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

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Grenat et or: Le Petit Cardinal

Provenance

  • 1903: in Whistler's studio at his death and bequeathed to his ward and executrix, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958) ;
  • 1935: given by Miss Birnie Philip to the University of Glasgow in 1935.

Exhibitions

  • 1902: Douzième Exposition, Ouvrages de Peintures, Sculpture, Dessin, Gravure, Architecture et Objets d'Art, Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Grand Palais, Paris, 1902 (cat. no. 1195) as 'Grenat et or: Le petit cardinal'.
  • 1902: Twelfth Exhibition held at the New Gallery, Society of Portrait Painters, London, 1902 (cat. no. 4).
  • 1903: V Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia, Venice, 1903 (cat. no. 41).
  • 1904: Oil Paintings, Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Mr. J. McNeill Whistler, Copley Society, Boston, 1904 (cat. no. 40) as ' "Grenat et or – Le Petit Cardinal" '.

                    Panel of five paintings, GUL MS Whistler NB2, pp. 120–21
Panel of five paintings, GUL MS Whistler NB2, pp. 120–21

Whistler asked the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts in 1902 to hang the oval portrait below Violet and Silver: The Great Sea [YMSM 298] and sketched the proposed hang, Panel of five paintings [M.1706]. 1 However, according to Gabriel Mourey (1865-1943), his exhibits were badly hung. 2 Whistler heard this and asked Inez Eleanor Addams (1874-1958) to check:

'He remarks that some of them think the pictures badly hung, but attributes it to some people not understanding the subdued light. He would like you to send him a word when you have seen the exhibition, as to what you think about this.' 3

Grenat et or: Le Petit Cardinal received varied reviews. In its review of the Paris exhibition, a London paper, Truth, described the painting as 'a boy ... very like a Venetian picture—like Carpaccio, to be precise.' 4 The sitter was frequently mistaken for a boy in later newspaper reviews, although some, the Illustrated London News for instance, on 22 November 1902, recognised her as 'a tiny girl, very low toned in its flesh-tints'. One journalist, writing in the Norwich Mercury on 15 November 1902, commented that 'The Little Cardinal is one of those studies which grow upon one, work which true artists will rave over it yet lends itself to that acrid sarcasm which Mr. Whistler so often encounters, and knows so well.'

A couple of days earlier Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) had written in The London Evening Standard that the picture had been exhibited in the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1902, just before its arrival at the New Gallery: his exact phrase was 'a child in a red cap, the Little Cardinal, which we do not see for the first time.' 5 On 21 November 1902 Whistler wrote to the newspaper in answer to what he inferred as a criticism of the portrait, saying that it was newly painted when exhibited at the Salon and was now exhibited for the first time in Britain:

'Now, as a matter of mere fact, the Little Cardinal is, in her absolute childhood and complete inexperience of these very sharp gentlemen, only yesterday returning from the Paris Salon, where, in brilliant company, she received her baptism. And this is the first Gallery in the Island in which she makes her appearance, and the busy and correct one has hitherto never set eyes on her!' 6

This was his last letter to the press. Whistler considered publishing the correspondence regarding this painting, and there are proofs of the proposed publication, An Interrupted Correspondence, in Glasgow University Library. 7

At the loan exhibition of Whistler's work held in London in 1912, Ezra Pound, describing Whistler as 'our first great', in his poem, 'To Whistler, American', wrote:

'YOU also, our first great, / Had tried all ways; Tested and pried and worked in many fashions, / And this much gives me heart to play the game.

Here is a part that’s slight, and part gone wrong, / And much of little moment, and some few Perfect as Dürer!

“In the Studio” and these two portraits? if I had my choice!' 8

The two portraits that he cited were Grenat et or: Le Petit Cardinal and Brun et or: De race [YMSM 511].

Due to the terms of Miss Birnie Philip's will, the painting cannot now be lent to another venue.

Notes:

1: Whistler to the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, draft letter, [17/20 April 1902], GUW #12720.

2: Mourey 1902 [more] , at p. 196.

3: R. B. Philip to I. E. Addams, 25 April 1902, GUW #04835.

4: Truth, 24 April 1902, pp. 25-27.

5: 'The Society of Portrait Painters', London Evening Standard, London, 13 November 1902, p. 3. This comment - that the picture had been exhibited before - appeared in several other papers in various mangled forms. For instance, the Horfield and Bishopston Record and Montepelier & District Free Press on 22 November 1902, wrote 'there is a fine Whistler, The Little Cardinal, a picture of a boy in a red cap, which has been exhibited, I believe, elsewhere, but is always welcome.'

6: Whistler, James McNeill, Letter to the Editor, London Evening Standard, London, 21 November 1902, GUW #09448. Published in 'Mr. Whistler on Podsnapism', St James's Gazette, London, 21 November 1902, p. 12. See also GUW #05526, #05527, #07476.

7: Whistler, James McNeill, An Interrupted Correspondence, Chelsea, 1902.

8: Pound, Ezra Weston Loomis, 'To Whistler, American', Poetry, October 1912, p. 7; Pound, Ezra Weston Loomis, 'Whistler', The New Age, 12 September 1912, p. 466 (reprinted in Cookson, William (ed.), Selected Prose: 1909-1965, New York, 1957, pp. 116-17; see also Personae, New York, 1949, p. 243; Patria Mia, Chicago, 1950, pp. 50-51; Personae, London, 1952, p. 243, Patria Mia and the Treatise on Harmony, London, 1962, pp. 34-35.

Last updated: 23rd November 2020 by Margaret