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

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Harmony in Brown and Gold: Old Chelsea Church

Provenance

  • 1885: bought from Messrs Dowdeswell by Henry Studdy Theobald (1847-1934) ;
  • 1902: bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) , Detroit;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

It was exhibited in Whistler's one-man show 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 44). After the show, Wickham Flower (1835-1904), London, offered £160 for An Orange Note: Sweet Shop [YMSM 264], Note in Blue and Opal: The Sun Cloud [YMSM 271] and this painting, which alone was priced 80 guineas in the Dowdeswell catalogue. Whistler therefore suggested £160 for Note in Blue and Opal: The Sun Cloud [YMSM 271] and An Orange Note: Sweet Shop [YMSM 264] alone. 1


                    Sketch of 'Harmony in Brown and Gold: Old Chelsea Church', Library of Congress
Sketch of 'Harmony in Brown and Gold: Old Chelsea Church', Library of Congress

Whistler told Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929) that Wickham Flower was thinking of buying it and enclosed a pen drawing because he could not remember the title! 2

In fact Flower did not take it, and it was acquired by H. S. Theobald, who was almost certainly the collector described by Whistler as having bought a number of paintings after the exhibition. He wrote to Walter Dowdeswell, 'you must arrange with the man who bought the lot that remained over after the exhibition of the "Flesh color & grey", to let his collection go with me to America.' 3 However, it did not go to America until it was bought by C. L. Freer in August 1902, for $750.

Exhibitions

  • 1884: 'Notes' - 'Harmonies' - 'Nocturnes', Messrs Dowdeswell, London, 1884 (cat. no. 44) as 'Harmony in brown and gold – Old Chelsea Church'.
  • 1884: Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures & Photography: A Loan Collection of Pictures by Mr Whistler ..., Dublin Sketching Club, Dublin, 1884 (cat. no. 247).

The Graphic on 24 May 1884 praised, among other works, Whistler's 'views of "Old Chelsea Church" … Painted with obvious ease and little labour, they leave no sense of incompleteness, and they are remarkable besides for their perfect harmony of low-toned colour.' Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) commended it among works distinguished by their 'Beauty of handling and high finish.' 4

By the terms of C. L. Freer's bequest to the Freer Gallery of Art, the painting cannot be lent.

Notes:

1: Flower to Whistler, 15 August [1884], and Whistler's reply, GUW #01431, #01432.

2: [July/August 1884], GUW #08613. Sketch of 'Harmony in Brown and Gold: Old Chelsea Church' [M.0960].

3: Whistler to W. Dowdeswell, [27 September 1885], GUW #08616. See also H. S. Theobald, receipt, 1 July 1885, GUW #00858; Dowdeswell's account, [July 1885/1886], GUW #00867.

4: ‘An Enthusiast’, [Sickert, W. R.], 'Mr Whistler and His Art', The Artist and Journal of Home Culture, vol. 5, 1 June 1884, pp. 199-201.

Last updated: 14th December 2020 by Margaret