In May 1893 the art dealer David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) asked Whistler 'what you would like done about the Sarasate for we think it would sell.' 1 Whistler refused to make an etching of it for reproduction in the Art Journal; he suggested having a photograph taken, but by 11 May it was 'in place' in the Society of Portrait Painters exhibition, and not available for photography. 2 Whistler also suggested that Thomson should buy the copyright. 3
On 1 July 1895 Francis Gerard Prange (b. ca 1843), art manager of the Grafton Gallery, asked Whistler if he would sell the portrait, and on 23 July announced, 'the eminent Musician has arrived in perfect safety' and negotiations had started. 4 Whistler reported to E. G. Kennedy,
'Mr. Prange, (The Director of the Grafton Gallery) has the "Sarasate", for sale - If you think you see the placing of it in America, you had better communicate with him - I suppose he will ask somewhere about £2000 or less - I have given him my lowest inside price - and of course he will want to make his large profit -
He stirred me up about the picture after you had gone - telling me he thought he could place it - So I had it looked up, and varnished, and it is in splendid condition.' 5
At that price, said Kennedy, he was not interested. 6
On 22 October 1895 Prange sent the portrait back temporarily to D. C. Thomson at the Goupil Gallery. 7 On 21 July 1896, Goupil's proposed to return it to Prange, but Whistler told Thomson to send it to E. G. Kennedy and it was sent in September. 8 By 24 September it had arrived in New York, and Kennedy checked that Whistler's price was £900 net. 9 Kennedy then tried to include the portrait of Sarasate in his prolonged negotiations for the purchase of several other paintings, including The Master Smith of Lyme Regis [YMSM 450], Mother of Pearl and Silver: The Andalusian [YMSM 378], and Rose et or: La Tulipe [YMSM 418]. 10
It was exhibited in the 1st Annual Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1896 (cat. no. 303) and sold on Whistler's behalf by E. G. Kennedy to the Institute on 30 November 1896 for £900, through the efforts of John Caldwell (fl. 1887-1907). 11 On 31 December 1896 Kennedy's firm, Wunderlich & Co., were able to send Whistler a cheque for £1170.0.0 for the portrait of Sarasate and Crimson note: Carmen [YMSM 441] (the latter bought by A. A. Pope). 12
The Carnegie Institute website comments: 'Its purchase made it Carnegie Institute's second acquisition for the permanent collection and the fourth acquisition of a Whistler by an American museum.' 13
1884: Whistler thought of sending the portrait to the Annual Exhibition of Sketches, Pictures & Photography: A Loan Collection of Pictures by Mr Whistler ..., Dublin Sketching Club, Dublin, 1884, but did not do so. 14
1885: Although it was in general enthusiastically received by the critics in 1885, Phillips criticised the lack of vivacity in the head, 'quoique bien dessinée et fort ressemblante.' 15 The St James's Gazette art critic responded much more positively, describing the subtle nuance of colour perceptively:
'The evening dress is carried out in two tones of black, the Senor’s hair is a third black, and the background a fourth; while his complexion, the violin, the floor, and Mr. Whistler’s butterfly—the last a fine example of the species, and the only complication allowed—are in various tones of yellow and brownish grey. If the aim of a work of' art be, as M. Taine says it is, to bring out some essential and salient characteristic of things more clearly and more completely than the actual look of those things can do by itself, then Mr. Whistler has produced a masterpiece. He presents his sitter in his capacity as virtuoso.'
Malcolm Charles Salaman (1855-1940) claimed that the exhibition of the portrait in 1885 was a huge success: 'the noble picture of Sarasate ... made the exhibition of the British Artists historical.' 17
Whistler's friend, the architect Edward William Godwin (1833-1886), concurred, placing the portrait of Sarasate on a level with Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother [YMSM 101] and Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle [YMSM 137]. 18
1886: When it was exhibited in Brussels in 1886 as 'Pablo de Sarasate', Whistler claimed that was the wrong title; Octave Maus (1856-1919) apologised, but told Whistler that the exhibition had been a 'great and legitimate success', and Theodore van Rysselberghe (1862-1926) had arranged for the painting to be sent on to Paris for the Salon. 19
In Paris in 1886 Alfred de Lostalot (1837-1909) called it 'un sorte d'apparition du célèbre violoniste évoqué par quelque médium dans une séance de spiritisme. La silhouette de M. Sarasate est très ressemblante et d'un dessin élégant, je le reconnais, mais il faut regarder attentivement.' 20
1892: It was listed by Whistler as 'Sarasate' among pictures suitable for exhibition in his retrospective at Goupil's in 1892, but not shown. 21 The photograph reproduced above may date from that time.
1893: Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) wanted it for the World's Columbian Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, Chicago, 1893, but it was not available (it went to the Society of Portrait Painters instead). 22 At the SPP despite some criticism of the lighting in the Grafton Galleries, Francis Gerard Prange (b. ca 1843) told Whistler, 'Your picture does look well.' 23 E. G. Kennedy confirmed both the inadequate lighting and the success of Whistler’s portrait:
'the Sarasate ... is very beautiful & characteristic. I have not seen Sarasate, but feel convinced that it must be a good portrait as well as a fair work of art ... the Grafton Gallery had very few visitors ... The galleries are out of the way, which may account for the meagre attendance. As to the lighting, it is a great mistake, as the light is very confusing & I cannot understand how such a blunder could have been made.' 24
1894: There was some dispute about which section of the Antwerp exhibition Whistler should inhabit, and he said that he would be content with his work being hung in the 'American' or 'Strangers' sections, but 'On no account however will I exhibit in the "English Section".' 25 A sketch, Paintings for exhibition in Antwerp [M.1427], shows the proposed arrangement of the panel. However, the late arrival of the portrait of Sarasate meant the pictures were hung, as Charles Sprague Pearce (1851-1914) told Whistler, from left to right, 'Valparaiso / Miss Corder / Fireworks / Battersea reach / Sarasate / Little Girl in White.' 26 Whistler suggested to Thomson that an 'admirer' of Whistler's work should go to Antwerp,
'he is not likely to have such another occasion in a hurry of seeing so swell a group of his distinguished countryman's work! - There indeed he will find the Sarasate in his full "dignity" - ... altogether they tell me I have a splendid show in Antwerp - and no true admirer could possibly miss the occasion!' 27
The admirer (presumably a potential collector) did so, and Whistler was flattered by his response, considering 'his understanding of the pictures most intelligent.' 28 Whistler also suggested that Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913) should visit the exhibition. 29
1896: The successful exhibition of 'Sarasate' in Pittsburgh in 1896 led immediately to the purchase of the portrait by the Carnegie Institute on 30 November 1896.
1904: In the year of the Whistler memorial exhibition in Boston, Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) included Whistler's portrait of Sarasate in the background of his superb portrait Music (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo). 30
1905: It was one of the paintings praised by Antonin Proust (1832-1905) in a letter to his mother concerning the Whistler memorial exhibition in Paris in 1905. 31 Proust had met Whistler just once, probably through Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac (1855-1921). In 1906, Proust started to write À la recherche du temps perdu in which the character 'Elstir' was in part inspired by Whistler.
8: Boussod to Whistler, [21 July 1896], GUW #10080; Whistler to Thomson, 21 July , GUW #08414; Kennedy to Whistler, [29 July or 5 August 1896], GUW #07281; Whistler to Thomson, [8 September 1896], GUW #08417.
11: Director of Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute, to J. Pennell, n.d., LC PC.
16: 'The "British Artists" ', St James's Gazette, London, 22 April 1885, pp. 6-7. Brief reviews appeared in many papers including Graphic, London, 25 April 1885, p. 13; Illustrated London News, London, 25 April 1885, p. 22; The Era, London, 2 May 1885, p. 13; Glasgow Herald, 4 May 1885, p. 9; the most enthusiastic was the Manchester Courier, Manchester, 6 May 1885, p. 8.
31: [13 or 14 June 1905], quoted by Painter, George D. (ed.), Marcel Proust – Letters to his mother, London, 1956.
Last updated: 18th December 2020 by Margaret