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Speke Hall: The Avenue

Impression: Hunterian Art Gallery
Hunterian Art Gallery
(46768)
Number: 101
Date: 1870-1878
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 228 x 152 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower right (1-12); butterfly lower left (11-12); both removed (13-final)
Inscribed: '1870. / Speke Hall.' at lower right
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 14
Known impressions: 22
Catalogues: K.96; M.95; W.86
Impressions taken from this plate  (22)

KEYWORD

building, Elizabethan, clothing, dress, fashion, half-timbered, landscape, Japonisme, tree, woman standing.

TITLE

There are several variations on the title, as follows:


'Speke Hall' (1870, Whistler). 3
'Speke Avenue' (1877, Whistler). 4
'Speke Hall: The Avenue' (1879, Grosvenor Gallery). 5
'Speke Hall, No. 1' (1909, Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)). 6


Mansfield called it 'Speke Hall, No. 1' to distinguish it from Speke Hall [140], but the number is not needed. 'Speke Hall: The Avenue', the Grosvenor Gallery title of 1879, was undoubtedly authorised by Whistler, and is much more satisfactory.

3: Etched on the copper plate.

4: Whistler to C. A. Howell, 19 October [1877], GUW #12735.

5: London Grosvenor 1879 (cat. no. 270).

6: Mansfield 1909 (cat. no. 96).

DESCRIPTION

A broad avenue leads to a two-storey half-timbered house with five gables, seen beyond tall leafless trees. Originally the house-front below the two gables at the left was blank, except for faint indications of a doorway and a railing. In the foreground to left of centre stands a woman facing left, holding up her skirt with her left hand. Her fashionable day dress has a high, ruffled neck, a fitted bodice, close-fitted sleeves gathered or seamed above the elbow, with puffs or epaulettes on the shoulders. She is wearing gloves, and a hat with a high crown decorated with feathers, and her head is turned away. In the distance at left, much nearer to the house, there is the faint suggestion of another woman. There are clouds in the sky.
For subsequent changes, see STATES.

SITTER

The woman in the early states of this etching is probably Frances Leyland (1834-1910). Lochnan suggested that Whistler's drawings, etchings and painting of Mrs Leyland, 'elevate Leyland's wife to the role of muse - both as an embodiment of beauty and as a recognisable person - while also presenting her, like her husband, as a fashionable figure in contemporary society.' 7

7: Lochnan 1984 , pp. 158-159.

It cannot be absolutely certain that the figure is Mrs Leyland because her features are not clearly visible. It may be that more than one person posed for different states, done at intervals over several years. Other possible figures would be Elizabeth Dawson (b. 1840), and, for the later states, Maud Franklin (1857- ca 1941), who stood in for Mrs Leyland during the late stages of painting Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland [y106].

SITE

Comparative image
Speke Hall, 2009.
Photograph©M.F. MacDonald, Whistler Etchings Project.
Speke Hall is a fine timber-framed house on Speke Manor near Liverpool. It dates from 1490-1612, and was the home of the Norris, Beauclerk and finally the Watts families. It was leased to Frederick Richards Leyland (1832-1892), between 1867-1878, and he had extensive restoration work carried out on the ground floor. The house passed to the National Trust in 1943. 8

Whistler made three etchings that have 'Speke' in the title, and were done outdoors: this, Speke Hall [140], and Speke Shore [139]. Whistler's biographers, the Pennells, are rather vague about the subjects Whistler depicted at Speke:

8: National Trust website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk (accessed 2008).

'Mr Leyland gave Whistler commissions to paint his four children, Mrs Leyland and himself ... and Whistler made long visits at Speke Hall, Leyland's place near Liverpool. ... The record of these visits is in the etchings and dry-points of Speke Hall and Speke Shore, Shipping at Liverpool and The Dam Wood and the portraits in many mediums. The house was not far from the sea, which he loved to paint. But often days passed without his finding the effect he wanted... But Speke Hall always put him in better mood for work, and when the sea failed he turned to the portraits ... There are pastels of the three little girls, sketches in pen and ink, and the fine group of dry-points. ' 9

9: Pennell 1908 , I, pp. 175-176.

DISCUSSION

Lochnan commented on the composition:
'Whistler employed ... the compositional structure which he had learnt from Japanese prints, selecting a high viewpoint, "tilting up" the background, and constructing a shallow picture space. The long, lean vertical format of the etching, which emphasizes the distance between the figure and the house, resembles that of the Japanese oban print ... [he] isolated the foreground figure, silhouetting it against a white ground in the Japanese manner, ... The position of the figure, seen from the rear in a three-quarter pose, appears to have been adopted from Japanese prints. In the ukiyo-e woodcut, a rear view of this kind is often used to show off the beauty of a kimono.' 10

10: Lochnan 1984 , pp. 158-159.

It is not actually an oban size print (approximately 380 x 250 mm) although of similar proportions. Furthermore, Whistler's figure is seen from behind in early states, and then in profile to left, with head bent, where Japanese figure studies more often show the face in frontal or three-quarter view.
Comparative image
Hokusai, Profile of Geisha, ink and watercolour,
Freer Gallery of Art, F1902.41.
A woman in profile, comparable to the figure in late states of Whistler's print, can be found in Japanese woodcuts and drawings of women, often isolated against a blank or nearly blank space, as in the ink and watercolour study Profile of Geisha by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), bought by Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919) in 1902 11 - just three years after he bought an impression of Speke Hall: The Avenue (Graphic with a link to impression #K0960203).

11: Freer Gallery of Art, 1902.41.

Comparative image
Hokusai, Turban-shell Hall of the Five-Hundred-Raka Temple, 1830-1835, colour woodcut.
Gift of the family of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer
Freer Gallery of Art, F1974.63.
Back views are more usually found in scenes where a woman or women are looking at a view, as in the famous image of Mount Fuji in Hokusai's woodcut Turban-shell Hall of the Five-Hundred-Raka Temple, reproduced above. This also utilises multiple perspectives, a high viewpoint, and a gap between figures and view, and these are all elements that are found in Whistler's print.