A Whistler Valentine

Published: 13 February 2003

The University's Centre for Whistler Studies selects an appropriate memento to inspire for Valentine's Day and to mark this year's Whistler 2003 celebrations.

2003 is the centenary of the death of the internationally celebrated American-born painter, James McNeill Whistler (1834 ヨ 1903). Glasgow University's Hunterian Art Gallery holds one of the largest collections of his work and will be staging an exciting series of exhibitions and events to celebrate his life as part of a Glasgow-wide festival. Over 150 works will be on display, drawn from the Hunterian's holdings and collections in the UK and overseas.

Glasgow University Library's collection of Whistler documents, which complements the research work carried out by the Centre for Whistler Studies, contains many surprising items, including a Valentine's card sent by the artist to his cousin Emma Palmer on 14 February 1850, when they were both 15.

Neatly painted in watercolour are a dancing couple, the young man dressed in a blue jacket, with a red stripe on his trousers and a cocked hat, the girl in a low-waisted carmine dress with a blue belt. Beneath is a verse written in ink by Whistler's famous mother, Anna McNeill Whistler:

I'm a novice at this,
But a sweet blue eyed Miss,
Cannot fail to inspire
A youth's fond desire,
To contribute his mite
To surprise and delight,
I bow to your Shine
Adopt me your Valentine,
Perpetual good humour!

At this time, Whistler and his family lived in Pomfret, Conneticut. Emma Palmer was a childhood friend and later, the source of many anecdotes about his boyhood, recorded before she died in 1912.

Some 44 years later, Whistler also received a Valentine ヨ a note dated 14 February 1894 from Sir William Eden, enclosing as a Valentine a cheque for 100 guineas, for the portrait that Whistler was painting of his wife Sybil.

Eden considered Whistler's initial asking price of 500 guineas 'too much for a head', and a smaller sum was suggested when Lady Eden sat for Whistler in January. Whistler, however, was much affronted when Eden airily decided without discussion on a figure that the artist considered far too little.

Whistler claimed he was dissatisfied with his work and refused to hand it over, believing it was the artist's right to withhold a picture in such circumstances. When Eden instituted legal proceedings against him in November 1894 in order to retrieve the picture, Whistler returned the cheque, and painted another face over that of Lady Eden.

The dispute dragged on until December 1897 when Whistler, on appeal, was permitted by the Cour de Cassation in Paris to keep the picture, provided that he did not make use of it. Much to Whistler's delight, the principle of the decision that a work of art remains the property of the artist until it passes out of his hands was added to the French Civil Law, the Code Napol←on.

Whistler's account of the affair, Eden Versus Whistler. The Baronet & the Butterfly: A Valentine with a Verdict was published in Paris by Louis-Henry May in time for Valentine's Day, 1899 ヨ having been printed at the Valentine press! The picture, 'Brown and Gold: Portrait of Lady Eden' (YMSM 408), is now in the Hunterian Art Gallery.

Lloyds TSB Scotland is the sponsor of the Hunterian's wide-ranging programme of events to mark the centenary of Whistler's death in 2003. The events include major loans, exhibitions, publications and events and will run throughout the year.

Full details are given within Whistler 2003

Media Relations Office (media@gla.ac.uk)

Notes to Editors

Additional Information

Women were central to Whistler?s art and life and this fascination is highlighted by several of the key events taking place during this centenary year:

Whistler, Women and Fashion
April 22 ? July 13
The Frick Collection, New York

The first in-depth exploration of the artist?s lifelong involvement in fashion as an essential aspect of his work. Dr. Margaret F. MacDonald of the Centre for Whistler Studies and Susan G. Galassi of the Frick Collection are the co-curators of the show, which will include loans from the Hunterian and elsewhere.

Anna Matilda Whistler ? A Life
21 June ? 4 October

Whistler?s mother will be the focus of a special exhibition based on previously unpublished correspondence and archival material, revealing the life behind the iconic image.

Beauty and the Butterfly: Whistler?s Depictions of Women
21 June ? 4 October

This exhibition focuses on how he depicted women in his works on paper. In particular, the exquisite pastel drawings in which he expressed an idealised vision of graceful, unattainable beauty.

1890?s Women
21 June ? 24 December

Depictions of women by Whistler?s contemporaries ? Beardsley, Mackintosh, Carlos Schwabe and others ? inspired by fantasy, imagination and symbolism.

The Valentine image is available from the Press Office at j.hodgson@admin.gla.ac.uk.

For other images, please contact: Harriet Gaston 0141 330 3310 at The Hunterian Art Gallery and Museum.

First published: 13 February 2003