UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW

Venus

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
(1898.295)
Number: 60
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 153 x 230 mm
Signed: 'Whistler.' at lower left
Inscribed: '1859.' at lower left
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 27
Catalogues: K.59; M.59; T.27; W.56
Impressions taken from this plate  (27)

KEYWORD

interior, model, nude, woman reclining.

TITLE

Whistler's original title has not been recorded. Known titles are as follows:


'Venus' (1872, British Museum). 1
'Female Figure' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 2
'Venus' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 3
'Venus' (1890/1891, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 4
'A Venus' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 5


Either Percy Thomas (1846-1922), who sold an impression to the British Museum in 1872, or the Keeper of the Print Room records, recorded the title as 'Venus', so it is a little surprising that Ralph Thomas chose a less specific title two years later. However, Wedmore reverted to the classical title, as did Whistler's wife in a studio inventory. It is reasonable to assume that Whistler did not object to it. 'Venus' is therefore the generally accepted title.

1: B.M. Register of Purchases and Presentations, 1872.

2: Thomas 1874 (cat. no. 27).

3: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 56).

4: List, [1890/1891], GUW #12715.

5: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 59).

DESCRIPTION

A nude woman is lying on her right side in bed, asleep, with her left arm bent across her body, the hand resting in front of her chin. Her head, with shoulder-length dark curly hair, rests on a pillow at top left, and more pillows are heaped up behind her to right. Her legs are concealed by bedclothes from the knees down. Behind the bed, at right, is an open curtain with patterns roughly indicated. There are traces of another figure upside down on the lower part of the plate, at the right.

SITTER

Impression: K0560203
Eloise ('Fumette') (fl. 1840-1858). This is one of three portraits of the same sitter done in 1859, with Fumette standing [59] (reproduced above) and Fumette's Bent Head [58]).
There have been suggestions that the model could be Josephine Durwend alias Finette (fl. 1859-1867), who posed for the drypoint Finette [61], reproduced below, and who indeed bore a certain resemblance to Fumette. 6

6: London Tate 1994 (cat. no. 4).

Impression: K0580302
The similarity in names is a little confusing. However, the facial features of Whistler's 'Venus' are definitely those of Fumette, who was Whistler's partner. There is no proof that Finette was anything but a well-known dancer who posed fully dressed to Whistler for one full-length drypoint portrait.

DISCUSSION

Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921) seems to have disapproved of the subject and treatment, and described Venus as: 'A naked woman lying on her side, in bed, apparently sleeping, and with bent arm raised to her breast. ... It is the nude seen by Mr Whistler with rather common eyes, for once - an animal, whom sleep has overcome.' And yet he still gave it the title, Venus. 7

Lochnan comments that with 'her ample form and scandalous pose' Venus fits within the Realist tradition, as seen in nudes painted by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). 8 Another inspiration for this type of realistic female nude may have been Rembrandt's etching Jupiter and Antiope, reproduced below.

Comparative image

Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn (1617-1681),
Jupiter and Antiope, 1659,
etching, burin and drypoint, B.285,
British Museum 1910,0212.368. 9

7: Wedmore 1886 A (cat. no. 56).

8: Lochnan 1984 , pp. 107-108.

9: C. White, K.G. Boon, Rembrandt's Etchings: An Illustrated Critical Catalogue, Amsterdam, 1969 (cat. no. 203.1); A.M. Hind, A Catalogue of Rembrandt's Etchings..., London, 1923 (cat. no. 302.