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

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Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs

Provenance

  • 1881: commissioned by Henry Bruce Meux (1857-1900), who paid in advance;
  • 1890: Whistler returned the money.

It was commissioned by Henry Meux, who paid 400 guineas in advance, instead of the 500 Whistler wanted; according to Whistler, 'that cheery sportsman ... withdrew to the banks of the ... Nile and from the top of a distant Pyramid haggled in safety over the cheque to be payed me for my work!' 1

In 1887, Edward Upton, Sir Henry Meux's solicitor, wrote to the artist:

'Some few years ago you undertook to paint 3. Portraits of Lady Meux two of which, I believe you completed but the third remained unfinished although you were paid for the whole - Some time ago, as I am instructed, that you offered to finish the unfinished Picture or to return a pro-portion of the amount which you had received for the 3.

Sir Henry wishes the matter settled and inasmuch as Lady Meux is not in good health and cannot sit to you I should be glad to know what proportion of the total sum which you have received you are prepared to return in order that / the matter may be settled.' 2

There is no record of a reply, but the money was not returned at this point. On 5 July 1889 Upton & Britton threatened legal proceedings against Whistler. He agreed to settle the matter amiably, and referred them to his solicitor, George Henry Lewis (1833-1911). 3

In the following February, Whistler's secretary, William Bell, wrote to Upton that Whistler would send a cheque, and return the money. 4

According to Pennell, in 1905 Lady Meux offered Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux [YMSM 228] and Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux [YMSM 229] to the Committee of the London Whistler Memorial Exhibition 'on condition that the third [portrait] should be returned to her. This the Committee were unable to do.' 5

1910: Lady Meux bequeathed 'Whistler's "Sable Picture of Lady Meux" ' to the National Gallery, London, but the artist's executrix, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), wrote to The Times that Whistler had destroyed the picture. 6

Exhibitions

In April 1889 Sir Henry Meux suggested that 'the picture of Lady Meux in a sable dress' should be exhibited in Whistler's Retrospective Exhibition, College for Working Men and Women, London, 1889, but it was not shown. 7

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.

Notes:

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

2: 1 November 1887, GUW #05894.

3: GUW #05896; Whistler to Upton & Britton, 11 July 1889, GUW #03549.

4: 26 February 1890, GUL #03464.

5: Pennell 1911 A [more] , p. 210.

6: 'Lady Meux's Will. The Missing Portrait by Whistler.', The Times, London, 11 January 1910, p. 8; J. and E. R. Pennell, letter to the Editor, 11 January 1911, in The Times, London, 12 January 1911, p. 8; R. Birnie Philip, letter to the Editor, 13 January 1911, in The Times, 14 January 1911, p. 8. See also 'The Lost Lady: What became of a Whistler', The Graphic, 25 March 1911, p. 18.

7: 27 April [1889], GUW #04066.

Last updated: 14th November 2020 by Margaret