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The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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10th October 2003 - Green and Silver

On 10 October 1895 Whistler was trying to sell a painting called Green and Silver: The Devonshire Cottages on behalf of his brother William (whose finances were precarious).

Painting: Green and Silver: The Devonshire Cottages
© Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

He wrote to the London art dealer David Croal Thomson of Goupil's:

"Now this "Cottage" is as you must know a morsel that has been hitherto missed - It has never been exhibited - It is one of those things that the people who are buying the known Whistlers would jump at - It is in splendid condition - and probably the only "landscape" - not that I promise to do no more -"

He went on aggressively,

"It must be sold to Scotsman American German Frenchman whoever you please - but not to an Englishman -"

(LCMS PWC D/17)

He demanded 200 gns (he had already tried to sell it to another dealer, F. G. Prange for 250 gns, and also thought of sending it to E. G. Kennedy in New York. However, Thomson agreed to buy it.

Originally it was assumed that the painting dated from early 1884 when Whistler went to St Ives (from a vague notion that Devon was near Cornwall). However, a closer look at the technique of the painting and the wording of Whistler's correspondence on the subject, now suggests that it dates from over twenty years earlier. Whistler apparently made a quick trip to Seaton in Devon about 1863 (according to a notebook, where he notes the local pub as the Red Lion) and gave it or sold it to his brother. Furthermore, it now seems likely that it was exhibited in Whistler's influential one-man exhibition at Messrs Dowdeswell's in Bond Street in 1884 (cat no. 7) under a new title, 'Green and Opal: The Village'. In Whistler's press-cutting album (GUL pc 6 p. 13), a critic from the Kensington News commented on the artist's use of a palette knife in sculpturing the thick paint. And then later, in August 1895, as Whistler told his brother, he "cleaned and signed your little picture of the Devonshire sky and little village - and it comes out beautifully! I have even added a few touches" (GUL MS W1007), and so it arrived on the market.

After Whistler's death the picture went to the great Whistler collection of Charles Lang Freer, and there it will star later this year in an exhibition based on Whistler's Dowdeswell show of 1884. 'Mr. Whistler's Galleries'.

(M. F. MacDonald)