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

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The Beach at Marseille

Titles

One title has been suggested:

  • ‘Strand bei Marseille’ (1969, Berlin). 1
  • 'The Beach at Marseilles' (1980, YMSM). 2
  • 'The Beach at Marseille' (2020, Terra website). 3

'Marseilles' is the English version of the name of the French city Marseille: the painting has been called by both names. 'The Beach at Marseille' is the preferred title.

Description


                    The Beach at Marseille, Terra Foundation for American Art
The Beach at Marseille, Terra Foundation for American Art

A landscape in horizontal format. There is a beach in the lower half of the panel, trees in the middle distance and a blue mountain in the distance at right.

Site

Possibly Marseille, an important port on the south coast of France.

Comments

The technique and style are not consistent with Whistler's work. The provenance is interesting and it may be that either the work was painted by Whistler's 'apprentices', Clifford Isaac Addams (1876-1942) or Inez Eleanor Addams (1874-1958), who are said to have owned it, or they worked on an unfinished sketch by Whistler.

The Terra Foundation website comments:

'Among the last dozen paintings James McNeill Whistler made, The Beach at Marseille is the only one known to depict the French Mediterranean seaport. Unlike most of Whistler’s coastal scenes painted from the 1880s on, it focuses not on the sea but on the beach, seen obliquely with the town in the right distance and the soft blue silhouette of a mountain rising behind it. At the left, a glimpse of water shows a harbor dense with sailing vessels. The painting is dominated, however, by an expanse of tawny sand broken by the dark horizontal band of a low wall, terminating at the left in a shallow pool where a kneeling figure is bent over the sand; in the central distance, a darker figure stands by a line strung with drying clothes that lend vibrant notes of color.

The elderly painter came to Marseille from Northern Africa, to which his doctors in London had ordered him when his health declined seriously in late 1900. In Marseille Whistler was gravely ill, which may explain his limited artistic output there. Nonetheless, he found the French seaport inspiring, writing wistfully to his sister-in-law, Rosalind Birnie Philip, "what beautiful things one could do here!" The Beach at Marseille indicates Whistler’s interest in the variety of forms in the landscape of beach, town, sea, and boats. The result is a relatively complex composition, in contrast to the reductive simplicity of the artist’s typical late seascapes, of which the Terra Foundation’s The Sea, Pourville (TF 1992.158) is an example.' 4

Notes:

1: Spencer, Robin, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1969 (cat. no. 59).

2: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 543).

3: Terra Foundation website at http://collection.terraamericanart.org.

4: Terra Foundation website at http://collection.terraamericanart.org.

Last updated: 25th November 2020 by Margaret