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

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Harmony in Coral and Blue: Miss Finch

Titles

Whistler's original title is not known. The known title varies only in punctuation, as follows:

  • Possibly 'Milly. Finch - Red' or 'Blue Girl' (1886/1887, Whistler). 1
  • 'Harmony in Coral and Blue (Miss Finch)' (1936, Glasgow). 2
  • 'Harmony in Coral and Blue: Miss Finch' (1980, YMSM). 3

In 1886 Whistler listed among the full-length portraits in his studio: 'Milly. Finch - Red - ... / Millie Finch - Violet - / Blue. Girl - / Millie Finch Black.' 4 Although the 'Blue Girl' is not here identified as Milly Finch, it is possible, given the sequence of titles in Whistler's list, that she posed for it. The design and colour of the dress bear some similarities to other 'Blue Girls' such as The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland [YMSM 111].

Alternatively, this painting, although now known as Harmony in Coral and Blue: Miss Finch, may have been the 'Milly. Finch - Red' listed in 1886. However, there are two known portraits of Millie Finch that show her wearing a coral/red scarf, this and Harmony in Fawn Colour and Purple: Portrait of Miss Milly Finch [YMSM 238].

The title given in 1936 was probably provided by Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) ; it may have been based on information from Whistler. The punctuation was changed in 1980 to conform with other titles. Thus 'Harmony in Coral and Blue: Miss Finch' is the title now generally accepted.

Description


                    Harmony in Coral and Blue: Miss Finch, The Hunterian
Harmony in Coral and Blue: Miss Finch, The Hunterian

A full length portrait of a young woman, in vertical format. She stands facing the viewer, her gaze directed slightly downwards. A pinkish red scarf is draped around her shoulders and head, over dark hair cut in an uneven fringe. Her dress is bluish white, the folds outlined lightly in pale blue and grey, with capped or puff sleeves at the shoulders. The narrow sleeves are blue with a white frill at the wrist. The dress, with a narrow black belt at the waist, is close fitting down to mid-thigh, and then is over-painted with broad brush-strokes in blue, suggesting a pleated or gathered skirt. Her arms hang by her sides. A palm fan is roughly outlined in her right hand. Her weight rests on her right leg, and her body has a slight contrapposto pose. Her left foot, in a plum coloured shoe, is pointed forward, and the other is not seen. The background is a light yellow ochre, with shadows falling to right.

Sitter

Millie Finch (fl. 1875-1885) has not been identified. Milly seems to have modelled for Whistler when Maud Franklin (1857-ca 1941) was ill.

'Milly' could be short for Amelia or Millicent. She may possibly have been 'Millicent J. Finch', who would have been fifteen in 1884.

Whistler called her 'the Red Girl'. 5 He painted three oil portraits of Milly in the mid-1880s, Harmony in Coral and Blue: Miss Finch, Harmony in Fawn Colour and Purple: Portrait of Miss Milly Finch [YMSM 238], and Harmony in Blue and Violet: Miss Finch [YMSM 239], and several watercolours.

Comments

It is possible that two portraits of Millie Finch (this and Harmony in Blue and Violet: Miss Finch [YMSM 239]) were part of a series of 'blue girls' painted by Whistler between 1870 and 1900.

The first 'blue girl is said to have been Annabel Lee [YMSM 079]. This was followed by The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland [YMSM 111] and The Blue Girl: Maud Franklin [YMSM 112].

Later related works include Scherzo in Blue: The Blue Girl [YMSM 226] and possibly Harmony in Blue and Violet: Miss Finch [YMSM 239]. The last 'blue girl' was probably Blue and Coral: The Little Blue Bonnet [YMSM 500].

Notes:

1: Whistler, list, [1886/1887], formerly dated [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

2: James McNeill Whistler, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 1936 (cat. no. 22).

3: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 237).

4: Whistler, list, [1886/1887], formerly dated [4/11 January 1892], GUW #06795.

5: Whistler to C. W. Dowdeswell, [1/14 May 1884] GUW #08653.

Last updated: 4th December 2020 by Margaret