The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 015
Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc'

Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc'

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1857
Collection: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
Accession Number: GLAHA 53957
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 92.0 x 68.0 cm (36 1/4 x 26 3/4")
Signature: 'Whistler' [see below]
Inscription: 'Ziegler / Whistler / 1857'
Frame: wood, arched top

Date

Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' , The Hunterian
Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' , The Hunterian

Whistler's Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' is signed and dated 1857. 1

J. C. Ziegler, La Vision de St Luc, Musée de Dunkerque
J. C. Ziegler, La Vision de St Luc, Musée de Dunkerque

It is not known exactly when Whistler wrote to the Comte de Nieuwerkerke, Directeur des Musées, requesting permission to copy a picture by Jules Claude Ziegler (1804-1856) in the Musée du Luxembourg 'representant "La Vision de St. Luc".' His letter is undated but the letter is endorsed '5 juin' in another hand, when the copy was probably already complete. 2

Ziegler's La Vision de St Luc, bought by the French State at the Salon of 1839, and hung in the Musée du Luxembourg in 1857, was deposited in the Musée de Dunkerque in 1872. It is formally recorded as going on display in the Luxembourg on 1 November 1857. The date of 1857 written on Whistler's copy implies that he painted it immediately after Ziegler's picture was hung in the museum.

On 6 August 1900 Whistler told the Pennells that when he was first studying in Paris he had a commission from Captain Williams of Stonington, Conn., 'to copy as many pictures as I chose for twenty-five dollars a piece, and I copied … a picture … of St. Luke, with his halo and draperies.' 3

Images

Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' , The Hunterian
Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' , The Hunterian

J. C. Ziegler, La Vision de St Luc, Musée de Dunkerque
J. C. Ziegler, La Vision de St Luc, Musée de Dunkerque

Subject

Titles

There are variations on the title as follows:

Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' is the preferred title.

Description

Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc', The Hunterian
Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc', The Hunterian

A vertical figure composition with an arched top. Framed in the arch is the Virgin Mary, sitting among clouds, clad in a pink dress and blue robe. She holds the baby Jesus who clasps her round the neck, his head snuggling close to hers. The clouds are blue, against a yellow glow of sky. In front, facing left, is a monk in a black robe, bare-footed, painting the pair in an arched composition, on a small canvas. All three have halos. He is half kneeling on a box, over which a red robe is draped. He holds a small bowl in his left hand, the brush in his right. There are a couple more bowls and tall jugs in front of him. In the lower left corner is a scroll bearing Greek letters, possibly intended to read Λουκᾶς (Luke).

Sitter

St Luke was one of the Four Evangelists, named as authors of the canonical Gospels of Jesus Christ. Luke came from the Hellenistic city of Antioch in Syria. He became the patron saint of artists, and was said to have painted the portrait of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. The legend goes back to the 8th century, and depictions of the scene are found from the 13th century on. Guilds of St Luke were established for painters and related craftsmen all over Europe. 6

Comments

Pamela Robertson discusses this painting as follows:

'The Evangelist St Luke, patron saint of doctors and artists, is often depicted painting the Virgin Mary, a particularly popular subject in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The distinguished roll call of artists includes Rogier Van der Weyden, Jan Gossaert, Hugo van der Goes. It was a rarer subject in the nineteenth century. Ziegler’s choice fits within the revival of interest in France in religious painting in the early to mid nineteenth century and followed on from his success at the Salon of 1838 with Le Prophète Daniel dans la Fosse aux Lions (Musée de Nantes). St Luc, at nearly three metres high, was a major statement. The original had been acquired from the Paris Salon of 1839 (2140) and most likely went on display in the Luxembourg in 1857 as a tribute to the artist who had died at the end of 1856. Whistler’s selection was therefore of a topical work of art which had been celebrated in its day. Gautier had described it as the happy marriage of a line worthy of Ingres and colour related to Zurburan. Ziegler and others in Paris were greatly influenced by Spanish painting newly available through private collections such as those of Marshal Jean de Dieu Soult and Alejandro María López as well as Louis-Philippe’s Galerie Espagnole. This formed part of the argument for the acquisition of St Luc for the crown. The work was purchased for 5,000 francs, making it the most expensive painting in the list of purchases for the civil list of 1839.

The painting was transferred by the state to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dunkirk in 1872. A smaller version, either a sketch for or after the major work, is held in the Musée Magnin, Dijon, part of the legacy of Maurice Magnin in 1938. A version also appears in pride of place in the late portrait photograph by Félix Nadar, though puzzlingly the composition on the signed print in the Musée d’Orsay is shown in reverse, a probable error in printing. Whistler’s copy is in all respects, bar the omission of a group of attendant putti in the clouds at right and the simplification of the floor tiling, a faithful representation of the original at approximately one third of its scale. (The Odier copy [Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou' y017] was similarly scaled down making the two comparable in size and suggesting they were conceived as part of a group which would hang together.) …

The group of French copies is in many ways a curiosity in Whistler’s oeuvre. Their subjects – figurative compositions illustrating heroic deeds, military action, religious and mythological subjects – give little hint of what was to follow and show a narrow range, confined mainly to French artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The majority, as commissions, were driven by client wishes, though at times Whistler painted for himself.' 7

Whistler's Copy after Odier's 'Episode de la retraite de Moscou' y017 at 91.5 x 61.0 cm is slightly smaller than Copy after a Group in Couture's 'Romains de la décadence' y018.

Technique

Composition

Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' , The Hunterian
Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' , The Hunterian

J. C. Ziegler, La Vision de St Luc, Musée de Dunkerque
J. C. Ziegler, La Vision de St Luc, Musée de Dunkerque

Whistler copied the painting by Ziegler closely, as Robertson states, 'Whistler’s copy is in all respects, bar the omission of a group of attendant putti in the clouds at right and the simplification of the floor tiling, a faithful representation of the original at approximately one third of its scale.' 8 However, the colour range has been somewhat changed, with the grey clouds shifted towards blue and the pale cream sky to a darker yellow.

The original painting by Ziegler is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dunkirk, a sketch is in the MUDO (Musée de l’Oise, Beauvais), 9 and a non-autograph copy is in the Musée Magnin in Dijon. 10

Technique

Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' , The Hunterian
Copy after Ziegler's 'La Vision de St Luc' , The Hunterian

There is a thin white priming present, likely lead white in oil, applied to a glue-sized canvas. The spandrels are curved, and have some paint brushstrokes or more likely unpigmented medium.

There may be a very thin buff imprimatura, or else Whistler may have established the composition with a pale wash of colour (there is no trace of under-drawing). The paint is very thin, and pigments include vermilion, possibly chrome orange, synthetic ultramarine and coarse bone black, mixed into lead white. These are all colours which Whistler would use regularly in later life. The surface is worked from dark to light, the darks thinly applied and revealing the canvas weave, the lights applied thickly or even with light impasto. 11

It is painted very carefully, imitating the restrained brushwork of the original. Many of the outlines are soft-edged and carefully shaded, but there are some crisp outlines, for instance on the drapery to left of the jug.

Major W. L. B. Jenney, whom Eddy described as a fellow-student of Whistler's in Paris, mentions an incident when Whistler was copying a painting – possibly this one:

'One day, in the Luxembourg, Whistler had his easel in a crowd with the others. They were all at work making copies from a famous picture that had just been added to the gallery. Whistler would paint a bit, and then rush back to contemplate what he had done. In one of these mad backward rushes he struck a step-ladder on the top of which was a painter', and this brought down several painters and their canvases in a great heap.' 12

Whistler thought his copies for Captain Williams were 'wonderful things.' 13

Conservation History

The colour is considerably darker than in the original, and it may be that the paint and varnish has darkened.

Frame

Wooden frame with arched top.

History

Provenance

Whistler's account of his commission from C. P. Williams is as follows:

'Then in Paris, when I was first studying, Captain Williams from Stonington; Stonington Bill they called him, got me to paint his portrait, and then gave me a commission to copy as many pictures as I chose for twenty-five dollars a piece, and I copied a picture, I cannot remember whom it was by, of a snow scene, with a horse and a soldier standing by it and another in the snow at his feet; a second of St. Luke, with his halo and draperies; a third of a woman holding up a child toward a barred window and a man seen looking through the bars; and a fourth of an inundation. I have no doubt I made something very interesting out of them. There were very wonderful things even then, the beginning of harmonies and purple schemes. I suppose it must have been intuitive. … Probably all these are still at Stonington and are shown as wonderful things by Whistler!' 15

Exhibitions

No exhibitions are recorded.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

On Ziegler:

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 15).

2: Archives du Louvre, LL 22.

3: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

4: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

5: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 15).

6: Howe, Eunice D, 'Luke, St', Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press.

7: P. Robertson 2010 [more], at pp. 13-14. See also Gautier1839 [more], p. 4, who thought the Ziegler to be ‘une des plus belles toiles du salon’, and Guégan 2003 [more], at p. 195.

8: P. Robertson 2010 [more], at pp. 13-14.

9: Joconde, Portail des collections des musées de France, Entry in database at http://www.culture.gouv.fr.

10: Joconde, ibid., Entry in database at http://www.culture.gouv.fr.

11: Report by Dr Joyce Townsend, Tate, July 2017, GU WPP.

12: Jenney 1898 [more]; Eddy 1903 [more], p. 87. The guard was going to throw Whistler out but the painters explained it was an accident and he was let off.

13: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.

14: W. Adelson to P. Robertson, 17 September and 4 October 2010, quoted in P. Robertson 2010 [more], at p. 11.

15: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 171.