Whistler told Samuel Wreford Paddon (b. 1843), 'I have completed and varnished my beautiful black lady and sent her to the salon.' 9 The portrait was exhibited in 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).

Notes:

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

2: Whistler to Sir Henry Meux's solicitor, E. Upton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

3: L. Ward 1915 [more] , pp. 172-73; Graphic, 25 March 1911 (caricature by C. H. F. Brookfield repr.). See also Way 1912 [more] , p. 66.

4: Ms copies with minor variations, GUW #13132 and #03432.

5: Whistler to H. E. Whistler, [September 1881], GUW #06694.

6: Hawthorne 1881 [more] , at p. 658.

7: Ms copies with minor variations, GUW #13132 and #03432.

8: Pennell 1908 [more] , vol. 1, pp. 303-04.

9: GUW #08103.

Last updated: 17th November 2020 by Margaret