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

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Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux

Provenance

It was commissioned in 1881, with Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux [YMSM 228] and Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs [YMSM 230]. Whistler accepted 400 guineas from Sir Henry rather than the 500 originally proposed. 1 According to Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921), there was some delay before Whistler was paid for Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux [YMSM 228] and Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux [YMSM 229]. 2

For exhibition in Dublin in 1884 'Lady Meux' was insured for £300. 3

After the death of Lady Meux on 20 December 1910, it passed to her heir, the Hon. Sir Hedworth Lambton, who sold it to H. C. Frick in 1916, for £10,000, according to Albert Ludovici, Jr (1852-1932). 4

Exhibitions

  • 1882: VI Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1882 (cat. no. 48) as 'Harmony in Flesh-Colour and Pink – Mrs. H. B. Meux'.
  • 1884: Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures & Photography: A Loan Collection of Pictures by Mr Whistler ..., Dublin Sketching Club, Dublin, 1884 cat. no. (243).
  • 1892: Nocturnes, Marines & Chevalet Pieces, Goupil Gallery, London, 1892 (cat. no. 43) as 'Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux'.
  • 1892: Exposition Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Champ-de-Mars, Paris, 1892 (cat. no. 1066) as 'Harmonie en gris et rose – portrait de Lady Meux'.

It was caricatured in Punch in 1882 as 'To be completed in a few more Sittings', the comment being a humorous response to the very free, bold brushwork on the dress. 5 But on the whole it was well received, the St James's Gazette called it 'striking' and the London Daily News, 'clever' and 'harmonious', while The Graphic art critic sat on the fence, describing it as 'undefined as to form, but charming by reason of its exquisite quality of colour'. 6

In 1884, Whistler asked Sir Henry in vain for the loan of the portrait for the Exposition internationale de peinture et de sculpture, Société des XX, Brussels, 1884:

'I was on the point of writing to ask [Sir Henry Meux] kindly to lend the Portrait in Pink for a most important International Exhibition in Brussels, in which I have been chosen as a representative of English Painting - and your pictures would be, above all others, delighted in Abroad ...

If I may have the pink picture, and I trust that Sir Henry will let these works be seen abroad where they are understood and appreciated, will you kindly send me a line here ... The picture would be insured for a thousand.' 7

Early in 1892, when the painting had been varnished, Whistler was wondering whether he could send 'the Pink Meux' to Octave Maus (1856-1919) for exhibition in Brussels. 8 Lady Meux thought that the painting had been taken by Whistler to Paris, but it appears that it was left in the Goupil Gallery, London, where a newspaper praised it in January as 'One of Mr. Whistler's most notable portraits.' 9 It was on show 'downstairs' in February, when Whistler advised the manager, D. C. Thomson, 'Dont let it stay too long down stairs - but of this you will be a good judge - It may be doing good.' 10 The 'good' meant the opportunity for patrons, painters, and passers-by to see it; for instance, Whistler asked his patron William Cleverly Alexander (1840-1916) to go and see it. 11 The painter Charles Frederic Ulrich (1858-1908), saw it, and asked if 'a stunning portrait of a lady' could be borrowed for the VI. Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung, Königlicher Glaspalast, Munich, 1892. 12 But it was reserved for Whistler's major retrospective at Goupil's.


                    Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux, photograph, 1892, Goupil Album, GUL MS Whistler PH5/2
Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux, photograph, 1892, Goupil Album, GUL MS Whistler PH5/2

In the Goupil exhibition Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux was well regarded by art critics, on the whole. The Graphic on 26 March compared it and Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander [YMSM 129] to the work of Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), and thought them 'remarkable among other good qualities for their fine quality and skilful arrangement of colour.'

It was photographed for inclusion in the Goupil Album after Whistler's retrospective in 1892. Whistler had suggested to the London printsellers H. Graves & Co. earlier in the year that he should have the painting engraved, but this was considered to be unprofitable. 13 After the Goupil exhibition it went 'at once' to the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where according to Whistler it was hugely successful:

'Champs de Mars. My success complete - all along the line! - This morning's Figaro - first article Whistler first mentioned after the President Puvis de Chavanne!

Lady Meux picture enormous success! ... I send you cutting from Figaro - you ought to have it into English for some papers tomorrow ...' 14

Edmond Pottier commented in 1892: 'Voilà sans doute un homme qui ne dédaigne pas de faire poser devant lui une noble dame en élégante toilette'. The fact that Lady Meux was a highly fashionable lady undoubtedly appealed to Whistler. However although Pottier remarked on the contemporary subject and modern technique, he thought Whistler painted in the tradition of the old masters, who 'sous l'enveloppe extérieure, cherchent à pénétrer et à faire comprendre la personne morale!' 15

Henry James (1843-1916) was distinctly less impressed. He thought that 'her hat doesn't fit; I also contest her flesh-colour, which has a light gray tinge, not usually remarked in the human complexion.' 16

In 1893 Lady Meux refused to lend the painting again, saying, 'we have decided not to lend the "Pink Picture" again having had to have it re-framed since it was last lent.' 17

Notes:

1: Whistler to Upton & Britton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

2: Montesquiou 1923 [more] , p. 255.

3: A. Graves to Whistler, 17 November 1884, GUW #01818.

4: Ludovici 1926 [more] , p. 91.

5: Punch, 27 May 1882, caricature repr. p. 241.

6: St James's Gazette, London, 6 May 1882; London Daily News, 1 May 1882; The Graphic, 6 May 1882.

7: Whistler to V. B. Meux, [1/8 January 1884], GUW #07928.

8: J. Whistler to B. Whistler, [30 January 1892], GUW #06608.

9: Anon., 'Swindon Advertiser and North Wilts Chronicle, 16 January 1892, p. 6. See also the Aberdeen Free Press, 12 January 1892, p. 5.

10: V. B. Meux to Whistler, 12 February 1892, GUW #04072; Whistler to D. C. Thomson, 14 February 1892, GUW #08216.

11: [14 February 1892], GUW #07575.

12: Ulrich to Whistler, [16 or 23 February 1892], GUW #04213.

13: Whistler to M. B. Huish, 23 January 1882, GUW #01139; Whistler to H. Graves, 27 January 1882, GUW #10917; A. Graves to Whistler, 28 January 1882, GUW #01804.

14: Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [1/8 April 1892], GUW #08210; quoted from Whistler to D. C. Thomson, [6 May 1892], GUW #08200.

15: Pottier 1892 [more] , at p. 455.

16: Quoted by Sweeney, J. L. (ed.), The Painter's Eye: Notes and Essays on the Pictorial Arts by Henry James, London, 1956, pp. 209-210. See MacDonald 2003 [more] , pp. 174-75.

17: V. B. Meux to the Goupil Gallery, 13 January 1893, GUW #04076.

Last updated: 31st December 2020 by Margaret