The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 252
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1883/1885
Collection: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Accession Number: 13.20
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 193.4 x 90.8 cm (76 1/8 x 35 3/4")
Signature: butterfly
Inscription: none
Frame: Portrait Whistler, 1884 [17.2 cm]

Date

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret mainly dates from 1883-1884, but may have been worked on further in 1885. 1

1883: According to Théodore Duret (1838-1927), having attended the opening of an exhibition in 1883, he and Whistler discussed the portraits they had seen, and both of them disapproved of the portraits of contemporary men in classical dress:

'Un soir de l'année 1883, nous [Whistler and Duret] dinions ensemble dans la maison qu'il habitait alors à Londres, Fulham road. Nous avions assisté dans la journée à l'ouverture d'une exposition de peinture et nous passions en revue les tableaux que nous y avions remarqués. Il en vint à critiquer particulièrement le portrait du président d'une société ou corporation. Le personnage était représenté nu-tête, les cheveux séparés par une raie sur le front et frisés, et en même temps vêtu d'une robe rouge de forme antique, insigne de sa charge. Cette combinaison d'une tête coiffée a la mode du jour et de cette vieille robe lui paraissait d'un goût détestable. La conversation roula dès lors sur le costume et la pose à choisir dans le portrait.' 2

The translation published in 1917 reads: 'One evening in 1883 we were dining together at the house which he then inhabited in Fulham Road, London. During the day we had attended the opening of an exhibition of painting and we passed in review the pictures we had remarked there. He began to criticise particularly the portrait of a president of some society or corporation. This personage was represented bareheaded, his hair separated by a parting on the forehead, and frizzed, and at the same time he was garbed in a red robe of an antique character, the emblem of his office. This combination of hair done in the latest fashion and an ancient robe appeared to him to be in detestable taste. Conversation flowed thence to the costume and pose to choose in a portrait. We agreed that the originals ought to be posed variously according to their physique, and that they should be clothed in one of the suits they habitually wore.' 3

Duret then described the result of their conversation:

'Or, l'habit noir, l'evening dress, était un vêtement dans lequel les gentleman en Angleterre passaient une partie de leur vie ... et cependant on ne peignait jamais personne avec. ...

La conclusion fut qu'il fallait peindre "l'habit noir" et, après un instant de réflexion, Whistler me demanda de le poser. Il fut donc entendu qu'il ferait de moi un portrait en habit noir. Il décida successivement qu'il serait en pied, de grandeur naturelle, avec un fond clair. ... enfin quand il fut fixé, il me dit: "Venez tel jour, apportez votre habit et un domino rose." Je fus assez surpris du domino, mais sans faire de réflexions, j'allai chercher l'objet chez un costumier du théâtre de Covent Garden et le jour dit, j'étais dans son atelier de Tite Street.' 4

The 1917 translation reads as follows:

'Now evening dress (l'habit noir) was the suit in which gentlemen in England passed a portion of their life … and yet nobody was ever painted in it. ...

The conclusion reached was that one ought to paint "evening dress," and after a moment's reflection he asked me to pose for him. It was understood then that he should paint my portrait in evening dress. It was successively decided that it should be full length, life size, with a light background. ... Finally, when he had decided, he said to me: "Come on such and such a day; bring your evening dress and a pink domino." I was surprised enough at the domino, but without making any comment I went to seek the object at a costumier's in Covent Garden, and on the appointed day I was in his studio at Tite Street.' 5

1883-1884: Duret posed repeatedly in 1883-1884, and possibly early in the following year, the canvas being completely repainted at least ten times. On one occasion, for instance, Whistler wrote to Duret reminding him to bring the same costume 'que nous puissions toujours avoir le même effet.' 6

The portrait of Duret was submitted to the Grosvenor Gallery in April 1884 but rejected by Coutts Lindsay (1824-1913) for being 'incomplete & slightly made out.' 7 It is not known if Whistler worked on it before sending it to the Salon in the following year.

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

1883/1885: In one undated letter he asked Duret to come after lunch, 'nous pourions probablement finir avec une heure de travail' (that is, 'we would probably be able to finish with an hour of work.') 8 Similarly in another letter he asked Duret to come at midday, saying 'nous tacherons de finir le petit portrait' ('we shall try to finish the little portrait') though why he called it 'petit' is unclear. 9

Lady Archibald Campbell was posing at the same time (see Arrangement in Black: La Dame au brodequin jaune - Portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell y242) and, according to the Pennells, when she could not come, Whistler would telegraph for Duret. 10 This implies a date between 1883 and 1885.

1884: A report in the York Herald on 22 November 1884 stated that Whistler had 'just completed' thie portrait of Duret. 11

1884/1885: Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) claimed that he had painted a small panel of Duret, while Whistler was painting his portrait, and exhibited it at the SBA. 12

1895: Whistler wrote that he wished that 'poor old Duret' could be touched up and 'made really to live!'; however, he certainly did not work on it further at that time. 13

Images

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan
Museum of Art, NY
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, photograph, 1980
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, photograph, 1980

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, frame detail
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, frame detail

E. Manet, Portrait de Théodore Duret, 1868, Petit Palais, Paris
E. Manet, Portrait de Théodore Duret, 1868, Petit Palais, Paris

E. Vuillard, Théodore Duret, 1912, National Gallery of Art, DC
E. Vuillard, Théodore Duret, 1912, National Gallery of Art, DC

Subject

Titles

Several possible titles have been suggested:

The title by which it is known, 'Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret', is a combination of the early exhibition titles and that given by Duret himself in 1904.

Description

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan
Museum of Art, NY
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

A full-length portrait of a bearded man, in vertical format. He faces the viewer, and is wearing evening dress – a white shirt, black suit – and carries a pink domino (a woman's evening cloak) over his left arm. He carries a top hat in his right hand.

Sitter

E. Manet, Portrait de Théodore Duret, 1868, Petit Palais, Paris
E. Manet, Portrait de Théodore Duret, 1868, Petit Palais, Paris

Théodore Duret (1838-1927), art critic and connoisseur, was introduced to Whistler by Edouard Manet (1832-1883) in 1880 (in 1868 Manet had painted the portrait of a very dandyish Duret, which is illustrated above).

Duret owned several of Whistler's paintings (Green and Grey. The Oyster Smacks – Evening y070, Nocturne: Grey and Silver y156, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Gardens y166, Nocturne: Trafalgar Square - Snow y173, and possibly Alice Butt (1) y437) and also published one monograph and several influential articles on Whistler. 18

E. Vuillard, Théodore Duret, 1912, National Gallery of Art, DC
E. Vuillard, Théodore Duret, 1912, National Gallery of Art, DC

In 1912 Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) painted a magnificent portrait of Duret in his office, holding a cat, and with the Whistler portrait in the background. It is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and is reproduced above.

In the following year Duret wrote to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: 'Ce que Whistler a du faire d'effort pour réussir ce portrait et l'amener, selon son esthétique, à ce point de perfection où l'apparence de l'effort a disparu, moi seul le sais!' 19 (Translation: 'What effort Whistler had to make to succeed in this portrait and bring it, according to his aesthetic, to this point of perfection where the appearance of the effort has disappeared, only I know!')

Comments

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret y252 is distinguished from Whistler's other portraits of men in evening dress (Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland y097, Portrait of Sir Henry Cole y233, Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate y315, Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac y398) in having a light rather than a dark background.

George Moore (1852-1933) and Louisine Waldron Havemeyer (1855-1929) questioned the realism of the portrait and considered the pink domino a decorative but inappropriate accessory. 20

Technique

Composition

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan
Museum of Art, NY
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

There is some evidence of the numerous sittings required to complete this portrait, including several pentimenti. Many small alterations were made to the figure: his top hat was originally 2.5 cm (1") higher, his left foot 1.3 cm (½") to the right, his right leg 4 cm (1 ½") further left and that foot 5 cm (2") higher.

Technique

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan
Museum of Art, NY
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

The canvas is of fine weave, and the background was painted softly, with few brushmarks visible. The figure was built up with several thin layers of paint. The head is warm in colour, solidly modelled, the planes blocked in with a small brush – 3 mm (1/8") wide. The outline of the figure is unusually clear cut. The domino is painted freely with long brush strokes – the pink is shot with orange and lilac – and the paint is so thin that the pattern of grey and black painted over the pink has dripped down over Duret's elbow.

The canvas was completely repainted at least ten times over the sittings, which took place at intervals over at least two years. Duret described Whistler as working without any preliminary sketch:

'[il] se mit à attaquer le portrait sans dessin préliminaire. Il avait tout juste posé à la craie, sur la toile blanche, quelques repères pour indiquer en haut la tête, en bas les pieds, à droite et à gauche, la place du corps. Il appliqua tout de suite sur la toile les couleurs et les tons, tels qu'ils devraient exister dans le tableau définitif. A la fin de la séance, on pouvait déjà juger de la physionomie générale qu'aurait l'oeuvre.' 21

Translation: '[H]e began to attack the portrait without any preliminary drawing. He merely put on the white canvas a few chalk marks to indicate the top of the head and the end of the feet, on right and left, the sides of the body. He placed immediately on the canvas the colours and tones, just as they ought to be in the finished picture. At the end of the sitting one could already judge the general appearance that the work would have.' 22

Duret's account, as published in translation in 1917 continues as follows:

'He posed me standing in front of a rose-grey hanging, the domino thrown over my left arm, bareheaded, the hat held in the hand of the right arm, which hung down ... It had, as first motive, a man standing, seen full face, in evening dress, and then the domino permitted him to realise that combination of colour of a decorative order that he introduced into every work he painted. The black of the suit, the pink of the domino and the grey of the background formed an Arrangement in Flesh-colour and Black. Finally, the domino, falling over the left leg and covering part of it, had allowed him to destroy the ugly parallelism of the two sides of the body and to diversify the contours. This idea of the domino, then, had come to him as a true painter's invention: from a very simple object he had gathered the unexpected arrangement of a picture.

He made me pose for long sittings. He was painting at the same time as my portrait that of Lady Archibald Campbell. He put the two works abreast and I was able to observe the parallel stages through which he made them pass. One of his principal anxieties was to maintain the appearance of things produced without effort. Instead of adding details, he rather suppressed them, and guarded above everything from making them abundant. ...

Another point in the execution of a painting to which he paid the greatest attention was to maintain the relation of tones between all the parts. For example, in a subject like my portrait, where the arrangement in flesh-colour and black was formed by the black suit on one hand and by the pink domino and grey background on the other, as soon as the slightest deviation of tone appeared, whether in the black of the suit or the grey of the background, he put a new layer of colour over the whole picture, so as to bring the least parts of it into the exact relationship which constituted the desired arrangement. Thus he had to repaint perhaps ten times the figure and the background. Reworked upon, after three attacks, this portrait was not finished till several months after it had been commenced. Today the practised eye easily recognises by its construction that it can only have been brought about by prolonged application, but when it was first shown in the Paris Salon of 1885 it was found, according to the preconception then existing, to have the character of a sketch, and most people thought that its execution had only required a very short time. He had therefore well fulfilled the first rule of his aesthetics, that a painting much worked upon should nevertheless appear as if come at one stroke and without effort.' 23

According to Elizabeth and Joseph Pennell,

'M. Duret, when he shows you the picture, in his apartment at Paris, will take a sheet of paper, cut a hole in it, and place it against the background, to prove that the grey, when surrounded by white, is pure and cold, without a touch of rose, and that Whistler got his effect by his knowledge of the relation of colours, and his mastery of the tones he wished to obtain.' 24

Conservation History

Roger Elliot Fry (1866-1934), writing in February 1909 after having seen Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret in Paris, and almost certainly discussed it with Duret, said that Whistler 'took three months to paint it, allowing each couche to dry thoroughly. Consequently there is no cracking or dragging at all'. 25

Frame

1884: Portrait Whistler [17.2 cm]. 26

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, frame detail
Arrangement en couleur chair et noir: Portrait de Théodore Duret, frame detail

The painting was probably framed about 1884 before it was bought by the sitter.

History

Provenance

It was presumably bought by Duret from the artist about 1885, although there are no documents to corroborate this. By January 1909 Duret wished to sell his portrait to a museum and Roger Elliot Fry (1866-1934) wrote to Bryson Burroughs (1869-1934), of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, recommending its purchase, and claimed that Duret would present it to the Louvre unless his price was met. 27

Exhibitions

In April 1884 Whistler sent the portrait of Duret from Paris for the Grosvenor Gallery exhibition in London, but Sir Coutts Lindsay rejected it, writing, 'I trust that you will withdraw [your portrait] of Monsieur Duret, the work is so incomplete & slightly made out that I cannot accept it at the Grosvenor.' 28 To this Whistler replied that his pictures were 'sunken in & degraded & begrimed with dirt from their journey', but, he added, 'when properly hung cleaned & varnished - [it] would be the fine picture it was when I had painted it in my Studio.' 29 Whistler explained this away to Duret in his own fashion, ''They are vexed with me at the Grosvenor - and refuse to have it - saying I believe that it is too much the "Portrait of a Gentleman" ', so, he added, 'We will keep it and show it in Paris.' 30

At the Salon in 1885 the 'Portrait de M. Théodore Duret' was accepted, but skied, according to Octave Maus (1856-1919). 31 Whistler himself was a little concerned, and asked the artist Otto Henry Bacher (1856-1909),

'How do you like his [Duret's] own portrait? doesn't he stand well? -

They say that this picture is hung rather high - but I daresay it is none the worse for that.' 32

Bacher's reply is not recorded.

Bibliography

Catalogues Raisonnés

Authored by Whistler

Catalogues 1855-1905

Newspapers 1855-1905

Journals 1855-1905

Monographs

Books on Whistler

Books, General

Catalogues 1906-Present

COLLECTION:

EXHIBITION:

Journals 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 252).

2: Duret 1904 [more], pp. 99-100.

3: Duret 1917 [more], pp. 68-69.

4: Duret 1904, op. cit, pp. 100-01.

5: Duret 1917, op. cit., p. 69.

6: [July 1883/April 1885], GUW #09652.

7: 18 April 1884, GUW #01867.

8: [July 1883/April 1885], GUW #09645.

9: Whistler to Duret, [July 1883/April 1885], GUW #07935.

10: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 306-08.

11: 'Art and Literature', York Herald, York, 22 November 1884, p. 14.

12: Sickert, Walter R., ‘L’Affaire Greaves’, New Age, 15 June 1911, pp. 159-60, at p. 160.

13: J. Whistler to B. Whistler, 19 November 1895, GUW #06643.

14: Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, gravure et lithographie des artistes vivants, 103rd exhibition, Salon de la Société des artistes français, Palais des Champs Elysées, Paris, 1885 (cat. no. 2460).

15: Duret 1904 [more], repr. f.p. 162.

16: Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the late James McNeill Whistler, First President of The International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, New Gallery, Regent Street, London, 1905 (cat. no. 10).

17: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 252).

18: Duret 1881, Whistler [more]; Duret 1888 [more]; Duret 1904 [more] (later editions published in 1914 and 1917).

19: 2 March 1913, Museum Archives.

20: Moore, George, Confessions of a Young Man, London, 1928, pp. 91-92, 103. Havemeyer 1961 [more], p. 189.

21: Duret 1904 [more], p. 101.

22: Duret 1917 [more], p. 69.

23: Duret 1917 [more], pp. 69-72. The original French text, not reproduced here, is in Duret 1904 [more], pp. 101-05.

24: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 1, pp. 306-08.

25: Sutton, Denys, (ed.)., The Letters of Roger Fry, 2 vols., London, 1972, pp. 310-13.

26: Dr S. L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more].

27: Letters, 15 January and 16 February 1909; quoted by Sutton, Denys, (ed.)., The Letters of Roger Fry, 2 vols., London, 1972, pp. 310-13.

28: Lindsay to Whistler, 18 April 1884, GUW #01867.

29: Whistler to Lindsay, draft reply, [19 April 1884], GUW #01868.

30: [20/30 April 1884], GUW #09649.

31: Maus, Octave, L'Art Moderne, 24 May 1885, p. 164.

32: [3/10 May 1885], GUW #00230.