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

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Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl

Provenance

  • 1894: bought from the artist by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) , Detroit;
  • 1919: bequeathed by C. L. Freer to the Freer Gallery of Art.

C. L. Freer bought 'Harmony in Blue and Gold - The Little Blue Girl' with three drawings from Whistler on 23 November 1894 for 1300 guineas, and expected Whistler to send the painting to him after exhibition at the Paris Salon in the following year. 1 Whistler replied, 'I am delighted as I told you to know that my little Blue Girl is to be always in your care!' 2

Freer eventually asked if it could be sent before April 1897, to avoid paying 25 per cent duty; then he apologised, 'When the work is done to your satisfaction, we shall hope for the arrival of you and it together.' 3

Over two years later, Whistler told Freer not to pay for other pictures until he received it, adding, 'I think I may tell you without the least chance of being misunderstood, that I wish you to have a fine collection of Whistlers!! - perhaps The collection.' 4 This indeed came to be so: Freer's unique collection hangs in the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

However, in June 1902 Freer was still trying to obtain this painting and offered Whistler more money:

' "The Little Blue Girl" Paid for 1894 - 1000 gs but the amount £1000 was credited in settlement made during June 1902. so I still owe him for the pictures - I offered in June to make the price 1500 gs.' 5

To no avail: it was in Whistler's studio at his death in 1903, and finally sent by his executrix, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), to Freer in August 1903.

Exhibitions

  • Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 26) as 'The Little Blue and Gold Girl'.
  • Comparative exhibition of native and foreign art, Society of Art Collectors, New York, 1904 (cat. no. 178) as 'The Little Blue and Gold Girl'.
  • Œuvres de James McNeill Whistler, Palais de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1905 (cat. no. 48) as 'The Little Blue and Gold Girl'.

It was not exhibited in Whistler's lifetime.

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

Notes:

1: Freer to Whistler, 23 November [1894], GUW #01509; receipt of payment in Freer Gallery Archives.

2: 23 November 1894, GUW #03195.

3: [31 March 1897], GUW #13817; [5 April 1897], GUW #13795.

4: [29 July 1899], GUW #03196; see also Freer's note of purchases, 31 August 1899, GUW #11702.

5: Note, 18 June 1902, GUW #11698.

Last updated: 7th June 2021 by Margaret