The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler

YMSM 440
Brown and Gold

Brown and Gold

Artist: James McNeill Whistler
Date: 1895/1900
Collection: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow
Accession Number: GLAHA 46376
Medium: oil
Support: canvas
Size: 95.8 x 51.5 cm (37 3/4 x 20 1/4")
Signature: none
Inscription: none
Frame: Flat Whistler

Date

Brown and Gold probably dates from between 1895 and 1900.

1894: Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) saw a self-portrait in Whistler's studio, but mentioned no details. 1

1894/1895: The artist Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) stated that he had seen Whistler at work on several self-portraits, which may have included this painting. 2

1895: Beatrice Philip (Mrs E. W. Godwin, Mrs J. McN. Whistler) (1857-1896) wrote to the art dealer Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) that Whistler was painting a portrait, possibly this one: 'He thinks he will be through with his portrait by the end of next week.' 3

1895 or 1896: it was probably 'the portrait of Whistler, full length' that Martin Brimmer (1829-1896) of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, saw in Whistler's studio. 4 This is the first definite reference to the full-length. The portrait was interrupted, as Whistler wrote, by the serious illness of his wife: 'My own portrait - Alas! - that also must be left for the brighter days when I can again be in the fine old Studio that you know so well.' 5

1897: Whistler was painting a self portrait (probably this painting or possibly Gold and Brown y462) in March, at the same time as Portrait of Miss Marion Peck y439. He wrote to Marion Peck (Mrs W. R. Farquhar) (1872-1942) explaining: 'my own portrait has had its turn, and if today I were to continue yesterdays painting before it dries in, I could finish the picture, and could show you the two great works together!' 6

J. McN. Whistler at 110 rue du Bac, platinum print, 1896/1901, GUL Whistler PH1/123, 2491
J. McN. Whistler at 110 rue du Bac, platinum print, 1896/1901, GUL Whistler PH1/123, 2491

1898: 'the full-length of himself, in long overcoat' was positively identified by Joseph Pennell (1860-1926) when he saw it in Whistler's studio in rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Paris, in May 1898. 7

1898: Arthur Jerome Eddy (1859-1920) said that he had been told by the art dealer David Croal Thomson (1855-1930) that 'you [Whistler] have several fine things on hand - one a portrait of yourself'; Eddy added that he would like the opportunity to buy it. 8

1899/1900: Whistler was alternating work on the Portrait of Miss Marion Peck and his self portrait, probably this painting but possibly Gold and Brown y462. 9

Brown and Gold, The Hunterian
Brown and Gold, The Hunterian

1900: exhibited at the Exposition Universelle, Grand Palais, Paris, 1900 (cat. no. 108. in the American section) as 'Brown and Gold'. Albert Eugene Gallatin (1882-1952) claimed that Whistler repainted it in part after its exhibition. 10 On the contrary, Whistler's executrix, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), claimed it had been rubbed down in 1900 and not repainted. 11

Images

Brown and Gold, The Hunterian
Brown and Gold, The Hunterian

Brown and Gold, The Hunterian
Brown and Gold, The Hunterian

Brown and Gold, frame detail
Brown and Gold, frame detail

H. S. Mendelssohn, J. McN. Whistler, albumen print, ca 1884, GUL Whistler PH1/107
H. S. Mendelssohn, J. McN. Whistler, albumen print, ca 1884, GUL Whistler PH1/107

J. McN. Whistler at 110 rue du Bac, platinum print, 1896/1901, GUL Whistler PH1/123
J. McN. Whistler at 110 rue du Bac, platinum print, 1896/1901, GUL Whistler PH1/123

H. S. Mendelssohn, J. McN. Whistler, albumen print, n.d., GUL Whistler PH1/123
H. S. Mendelssohn, J. McN. Whistler, albumen print, n.d., GUL Whistler PH1/123

Velázquez, Pablo de Valladolid, photograph, GUL Whistler PH 3/9
Velázquez, Pablo de Valladolid, photograph, GUL Whistler PH 3/9

Velázquez, Pablo de Valladolid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Velázquez, Pablo de Valladolid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Subject

Titles

There is one confusing variation on the title, as follows:

Pennell was mistaken, and the title is Brown and Gold.

Description

Brown and Gold, The Hunterian, GLAHA 46376
Brown and Gold, The Hunterian, GLAHA 46376

A full-length self-portrait of a man in a long dark overcoat, his left hand held in front of his body at waist height, and his right, extended out to the side. He stands against a dark, shadowy background.

Sitter

H. S. Mendelssohn, J. McN. Whistler, albumen print, ca 1884, GUL Whistler PH1/107
H. S. Mendelssohn, J. McN. Whistler, albumen print, ca 1884, GUL Whistler PH1/107

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903).

H. S. Mendelssohn, J. McN. Whistler, albumen print, n.d., GUL Whistler PH1/123
H. S. Mendelssohn, J. McN. Whistler, albumen print, n.d., GUL Whistler PH1/123

MacDonald comments:

'Whistler’s last self-portrait, Brown and Gold, worked and reworked over many years, shows signs of his increasing fragility. The long coat is there, and the hint of a cane. The hair has faded. He is lost in shadow. The brushstrokes are soft, tentative, much rubbed out. Ghostlike marks of earlier versions are partially erased. Whistler kept the portraits in his studio, revisiting the full-length at intervals until his death.' 15

Comments

Both Pennell and Gallatin were wrong in thinking that a pen and pencil drawing in the Library of Congress, Portrait of Whistler m1533, was done by Whistler after this portrait; it was a drawing related to a self-portrait of similar title, Gold and Brown y462. 16

Technique

Composition

Brown and Gold, The Hunterian
Brown and Gold, The Hunterian

Velázquez, Pablo de Valladolid , photograph, GUL Whistler PH 3/9
Velázquez, Pablo de Valladolid , photograph, GUL Whistler PH 3/9

Velázquez, Pablo de Valladolid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Velázquez, Pablo de Valladolid, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The pose is based on the portrait of Pablo de Valladolid by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), in the Prado, of which Whistler owned a photograph. 17

Technique

Brown and Gold, The Hunterian
Brown and Gold, The Hunterian

It was painted on a medium-weight, fairly open plain-weave canvas, which was lined with a more tightly woven plain tabby-weave canvas.

According to the Pennells, Whistler regretted the exhibition of his portrait in 1900: it was 'far from successful, and he had little pleasure in it.' 18 Whistler also told the Pennells, 'It was not ready, the colour has sunk in, you cannot see it.' 19 He also wrote to Edward Guthrie Kennedy (1849-1932) on 12 May 1900, 'I feared it might have been too sunken in to be at all seen.' 20

It is painted thinly, with layers of soft criss-crossing brush strokes. The face looks as if it has been rubbed down and the right hand and foot are very vague.

Albert Eugene Gallatin (1882-1952) claimed that Whistler repainted it in part after its exhibition in 1900. 21 Whistler's executrix, Rosalind Birnie Philip (1873-1958), wrote that, on the contrary, it had been rubbed down in 1900 and not repainted. 22

Conservation History

When it was restored by Harry Woolford in 1983 he mentioned evidence of extensive damage and retouching, and also noted an area of what looked like scorch marks on the clothing and background. He removed the retouching and varnished the picture. Clare Meredith also commented on surface abrasions and signs of damage to the surface, and it is not clear if this was the result of the artist's rubbing down or later cleaning. She commented that although the varnish to some extent concealed the damaged surface, 'The overall effect is probably far removed from the artist's preference for the thinner varnish.' 23

Frame

Brown and Gold, The Hunterian
Brown and Gold, The Hunterian

Brown and Gold, frame detail
Brown and Gold, frame detail

Flat Whistler frame. 24

History

Provenance

Exhibitions

It was exhibited in the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) described it as 'vague tout d'abord comme une apparition, et si saisissant, si réel.' 25 According to the Pennells, Whistler regretted its exhibition and stated, on 10 May 1900: 'It was not ready, the colour has sunk in, you cannot see it, and really it is very swagger.' 26 E. G. Kennedy saw it in the exposition and wrote to Whistler on 8 May 1900, 'I got a glimpse of the Fine Arts Section of the exhibition. That of the U.S. is excellent, I think. Your portrait looks fine, and is beautiful in Colour.' 27 Whistler replied: 'I am glad you like the pictures - especially am I pleased with what you say about my own portrait - for I feared it might have been too sunken in to be at all seen.' 28

Whistler's paintings, however, met with mixed reviews. According to Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), 'Our American papers have said many pleasant things about your portrait of yourself - I would like to see it.' 29 On the other hand, his old friend Théodore Duret (1838-1927) told Whistler:

'Vos deux tableaux sont naturellement combattus, par les bons petits camarades. On me dit: mais pourquoi Whistler n'a-t-il pas exposé ceci, cela, c'est-à-dire des oeuvres peintes il y a dix ou quinze ans? C'est toujours la même chose.'

Translation:

'Your two pictures have naturally been attacked by the good little comrades. They ask me: but why hasn't Whistler exhibited this, that, in other words works painted ten or fifteen years ago? It is always the same thing.' 30

Whistler received a Grand prix for his paintings and one for his etchings. 31

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

Newspapers 1906-Present

Websites

Unpublished

Other


Notes:

1: Eddy to Whistler, 5 December [1894], GUW #01019.

2: Sickert, Walter, 'Where Paul and I differ', Art News, No. 14, 10 February 1910, p. 113.

3: [May/June 1895], GUW #09725.

4: E. G. Kennedy to Whistler, 27 March 1896, GUW #07276.

5: Whistler to E. G. Kennedy, [28 March 1896], GUW #09739. Beatrice Whistler died in 1896.

6: Whistler to M. Farquhar, [15 March 1897], GUW #10641.

7: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, p. 204.

8: Eddy to Whistler, 1 March 1898, GUW #01029.

9: Whistler to Marion Farquhar, [December 1899/February 1900], GUW #13193.

10: Gallatin 1913 A [more], p. 21 (no. 8).

11: R. Birnie Philip to E. A. Gallatin, 2 December 1913, GUL Whistler BP III.

12: Exposition Universelle, Grand Palais, Paris, 1900 (cat. no. 108 in the American section).

13: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, p. 251.

14: YMSM 1980 [more] (cat. no. 440).

15: MacDonald 2015 [more], at p. 17.

16: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 40; Gallatin 1913 A [more], p. 21 (no. 8).

17: Pablo de Valladolid, ca 1635, oil, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, P01198; photograph, GUL Whistler PH 3/9, Glasgow University Collections website at http://collections.gla.ac.uk/#/details/ecatalogue/337948 (acc. 2020).

18: Pennell 1908 [more], vol. 2, p. 204.

19: Pennell 1921C [more], pp. 40, 199.

20: [12 May 1900], GUW #09800.

21: Gallatin 1913 A [more], p. 21 (no. 8).

22: Miss Birnie Philip to A. E. Gallatin, 2 December 1913, GUL Whistler BP III.

23: Condition report by Clare Meredith, conservator, 23 April 2001, Hunterian files.

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

25: Geffroy 1890 [more].

26: Pennell 1921C [more], p. 40.

27: GUW #07323.

28: [12 May 1900], GUW #09800.

29: 27 June 1900, GUW #01518.

30: 14 June 1900, GUW #00993.

31: B. J. Woodward to Whistler, 1 September 1900, GUW #04426.