Saturday, October 8, 2011

Walter Greaves - Portrait of James Abbott McNeill Whistler

signed and dated l.l.: W Greaves/ 77 oil on canvas
76.2 by 63.5cm.; 30 by 25in.

ESTIMATE 20,000-30,000 GBP
Lot Sold: 25,000 GBP

Walter T. Spencer, London;
Carl B. Spitzer, by whom presented to the Toledo Museum of Art where it remained until 2007;
Sotheby's, New York, 18 April 2007, lot 179;
Private collection

'Portrait of Whistler', Toledo Museum of Art Museum News, IV, November 1910, illustrated;
The Toledo Museum of Art, European Paintings, Toledo, 1976, pp. 70-71, illustrated plate 337

Walter Greaves' relationship with Whistler was fraught with intrigue, marked by scandal, and characterized by adoration and hero worship. Walter and his brother Henry met Whistler in 1863, when Whistler fortuitously became their neighbour at Lindsey Row in Chelsea. The brothers became Whistler's studio assistants, buying his art supplies and preparing his canvases and colours. They became devoted followers for over fifteen years, and as Gordon Fleming points out, 'Whistler's domination over the brothers was total. They even tried to look like him. They wore hats, ties and gloves like his, and they grew little moustaches' (James Abbott McNeill Whistler: A Life, St Martin's, New York, 1991, p.100).

Under Whistler's influence, Greaves' tight naive style yielded to a looser, brushier technique evident in the present work, which is a psychologically powerful homage to his mentor. By sheer force of personality Whistler emerges from the dark background. The exaggerated air of his confrontational and unapologetic gaze, dramatically half shrouded in darkness, aptly communicates his infamous and unrelenting egoism.

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